Even Cat People Fall in Puppy Love

A self-described "cat man," Bill Geist, goes to the dogs with his new pet, Daphne.
I'd always been a cat person - Timmy, Frosty, Burt, Katy, Peaches, Randy, Scooter, just to name a few.

But my wife Jody and I flipped over our daughter's new dog, Barkley, and decided we just had to have one, too. Our first … and therein lies a tale.

We spent weeks scouring the Internet ("Ooh boy, that's an ugly dog!"). Some were too big (like a bullmastiff - 175 pounds!).

Some too small. (A five-pound dog? "Nah.")

And some just … too much ("$2,500!?!")

But look at that face! This one seemed just right.

Except the dog was in a rescue shelter in Easley, S.C., and we were in an apartment in New York City.

But they offered free delivery! They instructed us to meet them at the Vince Lombardi Service Area on the New Jersey Turnpike, which sounded a little … shady. Jody could almost hear the "Sopranos" theme song playing as she waited for the deal to go down on a rainy dog day afternoon.

But everything was on the up-and-up. Debra from the shelter arrived after a 15-hour drive, her delivery wrapped with ribbons and bows.

Bill gushed: "You're cuter than your picture."

She doesn't look like our other kids.

Now, I knew raising a puppy would be a challenge, but I had no idea. You practically have to quit your job.

The struggle for a name was only the beginning.

Mongo? "Awful!" Banjo? "No, terrible." Cher? "Awful." Loco? "Loco is pretty good."

"Lisa Marie appeal to you?" "Never." A bark rang out. "She doesn't like it, either."

And so she became Daphne. "She was this long-legged, elegant dog," Jody said. "Daphne, just because Daphne's so elegant."

Your whole life's turned upside down. The dog is fighting with the cat who's been hiding in the closet for four weeks; the dog is barking at all hours, and there are guys hauling our carpets out to be cleaned.

You have to get your dog out early - or suffer the consequences.There are always some tense moments in the morning waiting for the elevator, 'cause when you gotta go, you gotta go.

And you are not alone. All manner of dogs and owners congregate in the park each morning when dogs can romp and wrestle unleashed.

"You're off the hook," Bill said, unleashing Daphne, who runs, barks, wrestles.

"The minute you get a dog, it's like living in a small town and knowing everybody on the street," said the owner of Fred. "And knowing the neighbors, it's great. You turn into Fred's mom or Daphne's dad. Everybody knows dog's names, not people's."

Well put, Fred's mom. There's Ollie and Jersey, Tosca and Aspen, Millie and Buttons, Joker, Sammy, Toby, Hudson and Apollo, just to name a few. The gang's all here!

Of course socializing is not the primary reason we're up.

At first we had to walk her for up to two hours to get any results, six times a day! You do the math.

You know how cats have litter boxes and babies have diapers? Dogs don't.

You find yourself doing things you vowed you'd never do.

What's it worth to have someone else handle the job? Priceless - and that's what Brian and Randy call their dog service. Walking 12 dogs this morning, at $15 each, they're really cleaning up, so to speak.

They also provide doggie day care - in a Manhattan apartment, sometimes with live entertainment. They must have very understanding (or hearing-impaired) neighbors.

Daphne arrived untrained. We tried instructional videos.

Come. Daphne. Come. Come to me. Sit and stay. Get my slippers and pipe. Fetch Get the newspaper. Roll over.

Hmm. The dog may be deaf.

But clearly, professional help was needed. With private sessions costing $125 an hour we checked out a class conducted by Phyllis of the Follow My Lead training academy.

Bill and jody and daphne watched as phyllis taught.

"Think there's hope for her?" Bill asked.

"I think, probably," Phyllis said. "I think probably - if her owners learned a few tricks."

As first dog owners, we had an immediate need for lots of dog stuff.

We hit Zoomies, a dog boutique in New York's West Village, where dog beds can run $250. Dog jackets, like an all-weather coat - part of Zoomies' sport line - run $50 to $120.

Susan from Zoomies thought Daphne needed a whole wardrobe - and, face it, she did look marvelous in everything.

They also sell biscuits. "We have the first biscuit bar for dogs in New York," Susan said. "We have 15 flavors, whether they be organic or natural. There's no sugar, no salt, no butter. Just try a biscuit, for example. Smell, this is gingerbread . . . "

Dogs can share them with their humans - just don't eat too many of them.

Funny how a practically free shelter dog can wind up costing a fortune.

Now our fashionable young girl-about-town needed to be properly quaffed.

You have to make an appointment at the renowned Tomy Magueri Dog Salon two weeks in advance. Magueri's been called "the Vidal Sasoon of dog grooming," and has brought his art to dogs in Rome and Vegas (all of which scared me, frankly).

If I go home and she looks like a show poodle I'm going to get kicked out of the house.

I didn't want Tomy dying her blue or anything.

"We like the 'shabby chic' look," Bill told Magueri. Daphne was treated to a nice oatmeal bath.

There were a few alarming moments like when Daphne tried to get off the table once Magueri started drying her.

But she looked fabulous . . . so good I felt like I needed an oatmeal bath to be seen with her.

Daphne, I don't think we're in Easely, S.C., anymore.

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