Living with a foo-foo

Dread descended upon me as Lee and I were driving home from an evening out.

Brino on spiralThis was my fourth return to my house for the day. The earlier three times Brino, the current doggie love-of-my-life, bounced down from his lookout on the spiral stairs to meet me at the door and bark his greeting. He looks so cute sitting at the window where he can smell, hear, or see someone approaching..

As is his custom, Brino barked unrestrainedly, expressing his joy and love, until he had circled Lee once or twice and then run out the door to greet me, all the time circling in a frenzy, circling back to circle Lee, and then circling around me and in front of me and  wherever space allowed. I sat down on the bench and started to pet him and told him what a good dog he was. He quieted down, trying to be a good dog, trying so hard to please me by not barking because he has learned that it turns me into a crazy woman. His face and body showed that he was really sorry that he forgot. Strange strangled sounds 2014-01-29 10.46.06emerged from deep in his throat. He looked pleadingly up at me, gurgling and croaking, his eyes saying “Love me, don’t leave me, love me, stay with me, love me, don’t go away again.”  Even though it’s amusing, it’s hard to take.  It’s exhausting for me. It’s exhilarating for him. He’s so happy we are home.  He’s so cute.

 

A little history —

The foster mom who had “Spike” before he came home with me in January and turned into “Brino,” wrote in his online profile that he would sing and dance for you. That sounds cute, doesn’t it? She said he would pick up each foot and point it. He does do that and looks like a little ballerina. So cute. She also said he yipped with glee to see her. After having one disappointment after another trying to adopt a dog I was desperate, and a little yipping was not going to deter me.

Surely Lee and I could break him of this unappealing small dog behavior that he had most likely picked up from those mini poodles and things he somehow got mixed up with and was fostering with. K, his foster mom, had twenty-one dogs at her home. Spike, a twenty-five pound Pomeranian mix or whatever he is, was the big guy at this mostly mini dog rescue (hereafter called TMMDR). The last time I checked, the largest dog available at TMMDR was a 19-pound Pekingese, Miss Becky, unless you count the bonded pair Kaylee and Mikki, two shih tzus who together weigh 26 pounds.

pepper-silo-small

Pepper — one of the 100 pound labs

Most of the dogs at K’s slept on the lower bunk of a trundle, but a favorite few got to sleep up on her bed. Spike wasn’t one of the favored. My grand delusion was that K, with twenty foo-foo dogs — as my family disparagingly labeled any dog that was too cute for words, yippy and spoiled to boot, that resembled a chew toy for one of our 100 pound labs — just didn’t have the time to retrain Spike herself.

Spike had been on my short list for a few months, but never at the top. My heart ached over a few dogs already during the search, and my life was stuck in a deep loneliness without a furry companion. My days were spent scanning adoptable dogs on petfinder.com, scouting local kennels, completing applications, studying breed characteristics and temperaments, and feeling sorry for myself.

2014-01-27 01.53.25 The ChipmunkSpike filled most of my requirements. He was older, small enough to fit on my lap, large enough to walk with the big dogs, and not a constant shedder. He was house trained, neutered, and had no allergies or health issues. He got along with the twenty little dogs at K’s, K’s grandchildren, and cats, and he didn’t cause mayhem when left alone in the house.

Spike got low grades on my barking and yipping requirements, his adoption fee was pretty high, and his foster home was too far for me to visit him ahead of time.  But he was cute. I decided to apply for him.

TMMDR seemed keen on having found someone to take him.

Petfinder is the most popular site for finding your pet soulmate, It is similar to dating sites, and just as humbling and depressing. Each pet has a profile. People read profiles and pick a pet. One difference is that prospective adopters or rescuers don’t have profiles.

Each rescue organization requires a separate application, and some won’t even answer a “Is Buddy-boy” still available?” inquiry until they have received and reviewed your application. That could take a week or more.

Uncle Jack

Uncle Jack

So I filled out yet another application form, answering questions such as: size of yard, height of fence, dog experience, disciplinary strategies, training plans, hours away from home, name of groomer, other people and pets in the home. Did I ever return a dog or put one down? and why? Who would take care of the dog if I went on vacation or died? How often do people, children, dogs visit? Most wanted to call the vet, some wanted to call neighbors, a lot wanted to make a home visit. I felt terribly guilty inflicting unnecessary intrusions into my vet’s day at her clinic.

The application process is a bit overkill. These are dogs looking for new homes. We treat abused children coming across the border and our mentally ill and homeless with less concern.

Petfinder claims to list over 340,000 adoptable pets in over 13,000 adoption centers and shelters. Surely the web designer could streamline the adoption process by setting up a questionnaire for each prospective pet owner to compose a profile. That’s what dating sites do. If the system works for finding a husband or wife it should be good enough for finding a pet.

IMG_0279The adopter profiles could be secure so that only rescue organizations approached by the prospective adopter could see them. Individual rescue organizations could have the option to add a question or two if they deem it necessary. A single secured recommendation from the veterinarian could also be posted online. Harvard and Yale do it. More than 500 colleges choose freshman with a Common Application. Why can’t doggie angels have faith that a common application will work for them also?

Some rescue agencies just don’t respond. They put up barriers. Do they like to play god, are they scams, or they are just incompetent? Many are staffed by unpaid volunteers, but I’m an unpaid volunteer and consider myself competent.

Finally the application was in and accepted, the home inspection went fine, and all we had to do was sign the contract. There were off-putting clauses in the contract, such as —

“The adopter hereby declares that no representations about the nature of the adopted dog . . . have induced the adopter to sign this contract.”

What else would have induced me to choose this dog and sign the contract? All I had were his cute pictures, the profile, a few conversations and emails. We hadn’t even met yet, and they were also asking for pre-payment.

Obviously I had more trust in TMMDR than they had in me.

The contract goes on to dictate what kind of collar he should wear and couldn’t wear, where he should be allowed in my home and outside my home. It threatens to take action to retrieve the dog should I give him to my children or my best friend.

Tuck – my doggie-love before Brino – would have been a very miserable dog if he had to abide by certain rules. How about this one?

This dog will not be kept outdoors during the adopter’s working hours, or at any other time left alone outdoors while the adopter is not at home.

Tuck was happiest in the fenced-in area behind the house where he could look out over the river. He showed his displeasure by being extremely destructive if left inside alone. Tuck’s foster mom warned me, but I had to find out for myself.

closeup of Tuck

Tuck

Another rule in the contract stated that the dog had to be protected from the elements. Tuck loved the snow, the cold, sleet, rain, the wind, the outdoors. He slept on the deck at night. He never went into the shelter we built for him  He was constantly on alert, listening, watching. Even the owner of the kennel where Lee’s dog, Uncle Jack, and Tuck stayed finally gave in. At first he thought it imperative that Tuck stay indoors with the pack, but finally he let him sleep outdoors.

Tuck, by the way, rarely barked, and if he did, whoa — it was scary. He looked like a wolf. Nobody ever called Tuck “cute.”

Perhaps rescue agencies don’t know what is best for all their dogs and their new owners. Perhaps they should have a little humility and allow adopted dogs and their owners to find their own way. The contract includes threats of recall, attorney fees, and fines. It is as if TMMDR doesn’t want to relinquish ownership of their dogs. In paragraph one it states that the “donation” is not a fee or sale price.

It’s a very invasive contract. TMMDR can visit my home anytime, call my vet for information anytime, demands that I notify them if I move and if Spike/Brino dies.

But I signed the contract, just like I sign my life away over and over – when I open a bank account, or get insurance, or go to the doctor, or buy a cell phone, or download software, or now, adopt a dog.

2014-01-27 01.37.25 Going for a rideI do love my Brino. Except for the fact that I later learned that TMMDR kept the entire fee, including the extra $50 I paid to “help defray the cost” of getting my dog to me, and did not give any of it to K, I do appreciate their efficiency and the work that the organization does. K feeds 21 dogs and gets them their shots and meds. She brought Spike to a groomer so that he’d be cute as could be when I picked him up, drove to meet me half way for the pick-up, and definitely deserved a big chunk of that fee. K and other foster moms and the transport volunteers who ferry the dogs around have very big hearts.

It’s been a few days since the dread and it has slowly dissipated. Brino was able to come along with me on most of my errands since that night so he hasn’t been overwhelming at the door. Everyone he meets on my travels thinks he is so cute.

IMG_0282He is lying by my desk on the tower deck as I write. He’s been a good little boy today, not barking too much, settling down quickly. He trotted gaily by my side on our walk with Lee and Uncle Jack – on the leash and off, he took a dunk in the stream and shook himself off before he came near. He sticks close, doesn’t bolt as all my other dogs did whenever they had the chance. It feels good.

Who knows what goes on in Brino’s cute little head? When I wrote to K to report on how he was doing, she twice asked me, “Is he still behaving like a gentleman?”

“Ooohhh,” I thought.  “He’s got an ungentlemanly side???”

He has antagonized some, but not all, of the neighbor dogs, mostly the pit bull next door, and the Caine Corso who usually is very sweet but always very large. Wikipedia, although not necessarily the preferred source for information on such a grand beast, says it best: “Ideally the Cane Corso should be indifferent when approached and should only react in a protective manner when a real threat is present.” That’s what I keep telling Mina, since Brino is certainly not anything resembling a real threat. After getting bit on the bum by the pit bull (totally not the neighbor’s fault and no hard feelings) Brino has been much less feisty.

IMG_0274Depending upon the length of his hair, Brino is my Baby B., my fox, my bottlebrush, my scraggly little guy, my flutterby, my chipmunk, my lion, my mop. Lee affectionately calls him a pain in the a–.

He’s lucky he’s cute.

____________________________________________________________________

Fourteen joys and a will to be merry

IMG_0067Tuesday morning the flag that flies in the park outside my kitchen window was flying at half-mast. It was important to know why.

Two of my friends had died quietly the day before: one was more like family. Although they lived next door to each other, near the park, neither of them had any clout in town. The flag wasn’t lowered for them. It was eerie.

My friends were in many ways similar.

Both spent a lot of time by themselves. It seemed by choice. They did enjoy socializing, and each of them could be great company.

Both loved the Hudson. One kayaked on it, the other swam in it.

IMG_0062They both spent a lot of time gazing at it from their back porches, and they knew that it was forever changing, and that it would always be revealing more but not all of its secrets.

DucksThey loved the birds – the birds in the air and on the water. They watched each other watch a duck family that crossed through our contingent yards several days in a row on their way to the water. We never did find out where the ducks were coming from. Perhaps they nested at the pond down the road. It seemed a long walk for little ducklings, but one theory is as good as another for the story.

foxBefore&AfterTuckThey both observed the animals that darted out from the lilacs and sumac that bordered the tracks – mostly bunnies, but there were others. One took a picture of the sickly fox that roamed the shore, the other took the fox out of its misery.

They both were survivors. She fought breast cancer and was determined to beat it. She reminded me of my husband Clark who fought until he didn’t have the strength to sit on the tractor and mow the orchard anymore.

My other friend’s body was full of buckshot. We knew it was in his ear, but not until the xrays the day he died did we know that his body was riddled with shot, especially in one leg. He started gagging and gasping for breath on Thursday, and by the weekend Lee and I knew that he deserved a better life than the one he would have if he started the regimen to cure himself.

IMG_0055They both were creative. She maintained beautiful gardens, mostly in large planters. I like to look down on them from my top deck. We talked plants a lot, and also animals, and neighbors, and always the river. Her husband gave me one of her pottery pieces for our “tower toasting” just a few days before she died. It is next to me on my desk. Lee and I knew when she went into the hospital the last time she might not make it to our celebration.

Tuck 2 062013 LeeMy other friend, whom if you haven’t guessed was my dog Tuck, was creative too. He could find a way to get out of anything – almost. She called him Houdini. I think she would have loved to find a way out of her body and run with him.

What does one do when two friends die on the same day? I got into the car and drove to see my mother. She has had to depend upon someone for help in her daily life for the past ten years. She acknowledged me and smiled and I told her the news of the family, and in five – ten minutes she dozed off again. I held her hand drawing in whatever motherly comfort I could.

When in transit, I’m nowhere, a good place to be when you don’t want to be anywhere else. I sing with favorite music or listen to books. This four-hour round trip the book was A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of my Father by Augusten Burroughs. I hurt for the little boy who longed for his father’s love and had created a reality where he and his father shared a special relationship complete with little rituals. Finally Augusten discovered how wrong he was.

The tape kept running. I was no longer listening, but had had my own breakthrough. Life, death, love, loss, yesterday, tomorrow had all come together and I was happy to be alive. The memories of these two friends, whose times were up, were now part of me, along with the memories of others who had touched me in one way or another.

At home I read the blurb on the audiobook cover: “. . .Though harrowing and brutal, [the book] will ultimately leave you buoyed with the profound joy of simply being alive.” Come on, I thought, this is ridiculous.

It’s now Thursday and I’m somehow picking away at this feeling of joy by wondering if I should feel guilty for loving life while others are struggling just to live another day. Every now and then this pesky theme of mine surfaces and Lee, bless his heart, tells me it is good to enjoy life. I always come up with qualifications.

But here’s to a great neighbor and my dog Tuck, and here’s to my neighbor’s husband who shall grieve as long as he needs, and here’s to Lee, my constant companion and our lost spouses, and here’s to my mother, my sons, my friends, my extended family, Tuck’s vet, and here’s to you.

Love,

Spoonbeam

Tuck loved to be free —

Tuck 4 062013 LeeWatching him bound across
the field by the creek made
my toes curl.

Even when he bolted
it was impossible to scold him.
He always came back – full of burrs
and sticks and leaves,
soaking wet,
satisfied and glad to be a dog.

We’d leave the gate open if he were
still out when
we went to bed.

Sometimes I secretly really wanted him
to break away,
squeeze through the fence,
escape the leash,
chase a bunny,
but I
wouldn’t admit it.

What if he
frightened a child?
dug up a garden?
snatched a chicken?

What if he were
hit by the train?
attacked by a coyote?
snagged on a wire?
shot by a neighbor?

He had no use for treats or bribes,
could take or leave his meals,
didn’t sleep on a pillow,
fetch sticks, bother with toys.

He had been wild once,
I was told, in his life before
I knew him

but it must not have been all good

because always he came back to us,
because he always tried his best
to be a loyal, beloved pet,
extending his paw to all, and
keeping an eye on Jaxon,

because he walked proudly at my side,
tail tall and curled,
fluffed like a drum major’s feathers,
on lookout for suspicious dogs on leashes,
and people who might hurt me.

At least that’s what people told me —
that he would protect me.

He was a proud descendant of wolves:
his body peppered with buckshot,
he preferred to sleep outside.

He had a fierce bark, which he didn’t use often,
and it surprised me each time I heard it.

His ballsiness was well noted:
his kennel name was Manly.

His last few days were Hell.

We said goodbye.

He closed his eyes
and went to sleep.