I met her on a Monday night, sometime after ten. Just off the plane from New Orleans, I could still smell the city in my clothes. I’d dropped by Casamento’s before heading to the airport, gotten a hug in the kitchen and an oyster loaf for the road. But if I’d thought that smell—buttered bread, grease, and mollusk—would stand me in good stead with the stranger waiting for me in Brooklyn, I was wrong.
As I banged my suitcase into the apartment, bellowing, “Hello, Little One! I’m home!” I caught a flash of kohl-rimmed eye, a flick of tail. Then she vanished under the sofa.
My husband had picked her up from an adoption event at a mansion in the Hamptons earlier that day—a skinny stray trucked in from the mountains somewhere, snuffling around a dog party Gatsby would have liked. She’d slept soundly all the way across Long Island, waiting until they’d reached home to unload her baggage: Dandruff. A garbage-bag phobia. And a terror of umbrellas so strong that when my husband had opened his, the little stranger had nearly hara-kiried herself under a Subaru.
I crouched down, tried a gentler tone. “Hello, Miss Pup. Would you come out now?”
Her smoky eyes glinting in the under-sofa darkness, she only slunk farther back.
A rescue dog is a four-legged mystery. Parentage, place of whelp, method of abandonment, are sucked into the twin black holes of dog brain, dog tongue. All the rescue group would give us was a vaccination record from a vet in West Virginia, an unlikely guesstimate of breeds (“dachshund/ beagle”), and a note, purportedly from the pup herself, that I’d swear she didn’t write:
Hi, I’m Hiro and I would love to become a part of your life. I am a happy, playful pup who loves to snuggle!
You can’t blame an orphan for tarting herself up a little, but snuggles did not seem to be forthcoming. We couldn’t even be sure that Hiro was her name. So we grilled her:
“Someone hit you with an umbrella, honey?”
“How did you escape from that Hefty bag beside the road?”
But no matter what or how we asked, the sleek little girl kept mum.
As she would not respond to the alias she’d come with, we decided to rechristen her. We wanted something funny but New Orleanian, something that would mark her as one of ours. That she was not native like us did not matter; a New Orleans name would be fitting. Like me, gone from home since Hurricane Katrina, she was one of the displaced. After rejecting a slew of monikers—Sazerac, Tchoupitoulas, Tipitina—we settled on Professor Shorthair (Shorty, for short), in honor of the late, great singer and pianist from Bogalusa, Henry Roeland Byrd, a.k.a. Professor Longhair, with whom she shares a lolloping singing voice, if not the mane.