2004 was a really rotten year for me and my family. First my grandmother died in May. In August, my mother, father, and I went to her memorial service in America. Shortly after we came back to Hamburg, our 16-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, Mats, died. We were all devastated. I had never been without a dog in my life. I had even had one before I was born, and my dog’s barking never woke up because I was already so used to hearing it. Being an only child can be extremely boring. So having a dog was almost like having a sibling on four legs.

We couldn’t stand not having a dog. Two weeks after Mats passed away, my parents and I went to see Christiane, the breeder who had given Mats to my parents 16 years earlier, long before I was born. One of her bitches had just had a new Jack Russell litter. We wanted to see them as soon as possible. Although we knew we would never be able to replace Mats, we hoped to find a puppy who would make not having him more bearable.

Christiane lives in an old farmhouse with a barn and a kennel. When we got there, we were greeted by two Jack Russells digging in the garden. It was so good to be around lively dogs again. We went in and found a whippet lounging on a couch. Next I met Christiane for the first time. She went into the kennel and got the new puppies. They all came storming out to greet us and were all over the place. The mother of one of the puppies followed.

Our only requirement was that the dog be small enough to be permitted to travel in the airplane cabin with us. Christiane’s litter included three female dogs and two males. The females had already been promised to other people. The three bitches and one of the dogs had short, brown, white and black coats and were from one litter. The other dog was brown and white and had long hair. My father wanted the energetic three-colored male, my mom fell in love with the smallest female, and I wanted the brown and white long-haired, slightly floppy puppy from the second litter. My father and I had a real conflict about it. My mother was neutral because the one she wanted was not available. It was a miserable situation. We couldn’t decide on the spot, and told Christiane we’d be in touch in the morning. So “with tears in our eyes we drove off into the sunset.”1

The next morning, we realized that both male dogs would end up being too big to travel with us in the airplane cabin. We called Christiane, explained the situation, and asked her to get in touch with us as soon as she had a foreseeably small dog. Over the weekend, we looked for Jack Russell Terriers on the internet. We all basically wanted to get a dog from Christiane but sadly it seemed that we couldn’t. Then, Monday, my mother got a call from Christiane. She said that we could have the smallest female in the litter (the one my mother had wanted) because she had realized that we really needed a dog. I can remember my mother telling me this as we walked home from the bus together. I was overjoyed. Christiane had asked what name we were going to give her. My mother answered: Dido. This had been somehow planned already beforehand without anyone saying anything about it. Dido was a brilliant and wonderful queen of Carthage in Virgil’s Aeneid, and was also the name of the very spunky main character in a series of books by Joan Aiken that my mother and I had read together. Neither my father nor I disagreed with the name. We had to wait, though, because Dido had to be at least eight weeks old before she could leave her mother. That meant two more weeks of waiting. Then, finally on the 22nd of September, my parents picked me up from school. In my mother’s arms was a little white lump with a black and brown head: Dido. She was the cutest thing and everyone who saw her that day after school agreed. On the way home she lay on my lap. That little, silly lump called Dido. It also turns out that Dido’s great, great, great, grandfather was Mats’s father.

see “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie