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You can call him "Babar."

My phone usually rings four times a day. The first is from Debbie, who tells me which student thought tennis was more important than an hour with me. The second is also from Debbie, who tells me which student thought an hour with me was more important than dinner. The third is from my husband, who tells me what the TV has taught him that day, and the fourth is someone who thinks he or she will be able to speak to Cathy and I have to tell her she's a digit off.

The fifth ring that day, therefore, threw me completely out of my rhythm.

"Do you know what is a shee-soo?" said The Pollito.

"They're like dust mops that bark, and come in a small range of natural colors. They sit on laps. Yes. Why?"

"The Bernal call me and tell me he got one that is mix-ed with poodle. If you go to see and you like it, you can have it. The Bernal says it is cyoo'."

I like cyoo' as much as the next person. More than that, I've been thinking that my tiny Pippin needs a brother for the good of his soul, and more than that this dog would be free, which is my favorite four-letter f-word. As I drove to Perth Amboy, I further amused myself with the thought that this mix would be called a shihtz-poo. I rehearsed several ways of telling people that. The dead-pan wasn't bad. The conspiratorially naughty worked. The would-you-believe-it seemed very oh my god what is that hulking mongrel!

No kidding this dog was precisely twice as large as I thought he'd be. No shih-tzu had anything to do with whelping this monumental lint pile. In the dim porch light I could see that my putative dog was availing himself of the opportunity to demonstrate that no one had yet thought to neuter him for the good of society. I could also see that the woman holding him had very little experience with dogs. She attempted to reason with her canine lover in fluent, mewling Spanglish.

Doni, as the dog used to be called, was attached to a telephone cord, and when I took his "leash" he jumped up and treated me to a healthy dose of halitosis, coupled with further demonstrations of his potency. "Sit," I said, firmly and calmly, just the way Cesar Millan would have done it. Doni sat, looking grateful that at LAST there was someone who knew how to take charge and get a pack organized.

Luz, the buxom Dominican who was Doni's erstwhile mami, told me the tale. Another Dominican woman had owned Doni, but had to move quickly and had forced the dog into Luz's car and a twenty into Luz's hand, and said "Keep him for a week and if you don't like him call me I'll take him right back I promise see he likes you bye bye." Doni had been living in a garage, one that smelled vile. She had smelled it and seen all this at two o'clock that afternoon. It was just past nine, then. Luz's roommate, in the intervening time, had learned she was allergic to all dogs.

Whatever else happened that night, I was determined that Doni, or whatever he'd eventually be called, would not go back to anyone who kept him in a midden of a garage tied to a telephone wire.

There is a mid-story moral to this: some of the unintended collateral damage that the decline in the sub-prime mortgage market has caused is to dogs. They are welcome in the new dream-homes of these duped borrowers; they are anathema maranatha in the apartments where the defaulters must retrench once the bank has foreclosed. There is no time and no money to make a home for the family dog, so he ends up shunted from hand to hand until he is either dumped on the animal shelter or into the hands of someone who can care for him. But only if he's lucky.

Well, Doni was about to get lucky. Too big, too wild, too male, he was nevertheless coming home with me. The back seat of my car and the trip down New Brunswick/Amboy Avenue he endured silently. I talked to him, telling him he'd have a new name and a new little brother, and that he mustn't mind very much if the new brother was mean for a few days. He must also learn not to pull when we walked and he must also learn about the sanctity of furniture and shoes, and the penalties of desecrating said with any kind of bodily fluids and/or solids.

At home, the incumbent dog growled briefly, but grew quiet when New Dog remained stoic. In the better light of the livingdiningkitchenroom, I counted dreds in New Dog's coat. At twenty, I stopped and got the brush. Then I caught sight of my nails. Had this dog ever been washed? In the shower, the water ran brown off his sides as I plied nozzle and shampoo. Then I took shears and clipped a large pile of mats and soon-to-be-mats onto the floor. New Dog was still big, oafish and emphatically male, but he smelled good and seemed pleased to be with us.

The next day, newly christened Babar and walked and fed on egg and beans, the dog explored and sprayed as we discussed what to do with him. The shelter was an option, but not one we liked. He would be able to reach things on counters that Pippin can't; he would need more exercize than the tiny Pippin, and he'd need more food. He would also need his teeth cleaned and his coat regularly bathed, brushed and trimmed. He definitely needed to lose some "ballast". Had we done the research, carefully considered our home and lifestyle, Babar would not have been the dog we'd have chosen.

But he's the dog we have. I will have to do for him what he needs without wishing it to be otherwise. Wishing does no good anyway. Reconciling, on the other hand, does a lot of good.

I had a friend once who used to say that everyone should have to raise a dog before he or she got to have a child. He meant that everyone should have to learn to be the one who knows best and controls the behavior for everyone's good. I agree with him now, but for a different reason. Children, like the Serendipitous Dog, come to us with a set of needs that we can't plan on beforehand. What the children will be we don't know. We do know that whatever it is, we have to find a way to make it work.

Lots of things are like that.

Pardon me. Babar has stolen something off the counter.

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