Puppy Love

When my first child was born, I remember being surprised by how I instantly fell in love with her.  From the very second the doctor put my daughter in my arms, I was completely and totally in love.  The same thing happened two years later when I had my son, and then again many years later when I first laid eyes on my newborn grandson.  It surprised me because that’s not how I usually operate.  I may decide that I like someone very quickly, but it usually takes a while to actually fall in love.   For me, falling in love is a process that has to unfold in its own good time.

That was certainly the case with Finn, the dog we adopted from the animal shelter last February.  When I first saw him sitting in his run, looking at me with friendly interest, I was immediately attracted.  After spending some time with him at the shelter where he had to stay until he was neutered, I grew to like him very much.  And when we first brought him home, I liked him even more.  But I didn’t really love him, and he didn’t really feel like “my” dog.

It didn’t particularly worry me, because I know there’s always an adjustment period when we bring a new dog into our homes and that it takes time for us to get to know one another.  We learned that Finn is a sweet soul who is very affectionate, energetic and just a little bit more stubborn that we’d prefer.  (In Finn’s opinion, just because I’ve told him “no” forty-nine times when he tries to join me on the couch is no reason not to try for the fiftieth time.  He is the eternal optimist.)

Finn’s persistence can be annoying, especially on the days when I’m babysitting my grandson and Finn insists on trying to share his toys and lick his face.  I know that Finn would never intentionally hurt my grandson, but his attentions are sometimes overwhelming for a toddler and so I have to separate them a lot.  And remind my grandson that Finn’s toys are not for children and remind Finn that my grandson’s toys are not for dogs.  Over and over.  Those are the times when I wonder just exactly why I selected a young terrier as our next family dog, rather than say, a fourteen-year old Basset Hound.

But honestly, it doesn’t matter why I picked out Finn, or how many annoying habits he happens to have.  Because sometime in the past few months, it happened.  I fell in love with Finn and his pushy little self.  I still get annoyed with him from time to time, but he has definitely wormed his way into my heart and that’s where he’ll stay for the rest of his life.  He’s my dog now, absolutely and completely.

As an animal shelter volunteer, I see so many dogs that are returned by their new owners just a few days after their adoption.  I’m sure a few of those people have legitimate reasons for doing that, but I firmly believe that most of them are making a big mistake.  “Just give it time,” I want to tell them.  Because none of us are perfect, whether we walk on two legs or four paws.  And all worthwhile relationships require a certain amount of effort and patience.

But if you trust and believe, the love will come…..

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Try Again

Sometimes, we just have to take a leap of faith.  I never thought I would be quite this nervous at the thought of adopting a new dog, since I have always loved dogs and almost always shared my home with one (or more).  So when our beloved dog Lucy passed away last September, I honestly thought it wouldn’t be all that long before my husband and I got a new dog.  But I was wrong.

For one thing, the loss of Lucy hit us a little harder than we had anticipated.  I guess I thought that since Lucy was almost seventeen when she died, her death would be easier to accept.  Sadly, it wasn’t.  And when we finally did open our home to a new dog by fostering a sick shelter dog named Stanley, we had our hearts broken again.  We had hoped to adopt Stanley when he was well enough to be available for adoption.  But as he recovered we began to see his true personality, which included some very serious resource-guarding.  Since we have a one-year old grandson who visits our home regularly, that was a risk we simply couldn’t take….and Stanley went back to the shelter.

So when a cute, scruffy-looking black dog caught my eye at the shelter, I had distinctly mixed feelings.  I checked out his paperwork and learned that he was two years old and had come from a shelter down South.  He wasn’t yet available for adoption because he still had to be neutered, which meant I had some time to think about this.  I took him for a few walks (I’m a volunteer dog-walker there), talked to the shelter staff, and brought my husband and my grandson down to meet him.  The more I got to know him, the better I liked him.

And yet I hesitated.  It had been sixteen years since I’d actually adopted a new dog, and the only time since then I had brought a new dog into my home it hadn’t gone well at all.  I knew I didn’t want to go through that disappointment and guilt all over again, but I also knew I was ready for another dog.  I was basically a nervous wreck, scared to move forward with the adoption and equally reluctant to miss out on a chance to adopt what seemed to be a lovely little dog.

fullsizeoutput_4edbThis morning, I finally took the plunge, going down to the shelter and signing the adoption papers for “Tux.”  He’s going to get a new first name as soon as we decide on a good one, but his last name will definitely be Coleman.  I know it’s going to take some time for us to really get to know each other, and for him to settle into his new home and figure out the house rules.  I don’t expect him to be a perfect dog, which is only fair, because I’m not a perfect human.  But somehow this just feels right, and sometimes, we just have to trust that things will work out…..

The Time Between

IMG_3559 2For the past few weeks, our house has been far too quiet.  No one is barking at the back door, letting me know that she has waited exactly five seconds for someone to let her in and she’s deeply unhappy about the delay.  When I’m working at my computer, no one is laying by my feet, snoring loudly.  I don’t hear the repetitive squeak of dog toys, or the click of canine toenails on the hardwood floors.  Our house has been peaceful, quiet, and almost entirely free of dog hair…..and I don’t like it one bit.

Lots of people have asked me if we’re going to get another dog.  That question always surprises me a little, because I would think that anyone who knew me at all would realize that of course I’m going to get another dog.   If I should spend my final years bed-ridden in a nursing home, I’ll most likely have a chihuahua hidden under the blankets and be bribing the staff to bring it food and take it for bathroom breaks.  I’m not the sort of person who wants to live a dog-free life.

But I also know that it’s too soon to bring another dog home.  My husband and I are still grieving for Lucy.  It’s still hard to remember to walk in the house and not call out, “Lucy, I’m home!” (One of the best things about having a dog named Lucy was being able to say that.)  When I’m away from the house for several hours, I still think I need to go home and let her out.  And just last night, we realized that we still had her dog food stashed in our pantry, right below the box of dog treats.  The simple truth is that we aren’t quite ready to open our hearts and our home to another dog just yet.

IMG_3983So these days, I get my “dog fix” when I walk the shelter dogs, who are always very happy to get the attention.  My son and daughter-in-law’s dogs also come visit, making themselves instantly at home at “Grandma’s” house, as they explore every nook and cranny and scope out the furniture for the best napping spots.  And they don’t seem to mind too much when we make it clear that their sleeping choices are limited to the floors and the dog beds.

One way or another, we are getting used to our life without Lucy, and coming to terms with not having a dog of our own anymore.  I know that this particular phase of our life is temporary, and that the time is coming when we’ll begin to look for another dog to join our family.  Until then, I’m really grateful for the shelter dogs and my “grand-dogs” for making this time of transition just a little bit easier.  And for reminding me of just why I love dogs so much in the first place.

Off The Hook

Ann and SandyWhen I was seven years old, my father decided to become a minister and enrolled in a local seminary.  My family moved into the campus housing which meant that we had to give up our beloved dog Sandy.  Luckily, we had good family friends who were willing to take her.  They lived nearby and we would be able to see Sandy often.  I know it sounds like an ideal solution, but the truth was that I hated giving Sandy away, even to family friends.  I not only mourned the loss of my dog, but I worried that she would miss us and that they wouldn’t treat her as well as we did.  How could I be sure that the boys weren’t teasing her, and that the family was giving her enough attention?  How could Sandy possibly be as happy with their family as she was with ours?

IMG_3178Luckily, my fears proved ungrounded as our friends provided Sandy with an incredibly loving home until she died at the ripe old age of sixteen.  The transition from one family to another may have confused her for a little while, but she was well and truly taken care of for her entire life.  We are still close to those friends, and recently one of the sons (one of the boys my seven-year old self didn’t quite trust with her dog) recently texted me a photo of him holding Sandy when she was in her twilight years.  “She would sit in my lap and let me pet her like this every night,” he said.  It is one of the sweetest photos I have ever seen.

I doubt that he has any idea how much I appreciated getting that picture.  First of all, it confirmed what I had already known:  they loved and cherished Sandy just as much as we did, and she was quite happy with them.  But even more importantly, it reminded me that as much as I loved Sandy, I wasn’t the only one who could care for her and give her a good home.  Her happiness didn’t depend entirely on me.

I have always been the sort of person who likes to get things done, and who tends to believe in the old saying, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”  And while I know that the world needs those of us who are willing to take on responsibility and get things done, I also know that it is both arrogant and foolish of me to think that I am the only one who can do that.

I need to remember that when someone tells me about a problem, they are not necessarily expecting me to solve it for them.  Sometimes, all they are looking for is a sympathetic ear.  I need to understand that not only is it not my job to take care of everyone and everything, but that I can’t possibly do so.  In short, I need to recognize my own limitations.  And I especially need to learn to trust in the the fact that there are plenty of other people in this world who are fully capable of taking care of things, even without my help.

I have kept a copy of that photo, partly because it makes me smile whenever I look at it.  But it is also an important reminder that I don’t, actually, carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.  It’s enough that I do the best I can, as often as I can.  And then I have to trust that there are always others around who can handle the rest.

One More Christmas

IMG_2153We were sure that last year would be our dog Lucy’s very last Christmas.  She was fifteen years old, and had survived a couple of serious health issues.  Signs of her aging were obvious: stiffness in her joints, hearing loss, and worst of all, a digestive system that obviously could no longer handle the variety of “food” she still found and insisted on eating.  Lucy had been part of our family for over fourteen years, so our Christmas morning was a little bittersweet as all photographed and video-taped what we thought would be the last time she would ever help us open presents.

Clearly, Lucy had other ideas.  Because Christmas is a week away, and she is still with us.

I’m not sure if it’s her competitive nature (her doggie sister lived to be sixteen and a half, and I think she has every intention of exceeding that goal), or just that she is still enjoys life.  She turned sixteen last October.  Lucy’s hearing is basically gone, her eyes are somewhat cloudy and she can no longer balance on three legs while I trim her nails.  But she still has a healthy appetite, still trots briskly after the occasional squirrel, and still plays with her dog toys now and then.  She can even still chase her tail a little bit when she gets really excited about something,  such as her dinner being served.

I know that eventually my family will be facing a Christmas, and a life, without Lucy.  She won’t be with us forever despite her best efforts.  Time moves on and those we love, both human and otherwise, grow old and die…often before we are ready to let them go. And since Christmas is a time when the influence of the past seems to be stronger than usual, acknowledging that loss can be hard.

My father has been gone for eight years now, and both my mother-in-law and father-in-law have been gone for six years.  And while my husband and I miss them all the time, we miss them especially during the Christmas season, when the memories of the holidays we celebrated together are especially strong.  We didn’t live in the same state so we had to be flexible about when we got together, but they were always a part of our Christmas celebrations.  And Christmas isn’t quite the same without them.

Yet Christmas is still a beautiful season.  It’s a time to treasure the family and friends we still have and to appreciate the new people who join our family and enrich our lives. My mother may be in her late eighties, but she is still with us, and so is her elderly Chihuahua.  My children and their spouses live close by and we are very much looking forward to the arrival of our first grandson in just a few weeks.  Some change is good indeed.

And the fact that Lucy will get at least one more chance to find the special present that Santa Dog left under the tree will just make this Christmas that much sweeter.

A Very Lucy Christmas

IMG_0415I have never known a dog who enjoys Christmas quite as much as my dog Lucy.  I believe if she could figure out a way to write a letter to Santa Claus (or in her case, Santa Dog) she would.  Because she not only receives a couple of Christmas presents each year, she makes it quite clear that expects them.

Her interest begins the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, when we put up the big tree in the living room.  Lucy is right there, checking out the ornament boxes, sniffing at the strands of lights, and generally making herself useful by being constantly underfoot while we are hanging the fragile antique ornaments I love so much.   And if we have put out a plate of cheese and crackers to go with the champagne we sip while we are decorating our tree, she makes sure she gets her fair share of the food, whether we actually offer it to her or not.  She is fast and our coffee table is conveniently low.

Still, she doesn’t get truly excited until closer to Christmas day, when we start placing our wrapped gifts under the tree.  She gives the wrapped boxes a quick sniff, and if they smell interesting enough, perhaps a quick lick as well, just to taste.  It’s the gift bags she’s really interested in, because she knows that her gifts always come in a gift bag.  Each and every gift bag placed under the tree gets a thorough inspection so that she can assure herself that its not the bag that contains her gift.  Don’t ask me how she can tell the difference between a sealed gift bag that holds a scarf for my daughter or a stuffed toy squirrel for her  just by smelling, but she does.

IMG_4396Sadly for Lucy, she has to wait until Christmas morning before the presents from Santa Dog arrive.  (And they can’t be put under the tree until that actual morning, usually when she’s out in the back yard for a potty break, or she will open them before we want her to.  We found that one out the hard way.)  But when the big morning finally comes and everyone is assembled in the living room to open gifts, Lucy is always the first one at the tree,  joyously  nosing through the stack of presents until she finds the two that are hers.  She always opens first, plunging her face right in the gift bag to get at her toy, then settles down to a happy morning of destuffing her toy squirrel while the rest of us open our gifts.

Lucy is fourteen this year and is really starting to show her age, so there is something bittersweet about this Christmas, because we know full well that it might be her last. She’s at the age where it’s easy to forget the stolen Christmas cookies, the gingerbread house she helped herself to a few years ago, and all of her other holiday transgressions.  We’re just glad that she’ll be here this Christmas with her bad little self, and who knows?  Santa Dog may even bring her three gifts this year.DSC03692 2

 

 

Sometimes It’s Right To Be Wrong

DSC03338I still remember how upset I was when my son, who was then in his Junior year of college, called me to tell me he had acquired a dog.  At the time he was living  200 miles from home in an apartment building that did not allow dogs, was a full-time student, and also played racquetball for the university, which required some travel on weekends.  I didn’t see how he could possibly provide a good home for a dog, and as a volunteer at the local Humane Society, I knew how often dogs that are bought or adopted on impulse are turned in at animal shelters.  My son got quite an earful as I rattled off all the reasons why adding Frankie to his life was not a good idea for either of them.

When I calmed down enough to listen to him, my son told me that Frankie had desperately needed a new home, as the person who was listing him for free on Craig’s List (always a horrible idea for any animal) said that he had been returned to the breeder after being attacked by another dog, and had spent the previous, very cold, winter living in an outdoor run.  When my son picked him up, he was scarred, filthy and terrified. That made me agree that my son had done the right thing to rescue Frankie out of that situation, but I still didn’t believe that he should keep the dog.  I told him not to expect any help from us, unless he wanted to find Frankie another home, in which case I’d pull in every favor I had coming to make sure he found a good and loving home this time.

IMG_0028But my son was determined to keep his new dog.  He moved to another apartment building that allowed dogs, took Frankie to the vet to have him neutered, wormed and vaccinated, and bought all the necessary supplies.  We met Frankie for the first time when my son brought him home for Christmas break, and I had to admit that he was awfully cute and very sweet.  I was determined not to get attached to the little guy, but I failed miserably.  Even Lucy, who as a rule hated having any dog other than Sandy in her house, eventually made friends with Frankie.  As long as he lets her be the boss, (and he does) they get along quite well.

IMG_0182Frankie lived with us for about a year after my son graduated from college, until my son bought his own house and moved into it, taking Frankie with him. By then, I liked Frankie so much that I was secretly hoping he would leave Frankie with us, and I did mention how lonely I thought Frankie would be since my son and his girlfriend would be at work all day.  Sadly for me, but happily for Frankie, they solved that problem by adopting another dog to keep him company. Frankie bonded with his new sister, Roxy, very quickly, and they are now best friends.

I still see Frankie often, as my son lives close by and I am often the designated dog-sitter, so I get to enjoy Frankie’s lively, playful personality.  He’s not the smartest dog around, but he’s happy, loving, and always ready for a snuggle.  And I just love the joyous, proud way that he prances along on his walks as if he is quite sure he’s on his way to somewhere wonderful. I have told my son that if for any reason he can no longer keep Frankie, he is coming back to live with us.  It’s painful for me to admit it, but my son was right and I was wrong:  Frankie definitely belongs in our family.DSC01614

Lucy

IMG_0143I didn’t really want another dog, as I was perfectly happy with the one we already had.  Sandy was a sweet-natured and happy dog who fit in beautifully with our family, and I felt that one dog, a long-haired rabbit who required daily brushing and a gerbil were more than enough for me to take care of.  But the kids really wanted another dog, so I foolishly told them that once the gerbil and rabbit were gone, we could get a second dog.  Unfortunately, within six months after I said that, the gerbil and rabbit both died.  Which is how Lucy came into our lives.

When we found her at the Humane Society, she seemed to be a calm, friendly dog who got along well with Sandy, so we signed the adoption papers, handed over a check and took her home.  The next day, we were surprised to discover that our new dog had suddenly seemed to acquire a very high level of energy indeed.  Closer inspection of her adoption papers revealed that we had adopted her less than twenty-four hours after she’d been spayed, which was a mistake none of us caught at the time.  That explained the “sudden change” in her personality.  She hadn’t been calm when we’d met her at the shelter; it was just that the sedation hadn’t completely worn off.  But by that time, she was already of member of our family and returning her was out of the question.

We quickly learned that Lucy was easy to love, but not so easy to live with.  We discovered that she not only had extraordinary energy, but was also very independent and unbelievably smart.  Sadly, her intellect has never been matched by a desire to please, or to abide by the household rules.  Lucy lives by her own rules.  She raided trashcans, even the ones with lids, which meant that she was constantly supplementing her diet with used kleenex and other disgusting things she couldn’t digest properly.  I’ll spare you the gross details.  She left muddy footprints in our bathtubs, strolled casually across the living room window sill, and waited patiently for the exact moment when no one was looking to jump on the table and polish off the cheese ball during a party.  She prided herself on keeping our backyard squirrel-free, and would also leave us little tokens of her love on our back porch:  a piece of charcoal, a chunk of our landscaping border, a dead vole.  Staying one step a head of Lucy required constant vigilance, and even then, I wasn’t always successful.

IMG_4966I guess I thought I’d be glad when Lucy grew older and slowed down a little.  But I’m not.  She’s thirteen now, and has been an only dog since last September, when our beloved Sandy died at the age of sixteen. Lucy seems a bit lost without her, and after Sandy’s death, she has aged much more quickly.   These days, the dog who was so independent and afraid of nothing trembles when I drive her to the vet, and sticks close by me when I’m home.  The dog who always launched herself enthusiastically at our household visitors doesn’t even hear the doorbell any more, and  the dog who once had boundless energy is happy to spend most of her time sleeping in a patch of sunlight, especially if I am nearby.

I may be middle aged, but Lucy is old, and there’s no escaping the fact that she is beginning to fade away.  Her hearing is almost completely gone, she’s getting cataracts and sometimes she seems bewildered and confused. I know she’s “just a dog” to many people, but those who truly love their pets will understand that I am just not ready for this particular loss.  Maybe its because we’re still adjusting to life without Sandy, maybe I’m still feeling the effects of the empty-nest syndrome, or maybe I’ve just known too many people who have died in the past few years. But for whatever reason, I sometimes sit with Lucy and quietly whisper to her, “Stay.”  She’s smart enough to know what I mean.