Payback's a (male dog)

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Regular readers of this column may remember that my beloved canine companion, Buster, departed abruptly in January for the big dog park in the sky.

I like to think of him frolicking there, where the leashes are always off, the balls are always caught, the scents on every tree and pole are always fascinating, and a dog can be a dog without some tedious clown with a cell phone following him around with a plastic bag.

Buster rolls in decaying varmints on a higher plane now, and I was left here to struggle on with no one but Milo the Easily Startled Kitten for company.

I found Milo alone in the street early one morning while Buster and I strolled through the neighborhood dodging broken glass. He weighed one pound and fit in the palm of my hand. He was too conveniently portable to ignore.

Milo looked up to Buster and aspired to play with him, or at least unguarded parts of him. Buster was 13 and wanted a nice nap on the couch until bedtime. Bless his heart, he was always patient and almost never cranky with the youngster, but he was also a master of the long-suffering look that says, “Do you see what I have to put up with?”

Well, Buster passed on, and Milo grew up. He’s nearly an adult cat now, able to get catnip legally and co-sign for a loan. And last weekend, he got a whole lot more than he bargained for — not that he would have been bargaining for a home invasion.

After about five months of mourning Buster and accepting his loss, I decided I was ready to love again. I had to wait till I felt sure I would be able to evaluate prospective new dogs on their own merits, rather than pouting, “You’re cute, but you’re no Buster,” or “Buster would have remembered my name,” or “Buster was a Rhodes Scholar and Olympic leg-lifter whose humanitarian work was legendary.”

Finally, I began looking for a new addition to my little family. Choosing to adopt a rescue dog is the kind and responsible thing to do, of course, but the process can be painful if you are cursed with a soul. You sift through screen after screen of hastily photographed furry faces. It’s like online dating — all these images, chosen specifically to make the subject look as attractive as possible, except with the added dread that ones who remain unpicked too long may be euthanized.

At least I don’t think that’s a feature of online dating. Yet.

I admit I judged by age, by weight (be fair – I have to have a dog I can physically pick up if necessary), by athleticism (no thank you) and barkiness. I went to take a look at a couple of pooches who didn’t pan out.

And then I found Roman.

A 6-year-old copper beagle rescued from a rural shelter, Roman has a limp from a puppyhood injury and a sweet nature that melts hearts. He’d been living since January in what has to be the most luxurious and idyllic foster home imaginable. It boasted a barn and a pool and horses, snazzy clothes and upscale eats and treats. I actually felt bad to take him out of that environment and make him live with Milo and me in a stylish but petite loft shoebox on the North Side. In the park, the brazen urban squirrels give dogs a hard look that says, “I will cut you.”

Roman arrived by volunteer airlift on the Fourth of July. Milo dove under the couch and has been only rarely glimpsed since, though the jingling of his bell and the occasional outraged yowl can be heard emanating from various pieces of furniture.

Roman is friendly and sweet. Milo remains startled, with a side of affronted. Roman had feline friends at his foster paradise, but his attempts to introduce himself only make Milo puff like a terrified Swiffer. As a writer, I can’t help enjoying payback.

Do you see what I have to put up with?

Samantha Bennett, freelance writer:

Samantha Bennett, freelance writer:

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