I was trying to get enthused about picking up toys from the living room floor for the umpteenth time that day, when I was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone.
“Is this the home of Angela Dove?”
“Yes it is.”
“Mother to Nina Dove?”
“Then have I got an offer for you.”
Next thing I know, I have agreed to let my then-three-year-old be in an informational film about the Haywood Animal Welfare Association (HAWA). How exactly this happened, I am unsure. True, HAWA does good work. They assist law enforcement and county officials in their attempts protect animals. And they work with the shelter to find new homes for furry, loving creatures. Now they needed to borrow a kid. A friend of mine, a local veterinarian, had recommended my daughter, Nina. The woman on the phone referred to my daughter as both “precious” and “adorable.”
At that point, I would have signed over the house.
The following day, Nina and I drove to the animal shelter. A film crew was already there, shooting animal rescue footage and basic information about the place. I was told they would be with us in a few minutes, so I checked Nina’s hair and outfit to make certain she had a cuteness factor of +10. That done, I decided to take her on a tour of the facility. We headed into the dog kennel area.
Let’s label this “Mistake #1.”
As soon as we walked in, barking and baying erupted like something out of “The Hounds of the Baskervilles.” My daughter, who hates loud noises and rambunctious behavior in general, looked at me like I had just asked her to eat a plate of spider legs. Huh-oh, I thought. Wrong move. I plastered a high-wattage smile to my face. “They’re just excited to see us, honey!” I screamed over the din. “Do you want to look around?” She said something I couldn’t hear. I crouched down and got the gist of her message: Let’s find the cats. Cats don’t bark.
The film crew found us in the feline holding area several minutes later. I was glad they barged in when they did, because Nina had put together enough information to ask what happened to the animals that didn’t find a home pretty quickly. (At the local shelter, “pretty quickly” equals four business days.)
Jennifer, the VP of marketing, was in charge of the shoot. Jennifer is tall, pretty, and energetic enough to power a midsize generator. She is also a genuinely sweet person. My guess is that she gets what she wants most of the time, because her relentless goodwill would wear down most objections. (See the “precious” and “adorable” episode described above.)
“Hey, sweetheart,” she said to Nina. “We’re so glad you came to help us out today! I know! Let’s go play with some puppies!”
At this point I can hear you shouting, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” But you are too late.
We’ll call this “Mistake #2.”
Jennifer explained to me that Nina was going to be playing the part of a little girl picking out a puppy. This sounded swell to me and iffy to Nina, but Jennifer was all smiles and excitement, so Nina went along for the ride.
We walked outside to the run-around-and-get-acquainted area. Seconds later, a cannonball of brown fur, wagging tail, and slobber barreled into the grass. I clicked my tongue at him, already thinking of names. (This is exactly why my husband had me repeat about five times that morning, “We have two dogs. We don’t need anymore.”) Sparky, or possibly Jethro, ran at us, leapt off the ground, and made an ungainly attempt to land in my arms. He ricocheted off my knees at about 25mph.
My laugh turned into a yelp of pain as my thirty-four pound child scaled the length of my body and grabbed two fistfuls of my hair in an attempt to hoist herself up onto my shoulders. Thrown off balance, I fell in slow motion, narrowly missing the dog. Midway through the fall, my daughter realized she was headed back toward the hyperactive canine and tried one final escape plan: leaping from my shoulders onto a nearby tree. The move forced me face down into the dirt. Nina landed in the grass, gave out a yell that the dog interpreted as “Chase me!” and then sprinted to a nearby lawn chair. As the film crew walked outside, I was on all fours spitting grass out my mouth, Nina was screaming in terror from the top of a plastic chair, and the puppy was yipping and bouncing in circles around her as if he had just treed his first cat. Thank God the camera wasn’t rolling.
Jennifer walked out of the shelter, smile still intact, and said casually, “So, maybe not a puppy?”
The finished film shows Nin
a smiling nervously at a small, somewhat geriatric dog. I am in the shot as well, placed directly between child and dog. While I haven’t seen the completed project, I’m hopeful that my daughter’s sneaker marks had faded from my neck. And that there is no mulch in my teeth.
Angela Dove is an award-winning humor columnist and author of the true crime book, No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder. For book information and more archived columns visit www.AngelaDove.com.