And I say "estimated" because we didn't know her as a newborn pup. It wasn't until she had already earned her street cred in West Town that we met, when she was about nine months old. And crazy. And scared. And not allowed in my dog-free building.
It was Valentine's evening, and Katherine and I were just closing up the little grocery where we worked. I'm sure we were probably mopping to "H to the Izzo" when our pal and fellow employee, Jill, came to the door with a dog who didn't look anything like her beagle mix, Flash. I went outside to meet the pup, who was so adorable and small, all shiny black with chocolate eyes and ears that stuck to the side of her head when she was scared, making her look like a sad baby seal. I know I heard Jill tell us about how she found her tied to her porch that morning, after the poor thing spent an entire night outside (in CHICAGO, in FEBRUARY), but my main concern was when I could take her home. "Really, you'll take her?" Jill asked. "Of course," I said excitedly, denying to myself that once I brought her home, Mike would have to meet her and would probably shut the idea down because he is reasonable and doesn't do things like piss off the landlord who doesn't like dogs and could kick us out on the street if he knew one was residing in his building. I could live under the Metra tracks, I thought, as Jill and I piled the dog supplies in my car.
I debated calling Mike on the way home to break the news to him before we arrived, but my new friend put a stop to that. She cried all the way from West Town to Ravenswood, and would only calm down if I petted her as I drove. Snow had accumulated outside of the building's door by the time I got home. Not wanting her to leave tracks in the snow for any chain-smoking landlords to find, I carried her across the walk, into the building, up the stairs, and crept quietly into our apartment. It smelled like cream and vegetables, the French version of comfort food Mike makes on special occasions. Candles were lit on the table, and the whole place was spotless. He had made the perfect surprise Valentine's dinner.
"Hey babe," he said as he entered the living room. "How was... what is that?"
"Look, we don't have to keep her, it's just that Jill found her tied to her porch..."
"And she spent a night outside in the cold, then had to go to the vet to get spayed..."
"We can't have a dog in here!"
"I know! We don't have to keep her, but she's had a bad day, and she's so cute."
The little seal dog peed on the floor.
"Yeah," Mike huffed, "Adorable."
After cleaning up the mess, I put "Dog," as she was being called, in her crate so we could eat dinner. It was mostly a quiet one, with occasional snips about the dog from Mike, and whines about Mike from the dog. I messed up. He made me a lovely Valentine's dinner, and I brought him a mutt who peed on the floor. I volunteered to do dishes in an attempt to make amends, and Mike went to let her out of her crate. When I finished and went to apologize and plead my case for her, they were snuggling on the couch, Mike letting her lick his face.
"I can find a good place for her tomorrow," I reminded him.
"You know we're keeping her," he sighed, nuzzling his face into hers. "She seems like a pretty good dog."
Mr. Leko never caught on that we had her, and a few months later we moved into a dog-friendly apartment. "Dog," now "Ramona," who her first vet said would top out at 30 pounds, packed on twenty-five more of pure muscle, making it clear that we were two more Chicagoans with a pit bull mix. We discovered that Ramona is the best swimmer at the dog beach. Ever. She can swim out to where the docked boats are, and will not stop looking for the stick you threw until she finds it (or gets distracted by a goose). We found out that she doesn't like other dogs, which led us to find out that doggie boot camp is pretty damn expensive. We found out that she's a faster learner than most people's five year-olds, and much sweeter as well. We found out she loves kids, will take shit from the kitties, loves to shred paper, and the only stuffed animal she will not murder is her moose. I found out that I have a lot more patience than I thought I did, and a willingness to put in time, effort, and resources toward a creature who destroyed half of my DVDs. I found out that Mike is a sucker for cute animals, and while I will not bring any more home until we are homeowners, I know that if I did, he would cave (and I love that). Mike remembered, after having spent ten years with his last dog, Sequer, how awesome it is to have a wrestling buddy and someone to play soccer with. Ramona has made us better in just about every way possible, except one surprising and slightly nauseating thing. I have discovered after taking in this funny, intelligent, loyal and loving stray, that I am one of those crazy people who talks to their dogs, even in public. I guess that's because she's my best friend.
My cats, on the other hand, are trying to kill me. But that's a story for another day.