Of late, our Charlotte has decided to give our baseboard trim, designer sunglasses, and my high heels a reprieve, and has moved onto something that makes our daughter a lot less happy.

It’s puzzles.

Perhaps this isn’t truly a new desire on dear Charlotte’s part.  We enjoy completing puzzles as a family and have wondered repeatedly, over the last two years, at our seeming inability to complete one without discovering a solitary piece missing at its finale.  It’s rather anti-climactic to work for days, only to find that last piece has inexplicably vanished into thin air; and even more so after the fourth or fifth puzzle in a row.  We simply never figured out that our doe-eyed Charlotte was the culprit.

Recently our daughter had been working on a puzzle on a low coffee table that we have in our den, which was not the usual location for our work, and so I finally had the opportunity to catch Miss Charlotte in the act.

Day One:

I walked into the den and was certain I saw Charlotte quickly pick up a puzzle piece in her mouth and then dash under the table.  I tried to call her to come out, but she wouldn’t budge.

I dove under the table after her and pried her jaws open, “Gimme that thing!!!”   She was turning her head from side to side and trying to give me a pitiful, innocent look, when I finally got her mouth open.  Sure enough, there was a puzzle piece, neatly tucked up in the roof of her mouth.  I tried to pry the piece out but only succeeded in flicking it out onto the carpet, at which point Charlotte neatly popped her paw over top of it.  I tried to lift Charlotte’s paw but she was determined to keep that little piece of cardboard no matter what it took.

I couldn’t believe I was virtually arm-wrestling a 70 pound dog for a puzzle piece and she was getting the best of me.  But there I was.  Finally I was able to wedge my hand under her paw.  Victorious, I held the piece up to show Charlotte.  She tried to seem disinterested and gazed off benignly in another direction, refusing to look at my hand, or its contents.

“OH CHARLOTTE!!!”  I admonished, breathlessly.  “Are you eating the puzzle?!”

She ducked her head and looked up at me with her big ginger-ale eyes, doing her best to look even more innocent.  It suddenly dawned on me that this explained all the tiny bits of construction paper that I had been finding scattered all over the carpet for days, but had been just mindlessly tossing in the recycle bin without a thought. 

“That’s BAD!” I said “You’ve been eating the puzzle ALL THIS TIME?!”

I dragged her to time out, where she promptly peed all over the floor.  Then, in her despair, she lay down in part of the puddle of pee.  I wondered just who was being punished exactly, as I then spent my next half hour giving her a shower.  Afterward, I took her over to the puzzle and picked up a piece.

Her tail tucked between her legs as I held it up in front of her face.

“Puzzles…” I said, “are BAD!”

Charlotte dropped her head and looked properly ashamed.

Then I picked up her bone.

“Bones…” I continued, in my best Mary Poppins voice, “are gooooood!!!!”

Charlotte panted, smiling at me, and wagged.

I picked up the puzzle piece and deepened my voice. “Puzzles are BAAAAAAD!!!” I said.

Charlotte’s tail, again, tucked neatly between her legs, and she averted her eyes.

I picked up her antler and I cheerfully purred at her, “Antlers are gooooood!…Gooooood girl!!!!”  Then I gave her lots of happy pets and cuddles.

Charlotte wagged happily, once more.

This is child’s play, I thought.  She’s got it now for sure.

Day Two:

I came home the next day to find five whole puzzle pieces and three chewed up balls of unidentifiable cardboard scattered around the table.  I stood there, stunned.

She glanced up at me and dashed under the table.  I silently picked up one of the puzzle pieces and showed it to her.

I didn’t even have say a word;  Charlotte ran off to time out.  She glanced back at me as if to say, “I’m sorry mom…I think I might have a problem…”

I simply could not understand why she would not chew her antler.  I had paid thirty dollars for the reported creme-de-la-creme of chew toys, chock-full of all the marrow any red-blooded dog could hope for, but all Charlotte wanted was puzzle pieces?

I’m a brainstormer by nature and so I like to solve problems.  I got to thinking; perhaps the antler was too large.  Even though the extra-large antler was for dogs in a higher weight class, I had purchased it because it seemed to have a more interesting shape.

That must be it, I decided, I would go out to the garage and cut Charlotte’s antler in half.

I marched out to the garage, plugged in my mitre saw and naively readied myself for a nice quick cut.

Very naively.

To say that the smell of burning bone and quantity of dust that shot up into the air was nauseating, is more than a “gross” understatement.  White dust was flying into my face at an uncontrollable speed as I stood pursing my lips together and making ineffective raspberry noises, all while attempting to hold my breath at the same time.  All of this I accomplished while operating the saw through half-closed eyes.  At last, after what felt like about ten minutes, I completed the cut.  Half-blind, I grabbed both pieces, and bolted, insane with desperation, out the front of my garage at a full run, madly wiping at my eyes, face, and clothing, and gasping for breath.

But it would be worth it….Charlotte would now love her antlers and stop chewing our daughter’s puzzle.  I returned inside and it was like Christmas.  She chewed her antlers all afternoon without taking a break!

At last, success!

Day Three:

I arrived home to find six more puzzle pieces and two chewed up balls of unidentifiable cardboard littering the carpet.  I looked at Charlotte and she looked at me, waiting to see what I would do.  I felt we were at some kind of a turning point but somehow I knew that I wasn’t going to be the winner in this standoff.

I heaved a defeated sigh and slowly sank down onto the carpet beside her.

“Why Charlotte?…Why?…” I moaned.

I swear that I detected a slight shrug of her left shoulder.  Charlotte lowered her head to her paws as she exhaled her breath.

Charlotte 1.  Puzzle 0.