City Girl in the Country – With A New Puppy

When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to have a dog.  My parents had a variety of practical reasons, but none, in my young opinion, was convincing enough to justify an outright denial of this most basic childhood desire.

They did try to appease my strong proclivity for pets with a menagerie of city-friendly rodents, birds, and fish, including some very cool homing pigeons and a brief stint with a live turkey that was walked on a leash.  But my dog-desire never waned.

Before the ink dried on the P&S of my first home, I contacted a breeder who would fulfill my long-awaited dream of owning a dog.  The rest is history, as they say.  I haven’t been dog-less since.

Enter my newest friend, Ivy.

Ivy

Regular readers will recall that convincing Husband to step back into dog ownership after the loss of a previous one takes work.  He is understandably nervous about the responsibility and commitment involved – especially for a puppy.  But with four relentless voices in the house and a coup by some fellow dog-loving friends, Husband caved to the cutest Christmas present ever!

We arrived at the shelter as the doors opened, hoping for first dibs.  We narrowly succeeded.  As we stooped to greet our would-be pup, another interested party arrived and scooped her up, claiming “This is the one.”  Principessa jumped up from her seat on the floor with a sound that can only be described as a primal growl.  Her posture was so aggressive, her demeanor so intimidating, that for a moment, even I was afraid of her.  After several agonizing seconds of this stare-down, the woman conceded and set the pup down at a safe distance from my 17-year old daughter-turned-werewolf.

It was love at first sight…and bite.  Ivy is a nippy little thing at 10 weeks old.  She’s receiving an obscene amount of love, attention and training at the hands of five adoring fans.

We are, perhaps, a bit too alarmist in light of the sudden and tragic loss of our previous dog.  When husband spotted a tick on Ivy’s fur and mistakenly said ‘flea,’ the scene erupted like a ‘code 2319’ in Monsters Inc. when George had to be decontaminated because he had a sock stuck to his back.

Then we had the ‘bloody toenail’ that turned out to be a piece of candy cane.  And the undue panic over a pile of dog vomit.  What can I say?  We love her and want to protect her.  Any mother will attest to the very real and imagined dangers that lurk in the shadows of her mind, waiting to pounce on her baby when she lets her guard down.

This is exactly what happened when two neighboring Labradors broke loose and crossed the street.  In a split second, Ivy was scooped into the mouth of the bigger one and tossed into the air.  It was a frantic scene of paws and leashes, arms and legs, trying to separate the dogs.  Despite the worrisome howling and shaking, Ivy recovered without any wounds.  It will take her humans a bit longer to heal.

For better or for worse, Ivy is ours, and we couldn’t be happier.   Already, in one short week, she has wiggled her way into our hearts and filled our home with joy.  As dogs do, she gives far more than she takes, proving once again that the journey of life is sweeter when traveled with a dog.

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Best Dog Ever

faveWhen I was a kid, someone told me that the rain meant God was crying.  Today, my inner child wants to believe that this is true – that it is raining because even God is sad that my beloved one-year-old puppy died.

It was a freak accident that caused the spinal cord injury – a quick twist of fate during a puppy playdate.  The vet assured us against regrets but we are reeling with hurt.  There is no explanation that will help us make sense of the pain in our hearts.

We held Oakley on a ‘Best Dog Ever’ pedestal.  He was our one-of-a-kind dog, aka mutt, unique and unrepeatable.  A friend described him as a bag of spare parts and we cherished that about Oakley.  Each of us loved him with abandon and he returned the affection without playing favorites.

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There is a secret that dog lovers know – such that it cannot be adequately explained to one who hasn’t experienced the unfettered loyalty and sincerity of a canine.  The secret is that dogs fill a need we didn’t know we had.  They reveal to us – an oft undeserving lot – the experience of unconditional love as only an unencumbered creature can.

I’ve read that dogs never lie about love.  They are honest with their emotions and far less confused than we humans about relationships.  This is why we are devastated when they leave us.  Having shared in this mutual exchange of magical affection, we can never fully reconcile the loss of it.  Dean Koontz said, “If you’ve had a wonderful dog, life without one is a life diminished.”

Oakley’s life was cut short in his people’s eyes.  We had hopes and expectations about a future with him.  In our minds, Oakley’s image was already painted onto the canvas of every child’s soccer game, every family party, and every first day of school photo.  How will we ever un-paint him?

Those who have healed from the loss of a dog will remind me that Oakley lives forever in my heart.  Someday, that reality will comfort me.  Someday, my hands will not ache for the feel of his fur; my ears will not notice the deafening silence created by the absence of paws running to greet me; and my mind will relinquish its relentless chatter about the unfairness of life. But right now, as I tumble through the stages of grief, my immense love for Oakley hurts because it has no tangible recipient.  It has only a memory of what it felt like to have him, and sadness that he is gone.

Rest in peace, my sweet friend. You will be missed.

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Dog Mirrors

I’ve always wanted a mutt, solely because of the common endorsement that ‘My mutt was the best dog I ever had.’  Of course there are more philanthropic reasons for choosing a rescue dog, but ultimately our decision was made by the fact that our family of five could not agree on a breed.

Husband wanted to enjoy longer than two months of dog-freedom after the passing of Rex.  But the rest of us were impatient, and very convincing with our reasons for jumping back into dog ownership.  Husband accused us of engaging in ‘puppy porn’ which is a fairly accurate description of our addiction to browsing PetFinder.com.

Principessa and I would fall in love anew every day and casually leave photos of glossy-eyed puppies on the family computer for husband to stumble over.  Gradually we wore him down with four-legged cuteness and took his reduction in resistance as a green light to move forward with adoption.  When this irresistible ball of fur jumped out of its crate, husband was sold.

oakley 10.13

It was I who had second thoughts.  We had a two week return policy in case things didn’t work out.  As if.

The following weeks included two trips to the vet, three prescriptions, hypo-allergenic food, and a subscription to pet insurance for a dog who was, well, sick as a dog.  Instead of returning our damaged goods, we became even more attached and protective and committed to dog rehabilitation.  We now have a healthy, energetic, puppy and a few less shoes, rugs, and electrical cords – all lost to the chewing nuisance.

Now, instead of worrying about ill health, we focus on ill behavior.  This, thanks to my passion for discipline.  Husband teases that by the time I’m done with dog training, Oakley will have more diplomas than the rest of the family combined.  Probably true.

On a regular basis, I haul the kids to puppy class and insist on their participation in training for good manners at home.  Principessa approached me with sincere concern that Oakley might be deaf.  “Why?” I asked.  “Because he doesn’t listen to me when I tell him to sit.” she replied.  Oh, my dear daughter.  Oakley is not deaf.  He’s a teenager.

Principessa has also complained that Oakley won’t cuddle with her.  “He’s so ungrateful.  I feed him and play with him and still, he ignores me.”  She could be me, reflecting on her.  The parallels are uncanny.

At a recent dog-training class, Peach and I discussed the common observation that dogs resemble their owners.  We giggled about the shaggy dog with the shaggy-haired woman and the aggressive dog with the angry-faced handler.  Turning the mirror on ourselves, we observed that   10-year old Peach, distracted by so many puppies in one room, had difficulty controlling Oakley’s similarly curious demeanor.

I’d like to say that Oakley is a perfect specimen at my command, thereby reflecting my own composed nature.  But in truth, when I find myself worrying that he is hyper and barky and unfocused, I have to admit that I, too, am off the rails.

Friend asked why, with a typically chaotic family life, I would want to add a dog to the mix?  Despite the ample research on the benefits of pet ownership, it resembles a crazy decision.  True, this.  But at the end of the day, five out of five Dunhams agree that dogs make us better humans.  We are more compassionate, less self-centered beings when caring for a canine.  And more importantly, when our worlds are ablaze with problems we can’t solve, there is always this…

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waiting for us at the end of the day.

Man’s Best Friend, and Woman’s and Children’s

dogAn orphaned four year old dog named Rex meets a longing family who is eager to fill their hearts with a new friend.  They are not worried about the dog’s bad habits, his loud bark, or his boundless energy.  They can see that he is smart and eager to learn.  He responds to their attention with the same vigor as he does to his food bowl.

For eight years, the children and Rex grow up together.  They play together, annoy each other, and rejoice in unison when treats are dispersed.

Rex causes grief, as labs can.  He eats Mom’s flowers, steals pizza out of the hands of children, and swipes roast chicken off tables.  But still he is loved.

Slowly, age catches up to Rex, given away by a limp and and a gray muzzle. Peach remarks that even though he’s old, Rex still enjoys a good squirrel chase.

Until the day he let the squirrel pass without so much as the blink of an eye.  He also stopped noticing, or caring, when visitors entered the house.  And he couldn’t be bothered to get up for dinner.

“It’s time.” Mama said, but even she wasn’t sure.  Is he suffering?  What would he want?

The family waited, maybe too long, to make the decision.  Objective eyes assured them that Rex needed to be freed from his cumbersome body.

So the family made THE appointment.  They smothered him with love those last few days, feeding him previously forbidden treats and giving endless belly rubs. A stepping stone was made in his memory while big tears fell.

Mama holds the empty collar and slack leash, missing the tug at the other end.  Peach plays the blues on the piano, then asks to go shopping – her girlish escape.  Beagle reminisces about the time he convinced Mom to let Rex sleep in his bed.  Rex was the brother he never had.  Husband attempts humor and Principessa just sobs.

Life, in its busyness, tricks us sometimes into believing that pets are just another chore.  But when they leave us, the enormity of their contribution to the family crashes into awareness, leaving a gaping hole.  Life is strangely quiet without Rex.  We are a family minus one – one loud, lovable lab.

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