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THE SOUND COMES FROM THE KITCHEN. A tropical storm has rolled across the Pacific and created a giant riptide that has been carried far inland. No, a washing machine has run amok, water churning out of the suddenly open door. No, Norm is drinking from his plastic bowl.
"Get the towel," Kristen Babb-Sprague says.
"Right," her husband, Ed Sprague, says.
There is a flurry of activity because, well, Norm is Norm. There is a pattern here. The slurping noise, the water noise, will be followed by a few seconds of silence. The silence will be followed by a shaking noise. (The washing machine? No, Norm.) The shaking noise will be followed by the rainstorm. Anyone or anything may be hit.
"If you don't get to him fast...," Ed says.
"He's ruined my couches...," Kristen says.
Norm is a dog. No, Norm is a big dog. He is just about as big as any dog possibly could be, an overpowering dog, an English mastiff. He weighs 160 pounds. He has a head the size of a television set, a sad face with more folds and wrinkles than a crumpled-up love note. The water collects in the folds and wrinkles, and with one shake of his head Norm can irrigate a small farm.
Even when his face has been dried, his thirst quenched, Norm dominates a room. He enters the den and stretches across four or five feet of carpet. He plays with his toy of choice, a deflated regulation football. The football looks like a throat lozenge in his mouth. He is a good dog, a pleasant dog, named after the George Wendt character in the television comedy Cheers. He is huge.
"I wanted a dog this year because I knew I would be home alone a lot," Kristen says. "Ed was going to be gone, and I was going to be here. Ed bought him for me as a present for our first anniversary, in February. I went to a dog show and looked at setters and Saint Bernards, and then I saw the mastiffs. I knew that was what I wanted. Norm was only 10 weeks old when we got him."
He now is 14 months old. That is probably the most impressive of all of Norm's impressive statistics. How could he have grown so big so fast? He came into this modest house in Pleasanton, Calif., and in one tumultuous year he became this giant, while Kristen fulfilled a lifelong dream and won the gold medal for the solo synchronized swimming event in Barcelona and Ed became a true-life World Series hero, stepping off the bench in Game 2 to hit a ninth-inning home run in Atlanta to set the Toronto Blue Jays off toward their world championship. Norm somehow is a symbol of all that has happened to his owners.