A boy and his dog

Frankie and editor George Brennan have become pandemic pals. — George Brennan

I get to wake Frankie up each morning, pulling back the cover on her crate. As she climbs up off her bed (yes, Frankie is a girl), her eyes blink, she twitches her head to shake out the cobwebs, and nuzzles into my chest for a morning hug.

We go out. She does her business. And when we come back inside, my wife is there with her food. It’s fun to watch as this chocolate Lab decides between hugging the true leader of the pack and gobbling up her kibble.

Then it’s back to me for play time. Tug. Fetch-ish. And lots more hugs as she nibbles my shoelaces.

Later, we go for a walk in one of the most tranquil spots in Falmouth. The sign at the church actually invites owners with their pets to walk the grounds. I had admired this setting from afar for years. Now it’s my favorite place to just be, for 15 to 20 minutes a day.

This has been my life for the past four months. Well, that and vet bills. Lots and lots of vet bills.

We picked up Frankie May 22 from an Amish farm in Upstate New York. We’d searched everywhere for a puppy, feeling like the pandemic was a perfect time for us to try to love a dog again.

We’d had the perfect dog. Murphy was a golden retriever. She died 17 years ago, but it’s as if she died yesterday. The pain of that loss was so great, my wife and I weren’t sure we could endure it again. We had an easy excuse not to find out — our son was allergic.

We tried two years ago with a rescue. It was a 10-day disaster that ended with the dog, which must have gone through some awful ordeal, biting our daughter and ripping a gash on her nose that barely missed one of her eyes. We returned her to the rescue, $800 poorer, because it was clear she was not a good fit for our family. 

We were devastated — again.

Fast-forward to May, and both our young adult children were home from college prematurely because of the pandemic. They dropped huge hints (including our son, who is still allergic) — puppy photos sent through text messages and social media. My wife resisted. I was weak. She acquiesced and we started to search.

We weren’t alone. Puppies were in such high demand that there were scams reported. Alleged breeders posting puppy pictures, grabbing deposits, and cashing in on people’s good intentions.

When we arrived in the small Upstate New York town where the farm was located, Amos told us our new pup had been checked out by his veterinarian the day before. “She has a hooded vulva,” he told us. The vet says she may grow out of it, or she could require surgery, he added.

I’m paraphrasing because I was too love-struck by the ball of chocolate-colored fur in my daughter’s arms to get his exact words.

We handed Amos the cash. He handed us a receipt with a 30-day guarantee. We drove back to Massachusetts.

Two days later, we were at the emergency vet. Frankie couldn’t stop squatting. She was trying to urinate. Nothing was coming out. She was crying. Something was wrong. 

The vet said she had a urinary tract infection, a frequent side effect of a hooded vulva.

We called the breeder. He told us we could bring her back for that guarantee. We knew that likely would mean a death sentence. We couldn’t let that happen. Besides, she was already family.

We consulted with our vet after that emergency visit to a 24-hour hospital. She laid it all out on the line for us. Frankie would likely need plastic surgery to correct the hooded vulva. In the meantime, we’d be battling infections until she was old enough to go under anesthesia.

A few days after she finished her first round of antibiotics, we were back at the emergency vet with the same symptoms. This time they did a clean urine sample, and sent it out to the lab. Frankie had a worse bacterial infection than we thought, likely picked up in the barn she lived in. She would need a dose of antibiotics so potent that we had to wear gloves to administer the liquid medicine, because it could harm a human’s immune system. We gave her the meds diligently, and Frankie got a clean bill of health about three weeks later.

We had a few other bouts of urinary tract infections after that. They seemed routine after treating that insidious bacterial infection.

Our vet, whom we now know by the sound of her voice but have never met because of COVID-19 and curbside drop-offs, has told us several times, “Well, Frankie certainly found the right family.”

It’s true. Frankie did find the right family. She’s what we needed to brighten the uncertainty of the pandemic (she actually likes the piano music played in those maudlin TV commercials about us all being in it together). She’s helped us get through kids taking college courses remotely, us trying to keep our careers going via Slack, Zoom, and VPN, and she’s helped fill the void of the missed interaction of our family, friends, and co-workers.

The kids are back at school. (They ask for photos often.) And Frankie has become an occasional commuter on the Steamship Authority, where she relishes the attention from passengers and crew.

In recent weeks, Frankie hasn’t had any flare-ups and on Thursday she had her corrective surgery. She’ll be in the cone of shame for 10 days, and we’re looking forward to years and years of health for our lovable new family member who has made the pandemic bearable.

And many more nibbled shoelaces.