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Published March 17 2012

Swift: Man with most toy dogs wins

As newlyweds, Irwin and I soon determined that we needed to hear the pitter-patter of little feet.

Puppy feet, that is.

A lifetime dog fan, Irwin had some very specific requirements for his dream dog.

The ideal candidate would be a large, rugged, friendly canine, preferably of the retriever variety.

And that’s how we wound up with Jake, a white, chunky Lab-Golden puppy whose huge paws hinted at his future as a strapping adult.

It was a match made in heaven. For them, anyway. I loved Jake, but he viewed me as little more than a slow-witted kibble dispenser.

His true love was alpha dog, Irwin, who wrestled with him, scratched his ears just the right way and talked to him as you would an adored toddler prince.

And so you can imagine how Irwin felt when I dared to bring a toy dog into our family fold.

From the very first day, there was trouble. Jake was childishly easy to house-train. Kita’s garbanzo bean-sized bladder turned our living room into the Land of the 10,000 Tiny Lakes.

Jake emitted deep, loud, manly barks, while Kita’s yaps were piercingly high.

Jake was easy-going. Kita was high-maintenance and cleverly manipulative. After two weeks with us, she had wormed her way from sleeping in a pet carrier to the center of our marital bed. In the process, this 2.5-pound puppy managed to take up as much mattress space as a Shetland pony.

Kita also had the structural issues of many toy breeds. Fifteen minutes after I first brought her home, she jumped off the couch, aggravating a bad knee.

As she ran around the living room, holding one leg straight out and yelping in pain, we worried she’d broken a bone. I imagined a tiny plaster cast and a $1,000 vet bill. Irwin imagined his wife and her new dog out on the front steps with our luggage.

Early on, he teased her mercilessly. Due to her diminutive stature, he seemed to question her legitimacy as an actual canine. At different times, he called her a rat, a rabbit, a squirrel, a skunk and a beaver. Sometimes, he got creative and declared she was a squeaver or a skabbit.

Every Halloween, he threatens to paint a white stripe down her back so she can dress up like Pepe Le Pew.

He also spent years proclaiming that his goal in life was to turn Kita “into a real dog.” For some reason, this involved mysterious workout rituals that he referred to as “astronaut training” and “submarine training.”

No actual training took place, although he did once claim to buy a tiny goldfish bowl to protect her head during underwater maneuvers.

And yet, through it all, Kita worshipped him. When he baited her by saying: “Kita! Are you going to let that vicious butterfly threaten our house?” she would wag her tail and squeak with delight.

At times like this, I wanted to intervene. “Have some dignity,” I wanted to say. “Don’t deify the man who calls you sparrow bait. Show some self-respect!”

Yet, maddeningly enough, she still seemed to view him as the Greatest Dog on Earth. If a delivery man came to the house, she didn’t make a beeline to the owner who fed her, bathed her and took her to the ER in the middle of the night.

Instead, she headed over to Irwin to growl menacingly at the newcomer – from the safety of Irwin’s lap.

Over time, I noticed something else, too. Irwin’s teasing of her had increased two-fold. In that moment, I realized how fond he had grown of her. Because, in a crazy, Scandinavian way, the only way he could really express affection to someone was by giving her a hard time.

That surely meant he loved her.

But the ultimate show of his affection came when he took the dogs on a long, wintry walk.

When he returned, my macho husband had my little, foo-foo dog buttoned inside his coat with just her head sticking out.

You know what they say.

The man who lives with the most toy dogs wins.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or tswift@forumcomm.com