Puppy love

Photograph of Gaston by Susie Biehler

“We’ve begun to long for the pitter-patter of little feet — so we bought a dog. Well, it’s cheaper, and you get more feet.”
— Rita Rudner

FIRST PERSON | David Landis

It all began when we put up the Christmas tree in December. My partner Sean Dowdall is a cafeteria Catholic and I’m a Jewish wannabe. Neither of us is very religious, but we love a good celebration. So each year we deck our gay Christmas tree — a white one with pink balls coupled with a big pink ornament from a Parisian department store that always makes our Scott Street neighbors stop and stare.

This year, after the tree was trimmed, Sean turned to me and said, “I just can’t go through Christmas without a dog.”

About four months earlier, we had lost our beloved American Eskimo dogs, Shasta and Whitney. Not only were they part of the family, but they were also fixtures in the neighborhood. Having lasted almost to 18 (Shasta) and 17 (Whitney), they outlived many generations of dogs at Alta Plaza Park, their daily dog park of choice. We had seen many of Alta Plaza’s dogs come and go: Simon, Latte, Regina, Ruff, Molly, Bruiser, Panda, Banks and old Rose, to name a few. But Shasta and Whitney rallied on. And at Peet’s on Fillmore, while we sipped our cappuccinos, passersby couldn’t help but be seduced by their gorgeous white manes and fox-like smiles.

When they passed away, we found ourselves living a very different life: no daily walks to the park, no romps on the beach at Crissy Field — and nobody paying attention as the two of us sat on the bench outside Peet’s. The quiet in our house was deafening.

Then came Gaston.

He actually began his life with the name of Fezzik — a character, I am told, from The Princess Bride. Sadly, he started out abandoned on some street in downtown Oakland at three months old. Rescuers found him with matted hair, covered in other dogs’ urine.

Through the luck of the draw, he ended up at Pets Unlimited on Fillmore, which provides food and shelter and finds homes for deserving animals. Truth be told, we had never adopted from a shelter and didn’t know what to expect. But the day we put up the Christmas tree, Sean insisted we visit Pets Unlimited. And there was Gaston, just waiting for us.

The folks at Pets Unlimited think he’s mostly a Parti Poodle — I thought: Does he like a good martini? — because he’s white with grey polka dots. At four months and five pounds, he was a bundle of energy, affectionate, loving and full of spunk. We worried about how we would cope with a puppy after just saying goodbye to senior dogs. But the staff there walked us through the process and answered our questions with solid information, support and grace.

Pets Unlimited doesn’t let people adopt an animal on the same day they first meet. I’m sure there are many folks who change their minds. And for those who don’t, they’ve slept on one of the most important decisions they’ll make: to take responsibility for an animal’s life and well-being.

We were not to be deterred. But because we first met Gaston on a Sunday, we had to wait until Wednesday to see him again, since the shelter is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Why Gaston? Well, he is a French poodle after all. When I asked colleagues in France and Belgium for a great French name, they suggested Gaston. And, despite being the bad guy in Beauty and the Beast, Gaston was the sophisticated lead in Gigi.

Gaston’s already learning house manners and we think he’s the star of his Dogma dog training class. He’s fallen in love with our dog walker — and the feeling is mutual. He’s making friends at Alta Plaza Park with a new generation of dogs. And passersby at Peet’s think he’s pretty cute, too.

Most of all, he’s given Sean and me a whole new leash on life.

  • Abbie S. Fink

    David & Sean — Gaston has found a wonderful forever home with the two of you.

    • David Landis

      Thanks, Abbie. You’ll have to meet him soon.

  • Ezra’s mom

    I am one of the volunteers who helped care for Gaston in the shelter. When Fezzik came to the shelter, he had pneumonia and long curly hair. He just cuddled into my arms and looked up at me with those incredible eyes. I fell hard for him. He was far from the bundle of puppy energy he is now. I am so glad he has found such wonderful parents and made your family whole again.

    • David Landis

      Thank you, Ezra’s Mom, for caring for Gaston in his early months.

  • Elizabeth

    Beautiful story ! Gaston seems to be a lovely and clever dog (does he answer the telephone ?)

    • David Landis

      Yes, Elizabeth, phone answering is one of Gaston’s many talents! Thanks for your kind words.