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Princess: Our 5-pound pug of joy

Alison Berkley Margo
The Princess’s Palate

It wasn’t until we passed through a time zone that I turned to Ryan and asked, “Do you think this is crazy, driving all this way to get a dog?”

“No, honey,” he said, his voice gentle and kind. “People do it all the time.”

Mind you, I didn’t expect Ryan to come with me. I was so totally ready to go about it alone, thinking that maybe it was a pilgrimage I had to make solo. I could just picture myself driving through the plains, filling the emptiness with my angst and my grief and leaving it all behind me where no one else would ever have to see it.

When I first looked up Cimarron, Kan., on Google Maps, I was relieved to find that it was in the western part of the state. I thought, “It’s only 51/2 hours from Denver” and “I can do an eight-hour drive in a day — no problem” and “I’ll probably find some really good Mexican food on the way” because I saw there were all these towns on the map with Spanish names like La Junta and Pueblo and Canon City. I pictured old mining-era brick buildings on quaint main streets that would have the perfect bed and breakfast where I could spend the night and then wake up to a nice breakfast with fresh eggs and thick cuts of bacon and homemade biscuits served to me by someone old wearing overalls.

The breeder suggested that the closest hotels would be in Garden City. I figured, why bother making a reservation, and who goes to Garden City in July, and I’m sure they allow dogs, and of course it’s going to be inexpensive because it’s in the middle of nowhere, right?

“I think I should come with you,” Ryan announced a few days before my departure, the sun shining on him in a way that made him look very Greek-god-like, his caramel-colored skin and chocolatey eyes and cute beauty mark and full head of thick, dark hair and barrel chest making me swoon, his old, gnarly arm tattoos sexier than ever. “Just to meet the breeder and make sure everything is OK with the puppy.”

I decided right there and then that I should service this man a lot more often, but that’s not really an appropriate subject for me to get into, now is it?

So we packed up the car with Big George and some snacks and declared it a family road trip. We made turkey sandwiches with avocado and bacon and bought at least 10,000 calories’ worth of nutrient-free snacks and cued up an audiobook and hit the road.

The drive was pretty, and we got to see parts of Colorado I’ve never seen, like the eastern section of the Black Canyon and the Gunnison River, where every car you pass is stacked tall with rafts and canoes and kayaks, and there are campgrounds everywhere, and you sort of earmark it like, “We should really come back here sometime when we aren’t driving eight hours to go pick up a pug.”

And then we hit the plains.

That’s when it started to rain, like hard. It was the kind of storm that made me think a tornado or the end of the world might not be far behind. Lightning slammed into the earth right out of the sky with nothing to break its fall in electric daggers that looked like they were being thrown at you by angry gods, gods who were hanging over your overpriced vehicle mocking you for not doing the sensible, responsible thing and just rescuing a dog from the shelter.

My nerves were frayed, and my doubts started to surface like one of those big, deep pimples that are ugly and swollen and sore and so not ready to pop. These small towns in eastern Colorado were nothing like I had imagined. They were abandoned and run-down and creepy, the stench of slaughterhouses so prevalent it made me think about becoming a vegetarian.

By the time we arrived in Garden City, it was 11 p.m. because we’d lost an hour when we crossed into the Central Time Zone, and every hotel in town was booked because of some big baseball tournament. So we ended up with what had to be the most expensive room in town because it was literally the only one left. It was too late to go out to eat, and we were too exhausted, and Big George was looking at me like, “You are such a stupid human,” so Ryan just ordered a pizza, and I drank another beer.

When we finally got to the breeders’ the next morning, I think we were both a little nervous about whether we would find what he had come all this way for. I’d been emailing with the breeder, Stephanie, for over a week in such detail that you would think I was adopting a human, but still. “What if” started to strangle my thoughts like a toxic vine.

At first I thought maybe Stephanie’s detailed contract was a little overkill, but now I know that’s how much she cares about finding the right homes for her dogs. It is she who deserves all the credit for (What’s the right word here? Creating? Producing?) this awesomely cool and utterly amazing little dog.

Gertie is only 5 pounds, but the joy she already has brought to our lives is so huge, it’s immeasurable. After what feels like a string of really bad luck, we finally scored.

I don’t know if Ryan was lying a little when he said I wasn’t crazy. But I do think sometimes it’s precisely the moment you step over the line (like the Kansas state line, for example) that you find what you’re looking for — that something true and beautiful is always where you least expect to find it.

The Princess finally has found the perfect accessory. Email your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com.


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