The cranberry farmer reached a calloused hand into the crate and grabbed the loose scruff of one pup's neck. Holding the limp six-week old yellow Labrador retriever at eye level, the farmer grumbled, "You can take this one if you want. The rest are spoken for."
We cradled the squishy bundle of softness and puppy breath, pretending to decide if he was the one. He might be hyperactive. He might chew my leather boots. His tail might clear coffee tables. He might scoot his rear end across the carpet in front of company.
But there was no going back. He was already ours.
The farmer put our deposit check into the pocket of his dingy jeans, then took out a knife. Quite matter-of-factly, he carved a swath of fur from the back of our pup's neck so we could identify him at pick up time. As we drove back down the long country road, we couldn't help feeling like we were meant to rescue our puppy from the harsh realities of farm life.
As you would expect when an impossibly adorable yellow Lab puppy moves into the neighborhood, our base neighbors fell in love with the dog we named "Moby." The two-year old Golden Retriever next door named Charlie tolerated Moby's boundless energy with the compassion of a saint, playing until they were both damp with slobber.
Summer came, and six-month old Moby burst out the door of our military quarters in search of Charlie every day. Sometimes we would find Charlie waiting for Moby on our front porch, and other times Moby would find the door of Charlie's house wedged open, and race inside to wreak havoc.
But then one day in July, Charlie's house was empty. Like several other military families in our neighborhood, our neighbors had packed up and moved away.
We realized that Moby is not a regular family pet. He is the pet of a military family, and just like military kids and military spouses, military pets must handle the challenges of a mobile lifestyle.
Our first pet was a cat. "Zuzu" was small, fat, and afraid of her own shadow, but she moved with us four times, including three long airplane flights and one six-month quarantine while we were stationed in England. She gave up the ghost at the ripe old age of 15, and we laid her to rest in a shady spot behind our old house in Virginia Beach.
Our first dog, Dinghy, wasn't easy to transport, seeing as he was 110 pounds and almost three and a half feet tall. We nearly defaulted on our mortgage to pay for the "giant breed" crate required for flying him overseas. When not in the cargo hold of a jumbo jet, Dinghy moved with us in the back seat of our minivan, fogging up the windows and depositing hairballs on the seats. But just like the rest of our family, Dinghy adapted to each new environment, chasing moles in Virginia, hares in Germany, crabs in Florida, and rabbits in Rhode Island. After four moves, Dinghy went to the great dog park in the sky last Thanksgiving, and there is a grave marker bearing his name in the Maine woods near the cabin we were renting.
Moby is nine months old now. He still sniffs the empty porch next door for Charlie, eventually distracting himself with sticks, rotten apples and ratty old tennis balls.
One day, the movers will come to our house again. Moby will think they came just to play with him, and will bring them socks and squeaky toys. Then, after a scary plane ride or a long car ride, he will wonder why his bowls and bed are in a strange new kitchen.
Sometimes, I feel sorry for Moby and wonder if he would've been better off on the cranberry farm in Massachusetts.
But then, I see that Moby is serving as our family's role model. Every morning, he steps out into the world to sniff the ever-changing breeze, blissfully ignorant but eternally hopeful that with each rising sun comes the opportunity for new friends, new experiences, and new adventure.