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For better or for better: A San Francisco genesis

Dachshund at rest photo: evalyn baron

Here’s a dog story, San Francisco, but not a shaggy one, I hope – though it may be a bit long, this punch line has a point.

My 13-year-old dachshund Sally was paralyzed by an injury over the holidays, but she’s fine now, thanks to our in-house doggie doctor.

But therein lies our story:

When husband Peter and I got together, my ex-husband Phillip gave us dachshund pups, Sally and Cyrano. After hardworking divorce mediation, we worked even harder to keep our friendship alive. The pups were a loving gift, though Phillip joked with smirking affection that he wanted Peter and me to go through the same puppy-raising agonies that he and I had gone through raising our two dachshunds in NYC. During the first tortuous weeks, after nearly lowering them out the ninth floor window in a basket for strangers to adopt, we finally fell into true love with Sally and Cyrano. Within a month, we were bonded for life.

When time came for their first shots, I called Dr. Sheldon Cale.

While he examined the pups, we chatted about the decade that’d passed since I’d brought dogs to him. Turns out he was divorced, too.

So, I went into match-making overdrive.

“Are you with someone now?”

“Nope. It would be nice, though,” Dr. Cale replied.

“OK. What’re you looking for? The right woman, right guy? The right goat? What? Anything in particular?”

“Well,” he blushed, “The right guy, actually.”

“Oh! O.K. …” My gay-dar had been honed by Phillip’s coming out, late in our marriage, so I was only slightly surprised at this answer.

“Tell me more.”

As he described his perfect man, an idea formed, and ever my mother’s daughter, I dove right in.

“I think I might have a guy for you to meet. Would it be OK if I gave him your phone number?”

“Sure. I guess,” said a surprised Dr. Cale. But he seemed game.

So, I did it.

I gave my ex-husband’s number to Dr. Sheldon Cale.

They met for dinner, fell in love over the appetizers, and have been together now for 13 years. Peter and I have two gracefully aging dogs, and free veterinary service for life.

I think of Sally and Cyrano as our “dogs of love,” in contrast to Julius Caesar’s “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.” Sally and Cyrano have certainly created havoc, but it’s been of the good kind – the family kind.

Sheldon often rhapsodized about the Bay Area, its natural beauty, its profound spirit. So after he and Phillip became bi-coastal, Peter and I started visiting too, enjoying glorious persuasion tours around S.F. conducted by Phillip and Sheldon, with an ulterior motive: they wanted us to move here as well. No problem. This city sells itself. Our first visit, escaping a sickeningly hot and humid NYC, we picnicked on cool Ocean Beach, relishing the Pacific breezes. Peter turned to me and said, “Y’know honey, we really should think about moving here.”

And here we are.

As wonderful as NYC can be, there’s a brilliance about San Francisco that’s difficult to put into words, that engulfs the heart, romances the soul. People feel it. Our two new mates felt it before Phillip and I did, and because they felt it, our modern family began to take shape, San Francisco style. Sure, we could have found an affordable large home in “upstate” Manhattan, or God forbid, another borough, but, honestly, the thought never occurred to us. It became real once we’d all moved here, this idea that having a place together would not only work, but be the most fun we’ve ever had, and so it came to be: our shared home in the Haight.

We each have our own half-a-house, the dogs have one mommy and three daddies, and all of us have an awed take on how we made this “experiment” come to life; an experiment that began with a gift that squirmed and barked.

When Sally got ill, I mourned the encroaching loss of part of our family history. So I needed to tell you about it.

Of course, things change, but our experience of loving each other, our modern family and the Haight that houses it? Just another manifestation of that unique beauty and spirit that brought us here in the first place.

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This story in depth, and more, in "For Better or For Better: A Story of Divorce, Dachshunds and Everlasting Love," coming, eventually, to a bookstore near you. E-mail: [email protected]