The Ups and Downs of Fostering Canines

 

We lost Remy today.

Wednesday I was off for the holiday so I got up early, walked my various and sundry dogs (I’m up to ten at present – don’t judge me), then took Charles’ pup Nanuq with me over to Mama’s to pick blueberries.  Remy was fine then.  He chased cats with his best friend Buddy the Basset Hound, caught on quickly to picking blueberries (which dogs love, FYI, and they’re so good and as good for dogs as they are for us), and he played with Nanuq.  He’d had a good breakfast that morning and was ready for the day.

Wednesday evening Remy refused his supper.  This was enough unlike the chow-hound that we’ve grown to love that Mama called me and said that while she was worried, she would give him til the next morning.  We hoped it was the heat.  We hoped Thursday morning he’d be back to his old self.

Thursday morning Remy refused his breakfast, though he did accept a piece of boiled chicken with his Prednisone.  Mama called Triad and they asked her to bring him on in and drop him off – they’d keep him over the weekend and see how he did.

Thursday evening Remy ate his supper for the Triad staff, but by Friday morning (this morning) he was refusing food again and this time it was obvious he didn’t feel well.  Remy has been sick for seven months and this was really the first time since his diagnosis that he hasn’t felt well.  They called and suggested that Mama might want to come and see him, and asked if she wanted to be present when he was euthanized.  At first she said not, but then she reconsidered.  She called me as she was getting ready to leave the house – Did I want to come too?

I had to take an early lunch today for another reason, but I made time to swing through Kernersville and visit Remy.  He was very glad to see us.  We walked him outside, and he wanted to get in Mama’s car and go home – he said he was sure he’d feel better at home.  We explained to him that we’d love to take him home but he needed to wait on Dr. Marti.  Sometimes it’s ok to tell sick dogs a little fib so they don’t worry.  He said that was fine and that he was ready to go back inside.  We sat in an exam room with him for awhile – he sat in my lap, licked both our faces, and then wanted to go back out into the lobby to visit with the staff.  There were no patients waiting so we let him.  He went back into the storage room and returned with a ball, which he brought to Mama.  She tried to take it from him but he bore down, dug in, and held on.  This is how Remy plays ball.  Oh, sure, he likes to chase it sometimes, but he’d far rather play tug of war with it.

I couldn’t stay very long – just half an hour or forty five minutes – but Mama stayed on after I headed back to work.  I hadn’t been back at the office long when she called me.  He was vomiting and Dr. Marti and Dr. McGinnis felt it would be best to go ahead and euthanize him.  Mama said she’d already left the clinic but when they called she turned around and went back. She was with him at the end.  I wish I could hav ebeen, but I’m glad Mama was, and I know that the staff at Triad loved Remy just as much as we did; he was, after all, their dog.  And Remy loved them too, as much as he loved us.

They gave Mama a cast of his paw print, and said they would email us some good photos of him.  We’ll go through ours and send them copies of what we’ve got too.

When I got off the phone I had to close my office door and sit down and cry.

Later on in the afternoon I got a second phone call.  This one was from Susan with The Mosby Foundation, to which I’d applied for a grant to help with Baby’s surgery expenses.  They’re inclined to help us; she needed our vet info, which I confirmed with Mona before sending.  They are donating $200.  This put us within $100 of being able to have one leg done.  This was the best possible news I could imagine today.  I’m so relieved.  In fact, if not for losing Remy, I would probably be plain giddy.

Maybe I am a little giddy.  I want to laugh and I want to cry.  I’ve done both and will probably wind up doing more of both before this day ends.

I had to give Baby a pain pill yesterday morning, and another last night.  This morning she wasn’t limping as much so I didn’t give her one.  Onyx is too rough with her so I’ve stopped taking her out back even though she likes walking back there now that Onyx and Nanuq are the only puppies.  (Puppies – ha!  Onyx is a pit mix and around a year old, no older, and is taller than Baby; Nanuq is only four & a half months old and is already as tall as Baby and still growing!)

This thing with Baby scares me, because she’s only five years old, and she’s in very good health even if she is somewhat overweight; she’s playful; she’s affectionate; and she’s a mighty chicken stalker… but she’s also got two extremely fragile knees.  I had to fuss at her and at Bridget a couple of weeks ago because Bridget was out front walking Baby and Baby wanted to run so Bridget decided to run with her.  They were running and jumping and carrying on like a dog OUGHT to be able to do with a kid, and I had to fuss at them for acting normal, because Baby’s NOT normal.

One break is all it would take.  One bad landing, one trip, one stumble, just one break.  Snap, and Baby’s life would be over.  Dr. Cowan said she can repair what we’re looking at right now, but that if further damage is done she doubts it will be fixable.  And when a dog does irreparable damage to one leg and has a bad joint on the other, there’s often little choice left besides PTS.  And I just don’t want to think of Baby being PTS.

I told Baby and Bridget that when I scolded them, and Bridget’s brown eyes got big and moist and she had this little bit of a quivewr to her chin when she said, “I’d NEVER hurt Baby on purpose.  I won’t let her run again.  I forgot that she’s not like the other dogs is all.”  And Baby sat there staring at me with her big moist brown eyes and she said, “But I’m a DOG.  I’m SUPPOSED to run and jump with this kid, because that’s what dogs do!”

When I got home this evening I got a second phone call.  That $100 difference between what we’ve got, what’s been pledged and what we need – you remember that difference, right?  Well, this second phone call was from another wonderful charity group called RedRover and they’re donating the $100.  Do you know what that means?  That means that we now have the money to have the operation on leg #1.

While that’s excellent news, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we’re only half-way there.  We can have one leg done – but now we have another $750 – $1,000 to raise for Baby’s OTHER leg.  We’ll get there the same way we got here – $5 or $25 or $100 at a time.  It’s all about small steps – they do tend to add up.

So this has been a day of true ups and downs.  Remy’s gone.  He got to be a dog and was a damn fine dog when he was doing it.  He’s crossed the Rainbow Bridge and no doubt he’s looking for celestial cats to chase.  He enjoyed chasing cats.  He never wanted to catch them – when he’d get one cornered he’d paw and bark at it until it would run again.  When he’d come across one sunning he’d tease it until it would run.  Remy was all about the chase – he didn’t care about winning, only about running.

And now we’re half-way along on Baby’s long road to a semi-normal life.  She’ll never get to be as much of a dog as Remy was… but she’ll get to be more of a dog than she is right now.  Once this leg is done we’ll have six to eight weeks of recovery time, and then, if we have the funds, we’ll be able to do the other leg.

It took us EIGHT MONTHS to raise $750 for the first surgery.  Surely to goodness it won’t be another eight months before we can do the other.

If you would like to donate to Baby’s surgery fund, you can do so by visiting www.stokescountyhumanesociety.com and clicking the “Our Furbabies” link to the left of the page.  If you’re on Facebook, visit Baby’s very own page at https://www.facebook.com/#!/BabysLuxatingPatella.

We can only do this with your help.

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Baby the Wonder Dog

In mid-October 2011, shortly after my 35th birthday, I was the “victim” of a corporate downsizing.  The company offered a fair severence deal – my salary through the end of the year – so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I laid around the house a couple of days, and then I decided to go on a shopping spree.  I bought new clothes for my pending job search; suits, tops, slacks… I went to Ross so it’s not like I went overboard or anything.  Of course when one is unemployed one can only spend so much money without guilt, severance or not, and so after I shopped for a couple of days I was bored again.

I spent time with the dogs – Max and Peaches, my own dogs; Maggie, my first rescue and a classic foster fail, and her five remaining puppies – Georgia, Hershey, Lil’ Bit, Po, and Chunkybutt.  I took them places – not all at once.  I had long philosophical discussions with them.  I played a lot of fetch.  But contrary to popular belief, there are periods throughout the day when dogs don’t want to play fetch or engage in philosophy.  Those periods are called “nap times.”  During “nap times” I was still bored.  Oh, I took one nice nap each day, but one can’t nap as often – or as long – as a dog and still sleep through the night.

I had become semi-involved with Stokes County Humane Society at this point, though not as involved as I was about to become.  One “nap time” I was on Facebook, that most wonderful of all social networking inventions, when a fellow rescuer/SCHS volunteer sent me a message on Facebook:  “Female dog with 9 pups at the shelter – do you know anyone that can help?”

(Coincidentally this is the same friend who gave me notice of Maggie’s plight back in July.)

Maggie’s pups were the most amazing pups ever.  Maggie was a wonderful mother.  Things with Maggie had gone very smoothly, all told.  It would be that way again!  I would go and rescue this dog and her puppies, and it would be a walk in the park!  I was doing the Lord’s work, and He would never send me more than I could handle!

I’m convinced that the Lord enjoys a good joke as well as anyone, and He possesses a very twisted sense of humor.

I was babysitting my nephew that morning – he was suspended from school for getting beat up.  I’ll blog about THAT subject another time.

“Gaven,” I said.  “I’m going to go to the dog pound.  You need to sit in the lobby and be very good while I’m there, and don’t touch anything.”

“Are we getting a dog?” was his eager response.

“Maybe,” I said.  “I want to see her first.”

So we rode over to the animal shelter, and Sarah took me back to meet the little mama.  Little is a relative term – this was a shorter dog, appeared to be an Aussie/spaniel mix of some sort, but she was the fattest dog for her size I’d ever seen, and nursing a litter of nine fat, rolly-polly, adorable four week old puppies to boot!

Sarah opened the kennel door, and I walked in and knelt down.  Mama dog raised her head and looked at me.  I spoke to her and held out a hand; after a minute her tail began to thump the floor and she licked my fingers.  I picked up a puppy; the tail never stopped wagging, but mama dog did lay her head back down and heave a sigh.  She knew why I was there, bless her soul.

I had so much to do – I needed to go home, set up Rosie’s/Maggie’s crate, find the old towels and sheets, and on and on.

“Don’t do anything with her,” I told Sarah.  “I’ll be back for her.”

On the way home, Gaven asked, “Aunt Heather, are we getting a dog?”

“Yes, we are,” I told him.  “And she has nine puppies!”

“Just like Maggie!” was his enthusiastic response.

Wrong!

Things went smoothly at first.  My husband was home when Gaven & I got back & nothing would do but that we turn around and go ahead and pick her up.  He won’t admit it, but Charles enjoys this rescuing – not as much as I do, but he does enjoy it.

Sarah told me her name was Baby, and she was an owner surrender.  The owner’s statement was, “We can’t do it anymore.”

I made Gaven ride in the front seat on the way home from the shelter.  Strange dog with puppies + 9 year old nephew could possibly equal a bad situation.  I’m very careful with new dogs.  I didn’t have anything to worry about with Baby.

I laid one of the back seats down and I sat on the other one.  The theory was that Baby and her puppies would ride in the cargo area but if I needed to I could reach them via the laid-down seat.  What REALLY happened was that overweight mama dog rode home IN MY LAP and the puppies kept falling off the seat and into the floorboard, so I was squished and rescuing puppies the entire ride home.

Once home, we carried the puppies inside and installed them in the crate.  Then I went back for Baby.  Baby spotted Max, Peaches, Maggie, and Maggie’s puppies in the fenced backyard and went ballistic.  She roared challenges, insulted their mothers, called them lily-livered cowards and codfish, and said things that I would blush to put in my public blog.

That was my first hint that this wasn’t going to be quite the breeze Maggie & her pups had been.

Baby didn’t want to take care of her puppies.  She didn’t want to nurse them; she didn’t want to clean up their poopy messes; she didn’t want to be around them the majority of the time.  She was a terrible mother.

I had to bathe the puppies daily – sometimes Mama would come over & help me.  She wishes she’d had the sense to get a video of them in the tub – they would sit and howl so mournfully.  They HATED bathtimes!  But if I left the house, by the time I’d come back they’d be covered in pee, poop, and mushy puppy soup.

Within a few days I had an inkling that something was more than not right – something was dreadfully WRONG.  I was trying to make Baby get in the crate to nurse her puppies.  I opened the crate door and the puppies rushed out.  They knocked Baby down.  She gave a heart-wrenching cry of pain as she went down, and as the puppies swarmed over her and found teats, she lay trembling and whining and staring at me with wide, frightened eyes.

I called Mona, and Mona set me up an appointment with a vet in Kernersville.  The verdict:  Baby was suffering from bi-lateral luxating patella.  We took her to a vet in Walnut Cove for a second opinion – same diagnosis, except this vet recommended putting Baby on a diet.   She also quoted a fairly steep price for the necessary surgeries.  We’ve been fundraising ever since.  We’re close to half-way there, but it’s taken seven months to get here, and I really hope it doesn’t take another seven months to raise the rest.  Baby deserves better than that.

I’ve gotten to know Baby fairly well over the last seven months.  She’s opinionated, self-centered, always hungry, and nosy.  She’s also sweet, loving, playful, and funny.  If she needs to go outside and I don’t jump up as soon as she scratches the door, she’ll start talking about it.  She’ll start out with a few whuffs under her breath.  If I still don’t answer, she’ll escalate to barking, but she goes through several increases in volume along the way.  And if that fails to elicit a response, she’ll come to me, climb into my lap, and bark in my face.

Baby has developed a relationship with my pack, and enjoys the steady stream of older puppies that comes through.  She’s still aggressive toward strange dogs, though.  Honestly, I don’t know if it’s real aggression or if she’s just so unsocialized that she doesn’t know the proper way of approaching other dogs.  I do know that she’d start a fight if I’d let her, whether she intended to or not.

She’s always had a keen interest in birds.  When I walk her she’ll run to the end of her leash and back to me – but if there are birds in the woods she’ll try her best to chase them.  So I don’t know why I was surprised when we moved my chickens outside (they were under a heat lamp in my bathtub to start with) and Baby tried to make a meal of them.  Funny thing – she goes straight for the chicken coop now every time I take her outside.  The other night the stupid hens were sleeping with their heads stuck through the chicken wire.  I barely kept Baby from decapitating one of them – I heard her teeth click together as I pulled her back.

While I have no intentions of letting Baby eat my chickens, I would like to see her be able to run and play like she really desires.  She’ll sit and watch the other dogs play, and she’s got such a keen interest in them.  She likes going places – I take her to soccer games, and when SCHS had a big yard sale fundraiser last weekend I took her to that as well.

Baby is great with children.  She can be jealous if she thinks the children are getting more attention than she is, but that jealousy always manifests in non-aggressive acting out like eating Gaven’s Christmas present, or jumping, or barking, or getting on the furniture – things she knows better than to do but, like a spoiled toddler, she does them because she thinks negative attention is better than no attention at all.

This is Baby napping at soccer practice with the coach's young daughter.
This is Baby napping at soccer practice with the coach’s young daughter.

I’ve called her a pampered princess, a food whore, an attention whore, a little fat thing, and my sweet Baby girl.  In truth,  Baby is a wonder dog and she’s going to make someone an excellent pet someday.  Sadly, she can’t be put up for adoption until her knee surgeries are behind her, and without help, that’s going to be awhile yet.

If you’re able to contribute even a small amount toward Baby’s surgery, then visit http://www.stokescountyhumanesociety.com.  Follow the links on the “Our Fur Babies” page to Baby’s fundraiser.  Every little bit will help.

Operation: Puppy Love

I have lived my entire life in the south. My childhood was spent in the Forsyth County, NC suburb of Walkertown. During my high school years I resided briefly in Ewing, KY and Maysville, KY, before making a more permanent home in Bangs, TX, on a 200 acre cattle ranch with my grandfather. I’ve had dogs my entire life, and my family was very committed to having pets spayed/neutered. As a child & teen I never connected the spay/neuter surgery with all of the stray dogs, puppies, cats, and kittens that are so prevalent everywhere – city, suburb, backwoods, or rural cattle ranch – it didn’t matter where I lived, there were always strays and they were simply a fact of life. I was always sad to see them scavenging for food, or lying dead in the road, or being loaded into the dogcatcher’s truck… but it was one of those incontrovertible facts of life, just like those poor starving kids in Africa that I couldn’t help either.

As an adult in my mid-thirties, I must say I was astounded when I learned just a few short months ago that there are parts of this country – yes, I’m talking about the USA – where the spay/neuter laws are so strict there is a SHORTAGE OF PUPPIES! To me, strays are the norm, no matter their age, and it’s always been common knowledge that if one wants a puppy one can usually find a puppy at the shelter. If you don’t see what you’re looking for at the shelter, no problem – check out the “free to good home” ads in the paper… or better yet, wait til Saturday and go to a yard sale. That’s just how things are in the south.

Puppies are euthanized every day all over the south – we’ve got an OVER-abundance of the cute, furry, wriggly, face-licking tykes, with their warm little bodies and heavenly puppy breath, and not enough homes to go around. Another fact of life – that’s just how things are.

That’s not how things have to be. There are plenty of families in parts of this country that would love to adopt a puppy, and are on waiting lists because of the shortage. These are people who don’t really care what size or breed or color the puppy is – they just want a puppy. And they’ll love whatever puppy they get, and give it a good home – they might even squeeze it and call it George, who knows?

At some point, some kind-hearted soul put two and two together – connected the line between point A and point B – and said, “Eureka! Let’s bring puppies from the south and put them in homes in the north!”

Ah, if only it were that simple. How to get the puppies from point A to point B?

This is where North Shore Animal League comes in. NSAL is the largest animal shelter in the world. They are located in Port Washington, NY, the center of the puppy-free zone, and they have torch-and-pitchfork wielding mobs crowding at their gates daily demanding puppies.

Well, the torch-and-pitchfork analogy might be overkill… but I think you get the idea.

Here’s how Stokes County Humane Society’s partnership with North Shore Animal League works:

  • SCHS volunteers rescue puppies from the Stokes County Animal Shelter.
  • SCHS provides volunteer foster families with food, crates, bedding, toys, and veterinary care.
  • Volunteer foster families quarantine (for up to 10 days), vaccinate, worm, and love puppies for three to six weeks.
  • SCHS sends puppies to the vet for a check-up and a certificate of good health.
  • SCHS arranges to transport puppies to the ASPCA shelter in Martinsville, VA.
  • NSAL sends a transport shuttle from Port Washington, NY to Martinsville, VA.
  • Puppies are loaded onto the transport shuttle and taken to the NSAL shelter (sometimes foster mommies cry at this stage, FYI).
  • Puppies are vetted again, cleaned up, and put up for adoption.
  • Happy families in NY adopt puppies and love them for their whole furry lives.
  • Everyone lives happily ever after.

Seems simple enough, yes?

SCHS needs foster families and sponsors in order to make this program work. If you are interested in fostering one to three puppies for three to six weeks, or if you are able to sponsor one to three puppies (think vet bills, care expenses), please complete the Stokes County Humane Society volunteer application at http://www.stokescountyhumanesociety.com/volunteering.html today. Our volunteers have made us the organization we are today. Join SCHS – the sky is the limit for tomorrow.

Letting go…

I always miss my kids when they are adopted – Sandie, Scooter, Georgia, Lil’ Bit, Hershey & Po have all found homes – Sandie went home with a new friend whose daughter played soccer with Vannesa in the fall; Scooter, Georgia, Lil’ Bit, Hershey & Po were all adopted as a result of SCHS networking.  They’ve all gone to wonderful families, and the people who adopted Sandie, Lil’ Bit and Hershey are now my friends on Facebook, so I’m getting to watch my babies grow up, which is nice.  Scooter’s family emails me photos now and then, and I’ve gotten a few photos of Georgia via text.  I love technology.  I really do.

I’m used to having  a little time between adoptions to get used to one of my kids being gone before I have to part with another one.  That’s not the case this time.  Po was adopted by a very excited young vet student who took him home this past Saturday.  Merry & Pippin, my private rescues, are boarding a transport tomorrow morning for North Shore Animal League in Port Washington, NY.  I’m not used to Po being gone, and now Merry and Pippin are going too.

I’ve taken stock and this leaves me with Chunkybutt and Baby in foster care, and of course my own Max, Peaches and Maggie.  Chunky’s the last of Maggie’s puppies.  He’s a big, handsome fellow, with a wonderful long black coat and a laid back personality, and I’m baffled as to why he hasn’t been adopted.  Baby’s going to be with me for awhile yet – she has to have surgery to correct her bi-lateral luxating patella (that is, dislocating kneecaps in both hind legs) before she can be put up for adoption.

So what am I going to do with just five dogs?  Back when I still had five of Maggie’s pups and all nine of Baby’s, plus Max, Peaches, Maggie and Baby, I was running day in and day out and I was pretty sure I was crazy – or getting there fast.  Now my life is about to get back to normal (whatever normal is, when applied to the life of a canine foster mom), and I’m sitting here tonight unable to comprehend the fact that I’m ONLY going to have five dogs!

Am I going to take a break from fostering?  That’s a tough question.  I don’t know.  I think I should take a few weeks off – we don’t want my husband to get burned out, after all – I rely on his assistance in every aspect of my various insanities.  He lifts heavy stuff, drives long distances, helps with feeding, bathing, walking, and playing, and gives me his version of pep talks when I’m feeling blue.  (Think, “I hate all these animals in the house, there’s hair everywhere – but you’re really good with the dogs, they really love you.  You’re doing a good thing.  I hate all the hair.”  That’s the Mr. Camp version of a pep talk.)

Will my impulsive nature assert itself again?  Probably.  I definitely won’t rule out anything.  I’m pretty sure there are puppies in my future, and more than likely adult dogs as well.  In spite of the fact that Maggie’s the first black dog I’ve had in several years, and Baby the second (not counting Maggie’s black puppies), I’m partial to black dogs.  I’m also partial to large dogs, though small ones aren’t so bad as all that.  I foresee a future with many black dogs.  Of course I won’t limit myself to the black ones – I’ll take in a dog in need regardless of shape, color or size (or religious affiliation, sexual orientation, nationality or political preference).

I’ll be saying good-bye to Merry and Pippin tomorrow morning.  I’m going to miss them.  It’s going to be harder to let them go, I think, because I’m not used to Po being gone yet.

I’m typing this and a commercial is on – one of those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials – and I’m reminded yet again why it’s ok to let my kids go, even when three of them go within such a short period of time.  It’s so I can rescue again.  There are animals in the shelter that the ASPCA and the Humane Society and all of those other rescue groups can’t help, because there are more homeless pets than there are foster homes.  The longer I hold onto my kids, the longer a homeless pet has to wait for a rescue that might not come in time.

So I’ll be saying goodbye to Merry and Pippin tomorrow morning, and it’s too soon for me, but I’ll be ok.  I’ll probably cry, but I’ll be ok, because three less foster puppies means that some other dog or puppy is going to have a chance…  And that’s why I’m doing this, after all.

My younger daughter, who is 13, and my son, who is 16, have both expressed their sorrow that they always get attached and always have to say goodbye.  I told them both tonight that when we stop getting attached it will be time to stop rescuing – because after all, it’s not fair to the dog if we don’t love it for however long we have it.

I’m becoming a pro at letting them go.  I just hope I never get used to it.

Max (or, we needed another dog like we needed a hole in the head)

Three years ago this month – that would make it February 2009 – we made one of our obligatory family trips to central Texas to visit the in-laws.  We’ve made the trip often enough that we have “favorite” gas stations & truck stops – and, yes, fireworks warehouses – at which we stop regularly.  It’s a long trip from NC to central TX, but we always push & do it in one rush – partly because my husband is impatient, partly because it’s an outrageous fortune to pay for five to sleep in even the cheapest motel, much less in a place where we can at least hopefully believe the bedding is clean.

It was past suppertime, the kids – who were at that time 14, 13 and 11 – were grumpy (ever noticed how kids tend to get grumpy on long car trips??), I was grumpy, our grumpiness had contrived to make Charles grumpy – shall we just say we were none of us at our best?  At any rate, we were in east Texas, about two hours east of the DFW metroplex, and we still had about six hours of travel to get to Brownwood (also known as hell).  My aunt & uncle, who live in Irving, were expecting us for supper; and several delays, the nature of which I have long since forgotten, had us running late.  My aunt & uncle are patient folks, and genially agreed to wait supper on us in spite of my insistence that they eat & just save us the leftovers.

We didn’t have time to stop.  We didn’t really NEED to stop.  Everyone had used the bathroom at our last stop, and we weren’t ready for gas.  (We ONLY use the bathroom when we stop for gas – the kids learned that lesson very quickly.)  But for some unknown reason Charles took an exit and pulled into a truck stop.

“What are you DOING?” I demanded as the kids began to whine.  (This doesn’t paint the kids in a very positive light – I promise they’re really not brats.)

“I’m getting GAS!” Charles retorted in exactly the same tones as I’d used.

“Well fine,” I snapped as he rolled to a stop at a pump.  “Get out,” I snarled in the general direction of the kids.  “We’re going to use the bloody bathroom here!”

“I don’t have to pee,” Bridget, the youngest, whimpered.

“I could give a damn,” I growled.  “You will go to the bathroom, you will sit on a toilet, and you will PEE!”

I got out of the van and slammed the door.  The kids dragged themselves out as well and just sort of meandered in aimless little circles around each other, making no moves toward the gas station door.  I was already simmering but was ready to come to a boil.

(Right here I need to let everyone know that I’m not going to lie in my own blog – I could, but I’m not going to.  Long car trips bring out the worst in all of us, and my parenting style tends to be a little in-your-face when things get stressed.  One time when Bridget was four I threatened to stop the car and leave her on the side of the interstate in Memphis.  Hey, sometimes the shock value of a threat can work wonders – especially if the kid believes you’ll follow through.)

Then Charles said the words that would change our lives forever:

“Hey, look at that puppy!”

I groaned.  It looked like a German Shepherd type mix, and might have been a tawny color under the gray dirt and muck.  It was really hard to tell much about it – it was across the busy access road at another truck stop, and was rushing up to cars and following the various people to and from the service station.  I could see right away though that this was no young puppy, in spite of Charles’ words.  Young, yes – puppy, not quite.

For some reason it decided to cross the busy access road.  “Go inside,” I told the kids.  “That dog’s going to get hit and we don’t want to see it.”

Only the dog wasn’t hit, and when we came back out (yes, Bridget used the bathroom) Charles was squatting on the sidewalk petting it.  Him, I should say, as was fairly obvious close to.  He was filthy, and when I put my hands on him I could feel his ribs, and all the ticks that were feasting away all over his body.  He reeked.

“Be careful,” I warned the kids.  “We know nothing about him.”

But they had to touch him as well, and he was so lonely and pitiful, and craving human affection – he almost melted right there at our feet.

“We should go,” I finally said.  “Mark and Amy are holding supper for us.”

The kids trailed back to the van, casting numerous concerned looks over their shoulders as they went.  I gave the dog one last pat and joined them.  Charles was the last back to the van, and as he slid behind the wheel he looked at me and said words that Charles Camp had never before uttered – words that almost made me ask when the body-snatchers had arrived.

“We can’t leave that dog.”

My husband, who can take a dog or leave it.  My husband, who still doesn’t believe dogs belong in the house.  My husband, who never had a dog as a kid, whose mother disliked dogs to the point of disgust –  My HUSBAND said this.

And in some really weird, twisted shifting of roles, I heard myself respond, “We can’t exactly bring him with us – we’re over a thousand miles from home, what will we DO with him?  Good grief, we need another dog like we need a hole in the head!  We’ve already got Rosie and Peaches, are you insane??”

Charles put the van in gear and rolled slowly away from the pump.  The dog chased after us.  Charles put the van in park and said, “Go get that dog.  We’re not leaving him.  He’ll follow us onto the ramp and get killed, and even if he doesn’t he’s going to get run over up here.  Didn’t you see how he was running back & forth across that road?”

So I got out, and the dog came to me – Charles was right, I could tell – he was more pup than dog.  I coaxed him to the van; he got scared at the last minute and ran a few feet away, then stopped and stared longingly at us.  I walked to him – he ran to a truck driver who was walking back to his rig.  The rig was cold, so I knew the trucker had been there awhile & knew he’d know if anyone did –

“Hey mister,” I called.  “Do you know whose dog this is?”

“Lady,” the trucker responded, “that dog’s been here all day and the fact he hasn’t been killed is a miracle.  You want that dog, you take him.  Ain’t nobody else showed any interest in him, and from the looks of him he’s homeless.”

So I picked the dog up and carried him to the van, where I manhandled him into the back with the kids.  I’ll admit, I had a very, very bad feeling – he was young, yes, but he was already big enough to do damage; he was scared witless; and I didn’t know what else to do with him – Should I put my kids in danger?  Or leave the dog to a certain death?  I touched the scar on my lip, then shook my head.  This, I told myself very firmly, was the RIGHT thing to do.  There was no other choice.

The poor guy bolted as soon as I shut the van door – but not like you’d think.  No, he leaped over the luggage to the back, where Damon & Bridget were sitting, and buried his head in Damon’s lap.  I took a sharp, painful breath.  That was a dog who had once had a boy, and lost him, and was ready to give himself to another boy just like that – no questions, no hesitation.  That was a dog who’d been looking for a boy – and found one.

We debated several names between that lonesome offramp and Irving.  Charles suggested Max, and we all agreed it was a fine name.

By that point we’d lost so much time that it was nearly ten thirty at night – CST – by the time we reached Irving.  I called my uncle before we arrived to let him know we’d have one more mouth to feed.  Mark, who has been known to pick up strays himself on occassion, didn’t bat an eye at my news and was ready for us when we got there – not just with supper for us & a meal for our newfound friend, but with beds for everyone.  We very gratefully spent that night with him.

We got to Brownwood early the next morning, which was a Sunday.  Our first stop was Wal-Mart, where I bought Puppy Chow, a collar, a leash, a dish for food & another for water, and flea and tick shampoo.  I don’t generally buy my dog stuff at Wal-Mart, but Brownwood’s not the sort of hole – I mean, town – that has a PetSmart or PetCo, so you work with what you’ve got, and what I had was Wal-Mart.  Next we went to the motel, which thankfully allows pets even today.

Max got his first bath in that motel room.  Indeed, under the filth he was a lovely tawny color, with black ears and a black mask on his face.  I thought he looked more Akita than GSD – but whatever he was it was mixed with something else.  Just as soon as Monday morning rolled around I took Max to a local vet for all of his shots and a quick exam – the vet estimated he was around nine months old, give or take.  Max spent the entire week in the room with us – we did tie him over at Charles’ dad’s house the few times we needed to make other arrangements for him.

By the time my mom flew into Abilene to drive home with the kids & me (Charles was staying an extra couple of weeks – that’s the trip when he bought his little Geo), Max was our dog.  He rode the entire trip home in the back of the van with the kids, and never gave us one bit of trouble.  That’s not to say he didn’t say bad words – he said quite a few very nasty things that first week, but it wasn’t out of aggression, it was out of fear.  It’s generally easy to tell the difference.  Once he realized we weren’t going to hurt him he calmed right down.

There was one small issue between Max and Rosie when they met – Rosie was an alpha, and Max, young fellow that he was, wanted to be.  I quickly settled the issue and Max had no trouble after that bowing to Rosie’s authority – in fact he grew to worship the ground she walked on.  You didn’t find Max without Rosie, or vice versa.  They were a team.

(Poor Peaches was left out – Rosie never did care much for Peaches, but she eventually grew on Max until they’re as tight now as he & Rosie were then.)

Max was our first rescue.  I’ve never been sorry for letting Charles bully me into bringing him home.  I still don’t know why we stopped at that truck stop, but I’m glad we did.  And I’m glad we found Max.   Sometimes you have to take a risk.  Max was definitely worth it.

Confessions of a (Canine) Foster Parent

Confessions of a (Canine) Foster Parent

I have been told there is a special place in heaven for people like me. I hope so, because God knows I do my best, as pitiful as my best is sometimes. And I’ll be in good company, because I’ve learned I’m not alone in this world. There is a whole underground movement of people just like me – I privately refer to us as “the suckers club,” but society calls us foster parents.

No, I don’t do children – I want to get that straight right up front. It’s not that I don’t like children, but I barely have the patience for my own semi-normal offspring. I wouldn’t begin to know what to do with damaged human young. As it so happens, I’m somewhat damaged myself, but rather than giving me compassion for other bipeds, it’s made me impatient, short-tempered, and all around mistrustful of people in general and children in particular. So no, I don’t, can’t, and won’t do children.

I’m a dog person. I’ve been a dog person for as long as I can remember. I’m not going to go into all the dogs I’ve known & loved – not here, not today, maybe not ever. There’s a lot of pain involved in going back and that’s not the story I’m telling today. Suffice it to say there were always dogs, from the time I was born forward, and even when I didn’t have a human friend to speak of, I had dogs.

I said I’m not going down that road today, but there is one stop I need to make before I do get where I’m going, and it’s a painful one, but it’s necessary. Let’s briefly touch down in the late summer of 1991. My mother had met a man that summer, and that man was a surveyor who worked for a multi-national construction company and travelled a great deal with his job. My mother had been looking for love and when she found this man she was willing to do what she had to do to stay with him – including and not limited to uprooting her teenage daughters and family pets and moving us all to a back-woods community the likes of which I’d never experienced in my life. He became my stepfather, and my children’s grandfather, and while he had his faults – some of them extreme – he was all in all a good man at heart, and like the rest of us, he did his limited best. Along for the ride on this first move were his brother, his brother’s emotionally unstable wife, and his brother’s equally unstable dogs. The dog that could have changed my story for the worse – but didn’t – was an Akita.

I don’t know how much you know about Akitas, but they are a breed that needs special handling, and my step-uncle and his lunatic wife were NOT the sorts of people who needed this sort of dog. They also had a sheltie, which is fine. Shelties are not Akitas. I don’t blame the dog for what happened. I blame a stupid fourteen year old girl (that would be me), and a dysfunctional married couple (step-uncle & deranged wife), and a move that was traumatic on all involved – including the dogs.

I had three lab mixes & a small terrier mix in those days, and the first thing the Akita did, after a long, trying, two-day car trip, was to attack my labs. The men broke up the fight, no one was hurt, and the Akita was tied out back. I know now he should have been put in one of the quiet upstairs bedrooms & left alone to calm down. None of us had the sense to know that then. He weathered a thunderstorm while tied to the clothesline, and after the storm I, being the fool I was (and still am sometimes), went out back to check on him, alone, with no idea that my headlong rush out the back door could be construed as a threat.

He bit me – he got my lower lip and ripped it nearly off, then lunged again, and would have gotten my throat had I not had the instinctive response of throwing up my arm after the first bite. I was taken by car directly to the local hicksville hospital, which sent me across the street to a family practice, which sent me – again by car – to a large city hospital two hours distant. I got shots, emergency reconstructive surgery, and stitches – lots and lots and lots of stitches – and spent the next several weeks eating soup. Lots and lots and lots of soup. To this day I have trouble with soup.

The poor dog was quarantined, and eventually euthanized. I still feel bad for the dog.

About three weeks after the attack, I headed out to explore our new woods, and mountains, and creeks. My labs were delighted to see me and insisted on accompanying me – they had missed me while I was shut up in the house. These dogs were around five years old at this point, and we’d had them since they were puppies. They jumped and frolicked and I was terrified of them, to the point I finally climbed up on a large rock and wept inconsolably. They sat down around the rock, understanding something was wrong, unable to comprehend what. I looked down at them, their smiling faces, lolling tongues, wagging tails, and loving, compassionate eyes – and I swore angrily at myself for being a fool. These were MY dogs, and they would NEVER hurt me.  Children would hurt me, other dogs might hurt me, but not these. Never these. I got down from the rock and sat on the ground, and my dogs swarmed all over me, licking my face, my neck, my hands, my bare legs & feet – they loved me, they loved me! I cried some more and hugged them all and buried my face in their fur. Later I picked lots of black and yellow hairs out of my stitches, and THAT hurt like anything – but it was okay, I didn’t mind that it hurt.

And so my life did change forever, but not like it could have. Someday when I get to heaven I hope that Sandy, Mandy, Scruffy and Pepper are the first dogs I see. I plan to let them swarm over my lap and lick me all over, and I’ll probably cry all over them again – but it will be fine, they’ll understand. They saved me that day down by the creek, and they didn’t know it then, but they’ll know it when I see them in heaven.

So I didn’t mean for that story to take up so much space, but I can’t think of how to make it shorter without losing the meaning, so I’m leaving it.

I want to talk about other dogs today. I’ll start with Rosie, who was a Pyrie mix, one of those “free to good home” puppies you see at ball games and K-Mart. It was my birthday, my 26th birthday, and I wanted a dog – I felt incomplete without one, something my husband, who is not a dog person, will never understand. Rosie was at a soccer game, and so was her mama, who was an AKC registered Pyrie with championship bloodlines – mama’s dog show days ended with this litter, and she was spayed. That’s kind of too bad in a way, but Rosie’s daddy, to whom I’ve always referred as “Sneaky Male Dog,” climbed an eight foot fence to impregnate mama dog, and so I think mama dog’s family made the right decision. Rosie came with an “about me” paper, a list of suggestions for puppy care, and the owners’ phone number, in case I decided I didn’t want her after all.

They had nothing to worry about with Rosie. She was my darling girl, in spite of all of her stubborn, headstrong ways. She cost me a great deal of money – vet bills are not cheap, and neither are door frames and windows – but she was worth every penny I ever spent on her. In June 2011, just two months shy of her ninth birthday, Rosie had some sort of medical incident – maybe a stroke, maybe organ failure, we don’t know. She fell down when my mom came to let her out to potty, and when she was finally able to get up, she went to my youngest daughter’s bedroom and stayed there. Mama didn’t think anything of it – Rosie was getting old, and Mama thought she’d just been in such a hurry to get outside that she fell & wore herself out. After supper that night, when Rosie still hadn’t joined us in the family room, Mama remembered and told me that she’d fallen.

I knew, then. I went down the hall and sat down on the floor beside her. She wagged her tail and licked my hand but made no move to rise.

“Don’t do this here,” I told her. “I know as well as you do that this is it – but not in Bridget’s room. Come to the living room and I’ll stay with you, and you can go whenever you’re ready – just not in Bridget’s room. Please.”

After awhile I left her and went to the living room to brood. Mama had gone home; Vannesa was at the beach; Charles & Damon were in Texas. It was just me, Bridget, and the dogs. Along about bedtime, when Bridget had gone to brush her teeth, I heard a terrible commotion from down the hall, several crashes and bangs – before I could even stand up Rosie had rushed, staggering, into the living room. She fell down at my feet & never got up on her own again.

I made Max & Peaches, my other dogs, spend that night outside. Bridget & I made pallets in the living room floor and spent the night with Rosie. None of us got much sleep. Rosie wasn’t in any pain, but she was scared. I could tell. I stroked her old faded cheeks and fondled her downy-soft ears and spoke to her softly, and she thumped her tail against the floor. Every so often she’d try to stand up and get scared all over again; I’d stroke her and talk to her until she calmed down.

Bridget & I took turns showering the next morning, so Rosie wasn’t ever alone. At seven o’clock I called Mama, and she came on over to help me get Rosie to the vet. I wasn’t worried about the trip stressing her – Rosie loved going places, and she adored our vet. When Mama got to the house, I set about picking up mine & Bridget’s bedding. That’s when I found the mouse.

Jackie Chan, my cat, had killed a mouse the night before. I saw him playing with it long before he killed it. He usually eats the head & top half of the body. We usually find the bottom half in someone’s shoe or under a chair. He had chewed the mouse in half, like he always does – but he’d brought the top half, his favorite half, and “given” it to Rosie that previous night, laid it right at her head where she could get it if she wanted it. I almost lost it then. Almost, but not quite.

I actually did really well. I carried Rosie to the car, and she was thrilled to be going for a ride. I rolled the window down so she could put her head out, and held her so she wouldn’t fall. When we got to the vet I carried her in – she said “hello” to all of her friends there. I didn’t cry until after she was gone. Then I buried my face in her neck and bawled like a baby. I told her she was and would always be my friend. Corny, maybe, but I meant it with all my heart.

She’s buried behind Mama’s barn, with many, many other good dogs & cats, and one horse.

We all fell into a funk after that, and couldn’t come out of it. Even Max & Peaches were sad. Don’t tell me dogs don’t grieve, because they do. Jackie Chan gave me more dead mice. Cats grieve too, just in a different way. I said I’d get another dog someday – but not yet. I said I’d rescue one from the shelter – when I was ready, but not yet.

Sometimes you find a dog who needs you before you’re ready to admit you need her too.

In July 2011 a person I only knew through Facebook sent me a message and asked if I knew anyone who could help. This lovely young lady has very young children, and was uncomfortable bringing an adult dog into her home – but there was a young black bitch with a litter of newborn puppies at the shelter, and the shelter staff had called her for help, because if no one saved this dog & these puppies they’d be euthanized. Ours is a poor rural county and our shelter has neither the space nor the funding to raise a litter of puppies to adoption age.

Now, I’d been seeing Rosie around our place – and I’d felt her there too. I’d see her in the evenings waiting for me at the mailbox when I came home from work. I’d speed up a little but she was always gone by the time I got there. She’d be waiting for me on the other side of the front door when I was unlocking it – but I’d tear the door down to get it open and she’d already have gone. She’d come stand beside me sometimes when I was cooking supper – but she slipped away between seconds. I was always too late.

So call me crazy – the ghost of my dead dog was hanging around and taking care of me, like she’d always done in life. It’s February 2012 now and she’s STILL sitting at the mailbox some evenings when I drive down the road. You don’t have to believe it – this story doesn’t depend on whether or not you believe it. All that matters is that I know when she’s around.

That night Rosie’s ghost came and put her head on my shoulder and whuffed at my hair, and told me, “I want you to do this.”

I didn’t sleep a lick that night, thinking about that dog and those puppies.

The next day I put in a request to leave work an hour early. Before it was even approved I called the shelter and told Sara that I would be there as quickly as I could to get that dog and her puppies, and would she wait for me if I was a little late?

She and Phil waited for me. Don’t tell me that animal control is staffed by a heartless bunch. I know better. I was five minutes late – my mom was there right at five, but I was late – and they waited on me. Sara was so relieved she cried. Don’t tell me they don’t care.

Maggie and her puppies lived in the house for the first four weeks, and then moved outside, where they absolutely flourished. I had to have one of the pups euthanized because of severe birth defects – he was messed up inside, but it wasn’t obvious until he was four weeks old. His name was Baggypants. I cried over that puppy just like I cried over Rosie. I buried him beside her. Of the remaining seven pups – five have been adopted, two seven month old males are left, and Maggie is mine. Rosie would approve. Rosie would say that Maggie is pack, and she’d be right.

Maggie and her pups caught the attention of the Stokes County Humane Society, who contacted me and offered to help me out if I would volunteer for them. I agreed and never looked back.

In November 2011, when I still had five of Maggie’s pups, that same Facebook friend contacted me about another dog with puppies – this one had nine four-week-old puppies, and her owners had surrendered her, just gave her up, along with the pups. I went to the shelter first thing the next morning to see them. I’d been lucky with Maggie – would I be lucky again?

Her name was Baby, and she’d been someone’s pampered princess. She was beautiful, if quite a bit overweight, and her puppies looked like a tribe of Ewoks. I told Sara not to do anything with them – I wanted to go home first and set up Rosie’s trusty old crate that had housed Maggie and her pups and now would house Baby and hers. Over the course of the next few weeks I learned a few things:

  1.  Baby is too good a dog to have been dumped at the shelter, puppies or no puppies.
  2.  I got lucky with Maggie, who was a good mama and took good care of her babies.
  3.  Sometimes litters of puppies are demon-possessed and exist only to make humans miserable.
  4.  Even in those cases they don’t deserve to be dumped at the shelter.
  5.  I am, beyond a shadow of a doubt, insane and ought to be institutionalized.

Baby’s rear knees slide in & out of socket, and she’s going to have to have surgery soon. That’s the reason she wasn’t taking good care of her puppies. They hadn’t been neglected – they were as fat as she was – but once I figured out that they were hurting her I bought formula and taught them to lap it out of a dish. I also started making puppy soup for them using formula or goat’s milk, chicken broth, and soaking dry kibble until it was soft & mushy. I knew it was early but I started only making Baby nurse them three times a day – the rest of the time they got formula or puppy soup. Once they were seven weeks old we moved them to another foster home, and shortly thereafter Stokes County Humane Society arranged for them to be transported to North Shore Animal League – a long trip, from Danbury, NC to Port Washington, NY, but we knew NSAL would take care of them & make sure they went to good homes.

As for Baby – she’s spoiled rotten, self-centered, dog aggressive, and tends to pout if she’s NOT the center of attention. But she’s also a wonderful, people-oriented, loving dog who deserves to live a pain-free life as an only dog with someone who will care for her. Baby has broken my heart in ways Maggie didn’t – Maggie was a stray, a street dog, used to fending for herself. Baby was someone’s pampered princess, a loved family member, and for whatever reason she was abandoned. Maggie took awhile to trust us. Baby trusted us right off. Maggie’s been hurt by people. Baby has never been hurt by anyone – not physically, anyway. Sometimes I think she’s thinking about her family – she gets sad, and quiet, and will go lay down in her crate with her back to the door.

I had intended to write this blog about Baby, but this is bigger than Baby. It’s bigger than Maggie. I thought it started with Rosie – but when I started writing I realized that it’s older than Rosie, too. In some ways it starts with Dakota, the Akita who bit me – in others it goes back and touches every single one of those dogs I’ve known and loved. In some ways it’s about all the friends I didn’t have, and the dogs who took their place. And then again, in some ways it really does start with Rosie – because if not for losing Rosie when I did, I’d never have met Maggie, and if not for Maggie I’d never have taken the plunge for Baby.

This is about us. It’s about the suckers in the world who understand with our heads that we can’t save them all – but who know in our hearts we’re not going to stop trying. It’s about what we do and why we do it. And it’s about all the dogs we’ve known and loved, and the dogs who have hurt us and changed us in ways we never would have imagined.