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.

Modern-Day Heroes

It’s true that the term “hero” is vastly overused today…  But I just read an article about a petite 15-year-old girl who deserves the honor.  Read here about how this young hero leapt into action and saved 25 horses from a horrendous death by burning.  She was unable to save every horse in the stable – but the fact that she put her life in jeopardy to save 25 – returning time and again to the burning stable – speaks volumes about her character.  I imagine her mother is proud of her and furious with her at the same time – this is an emotional paradox with which most mothers and many fathers are familiar.

http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/13/11181218-teen-girl-saves-25-horses-from-stable-fire?lite

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.

A little about the cats…

I have three cats.  These cats are in many ways like my children:  There are two girls & a boy; they have very different personalities; they expect very different things out of life; they all come running to me when something is wrong but want nothing to do with me otherwise.

As usual I want to take a quick trip into the past before I discuss my current cats.

I’d only had cats once before, a few years before we moved to our current home.   I had three cats – Baby, Ysabel and Rocky (Roquelle) – who showed up as stray kittens years & years ago.  I knew nothing about cats – I fed and watered them, and they stuck around, and Baby & Ysabel had kittens on my front porch.  Rocky had her kittens in the woods, and had them so well hidden I wouldn’t have found them if not for a monsoon.  I’d moved Baby’s & Ysabel’s kittens into the house right after they were born; Rocky’s kittens I searched for all through the woods with no luck at all.  Then one morning – the second straight day of torrential rain – I stepped out of the house and almost stepped on a kitten.  It was soaking wet and shivering and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how it had gotten there.  I carried it inside & put it with Ysabel’s kittens (Ysabel was a real community mom – she nursed everyone’s kittens) and went back outside & there were two more kittens, and Rocky standing over them waiting for me.  She was desperate, meowing pitifully and running to the edge of the porch and back to me.  I laid the two kittens right inside the front door and followed Rocky out into the woods, to a hole under a fallen tree that was rapidly filling with water.  I knelt down and heard the kittens crying but still hesitated to put my hand into the hole – from the time I was a very little girl I was told never, never, never to put my hand into random holes in the woods.  Good advice, that, but Rocky cared not a whit for my wisdom – “Get my kittens out of that hole now!” she wailed and so I did.  Not a kitten drowned because when the odds were against her Rocky came to me for help and yes, I know it sounds like a Lassie movie, but that cat WANTED me to find her kittens that day and led me right to them, stopping when I lagged behind and wailing at me to hurry, hurry, hurry!

We found homes for all of the kittens,  giving out my phone number with each one, having learned of that good idea from Rosie’s original people, though at that time I still didn’t have the sense to have the cats spayed.  That winter when we made our Christmas trip to Texas I took Baby, Ysabel and Rocky to my mom’s, where she spoiled them horribly, and when we got home from Texas all three cats informed me that while they were fond of me they preferred Mama’s house, and were going to stay with her, thank you very much for all you’ve done for us, good-bye, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.  Mama didn’t realize I hadn’t had them spayed, neither of us thought to mention the subject to the other, and Mama found out the hard way they weren’t – after the kittens were weaned she had the mama cats spayed and put a stop to the kitten problem.

That was the beginning of my mother’s slide to Crazy Cat Lady status.  Mama had always been a dog person, had never really had much experience with cats, and fell so in love with Puddy (who was from Ysabel’s first litter), and then the mama cats, that she decided her purpose in life was to save all the unwanted cats in the world – or at least in Stokes County.  Today she attributes that slide into insanity to menopause.  Whatever the reason – at one point she had over fifty rescued, spayed, and neutered cats on her three acre fenced farm – and installed cat doors on her house so they could come and go as they please.  Today she’s down to thirty, give or take, and is making plans to trap a stray that’s shown up to be vetted, since she really is a responsible cat owner, in spite of the fact they’re eating up my whole inheritance.  They’re happy cats, though – there are a few that stay strictly inside, a few that stay strictly outside, and the bulk of them prefer being outside but will pop in from time to time to say hello.  Ysabel was hit by a car a few years back, and we’re pretty sure a coyote got Baby, but Puddy is a real home-body and lives in the house and the old wash-house.  In addition to the wash-house, there’s a packhouse, a garage, a storage shed, a wood shed, a corn crib, and a barn – in other words, cat paradise.

As for me – when we moved to our current home seven years ago, I really missed having a cat.  Charles thinks dogs are ok, but he does NOT like cats at ALL.  It took me two years to convince him getting a cat would be a good idea – we live in a thirteen or fourteen year old double-wide on a large grassy lot surrounded on three sides by woods & with a shallow scrubby ravine at the front.  In other words, we do get mice.  I hate mousetraps.  We use them but I hate them.  I would far rather have a cat to control the mice.

In the end I won and it so happened a friend of mine had a litter of kittens right at that same time.  She brought me a small black 8 week old kitten with a very little white mark on her chest.  Damon called her Puttin – a combination of Puddy and Kitten – and that stuck for awhile but at some point it morphed into Tudna, and she is Tudna to this day.

Tudna was supposed to be my cat – I was the one who wanted a cat, after all.  At first she liked all of us, but as she got older she began to gravitate to Bridget.  By the time Tudna was a year old she was Bridget’s cat and made no secret of the fact she wished she could murder the rest of us in our sleep.  She would eat my soul if she got the opportunity, and I know it, and she knows it, and she knows I know it.  We live in an uneasy truce but I figure at some point the cat will snap and slash all of our throats – except for Bridget’s, of course.  When Bridget goes to spend the night with a friend, Tudna will search the house for her.  If Bridget is gone for more than one night, Tudna will stalk the house calling for her.  When Bridget goes away to college she’s going to have to have a job so she can get an apartment so Tudna can go with her, because I’m really not sure the cat could survive a long separation.  Besides which, Tudna hates dogs, and hates the other cats, and just wouldn’t be happy if the only creature in the universe she cares about were to leave her.

About four years ago, not long after Peaches came to live with us, we were visiting some friends who have a feral cat problem.  Their real problem is a we-live-on-a-dirt-road-outside-of-town-and-idiots-dump-their-unwanted-pet-cats-here.  One of the cats got under their porch and had kittens.  Their daughters, who are close to the same age as my daughters, made a habit of handling the kittens so they were tame.  Vannesa wanted a long-haired black & white kitten.  Charles said absolutely not.  I said your father said no.  Vannesa put the tiny scrap of fluff in her jacket pocket and smuggled it home.  That cat’s name is Cookie, and Vannesa has long since lost interest in the poor little thing.  She’s a pretty attention-starved little thing, and when she makes an appearance Charles, Damon and I make it a habit to pet her and make over her, because we feel really sorry for her.  Mind you, she lives in the house, but she hates dogs and so she stays out of sight the majority of the time.  Cookie has been to the vet once, when she was 6 months old to be spayed.  She hasn’t been since.  I tried, last summer, to take her to a rabies clinic.  Cookie ripped me open from knee to ankle on both legs, clawed my stomach and arms, and told me that Tudna wasn’t the only soul-eater in the house, and if I didn’t let her go she’d have mine.  I persevered, and almost had the entire hurricane stuffed into the cat carrier when, out of nowhere, Tudna gave a savage yowl and hit me from behind – in the behind.  Sitting was painful for more than a week thereafter.  I yelped, Cookie escaped, and I whirled around to stare at Tudna.  She crouched on the back of the sofa and informed me in no uncertain terms that though she hated Cookie she hated me more, and would side with Cookie against me whenever she had the chance.

A year & a half ago – the last day of June 2010 – I remember it was a Friday – I had just started my new job at Universal Insurance Company in Winston, and was walking from the parking lot one morning when I heard the most piteous meowing coming from the blackberry-covered hill behind the office building.  I left the sidewalk and crossed the lawn to the foot of the hill and spotted a tiny grey and white kitten up at the top of the hill.  I decided I’d try to catch it at morning break.  When 10:15 rolled around I hit the door and spent my entire break coaxing the little scrap down the hill.  It came half-way down and no further, but cried and cried at me.  So when lunch time came, I hopped in my car, went down the road to McDonald’s, bought a six-pack of Chicken McNuggets, and lured him to me with those.  When he got close enough I grabbed him, fully expecting him to rip me to shreds – he didn’t.  He shuddered once and burrowed against my collarbone, and started to purr and purr and purr.  I snuck him back to my cubicle and kept him with me until around four o’clock when my supervisor walked by, saw me with him, and made me put him outside.  I was a nervous wreck the rest of the afternoon – to my intense pleasure the little fellow was still there when I left for the day.  The nice lady in the mailroom had given me a box, and my kitten rode home with me.  I named him Jackie Chan.  We call him JC and Fatty Chan.

Tudna hates Jackie Chan as much as she hates the rest of us.  JC takes advantage of that fact and misses no opportunity to bully her.  He and Cookie get along fairly well – they stalk one another around the house and fuss and spat and play like cats do.  The one thing that separates my big guy from the rest of the cats is that he loves the dogs.  From the day I brought him home he wasn’t afraid of them.  He’d sprawl on the footstool and play with Rosie’s beautiful plumed tail.  He’d stalk Max through the house and touch noses with him when Max would turn around.  Max and Rosie weren’t cat people either – but they warmed up to JC after awhile, and it’s not uncommon now to find Max dragging JC by the head across the house.  He’s by far the best of the cats, and I still don’t know what quality it was that caused me to fall in love with him as soon as I found him – but he has it, and I did, and he’s won everyone over.  Thanks to Jackie Chan I can tell people who come to adopt my foster puppies that they’re good with cats.  He’s one of a kind.

Even Charles likes Jackie Chan, and that’s saying a lot.

Frogs, snails & puppy-dog tails

Prior to Maggie coming into my life with her eight newborn puppies, it had been a long time since I’d dealt with puppies at all.  Bo was our last puppy – he was a black German Shepherd; mom was AKC registered, and the owner had bred her with another AKC male but before her heat cycle ended she broke out & came home several hours later with a big male lab.  Since the owner had no way to tell which male’s seed had taken, he gave the puppies away, and I couldn’t pass one up.  Rosie taught Bo a great deal – she practically house-trained him for us.  Puppies really learn better when there’s an adult dog to guide them.  Bo and Rosie went for a run one day when Bo was full grown – he was as big as Rosie, but people were afraid of him and I suspect someone shot him.  At any rate, Rosie came home; Bo didn’t.  Rosie stayed home for several months thereafter before she started traveling again.  If you’ve ever had a Pyrie, you’ll understand what I mean by traveling.

Peaches was our next dog after Bo – she was six months old when our friends gave her to us.  Max came next – he was nearly a year old when we found him.

Maggie was a good little mama and took good care of her puppies.  Plus it was summer, and so we could move them outside during the day after they got to four weeks old.  They were still a handful, but they were well-behaved, and Maggie kept them in line and taught them the things a mama dog teaches her babies.

Baby’s puppies nearly drove me insane.  Within a week I understood exactly why her people couldn’t take it anymore (this doesn’t mean I approve of what they did, just that I understand how someone can reach that point).  They were uncouth, unmannered, filthy little blighters, and Baby stayed as far away from them as she could manage.  Add in the fact that it was November and cold outside, and you’ll understand what a nightmare those monsters were.  On the other hand they were the cutest little puppies in the world, and they were extremely affectionate and loved being handled.  In truth I didn’t hold their heathen-ness against them.  They’d have been much easier to deal with if Baby had been interested in them, or if there had been fewer than nine.

I swore when they moved to their next foster home that I’d never take a whole litter of puppies again.  It occurred to me that I’d be much better off sticking to older pups or adult dogs rather than young puppies.  I decided that I just wouldn’t do puppies at all except in the summer months, when I could put the pups outside for several hours at a time.

However, when several friends contacted me regarding Merry & Pippin, how could I say no?

(Yes, I DID name them after hobbits.)

I held off at first – I still had four of Maggie’s pups, plus Maggie, Max and Peaches, plus Baby.  But then Hershey was adopted, and Hershey’s new mama’s best friend wanted Lil’ Bit, and suddenly I was almost two puppies down.  I heard that the pups in question were outside in a crate with a thin blanket thrown over it & no bedding, and that they weren’t being fed regularly.   It’s cold at night in NC in January – too cold for puppies to be sleeping outside without their mama or any bedding.  Reluctantly I agreed to take them.

The woman who had them voluntary surrendered them to a friend of mine, who brought them to me.  They were bony, with bloated little bellies, and their hair was falling out and they were covered in a scaly rash.  My friend told me not to get my hopes up – she’d fed them and bathed them but the male was lethargic and his gums were very pale, and she wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t make it.  I took a deep breath and took them anyway.

Lil’ Bit, Chunkybutt, and Po, the last three of Maggie’s pups, had a veterinary appointment the next morning for their rabies shots.  I carried Merry & Pippin along.  It’s not the first time I’ve shown up on my vet’s doorstep with a “medical emergency,” and no appointment – and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

My vet gave me a long look , agreed to see Merry & Pippin, and informed me, “I’ve come to the conclusion that both you and your mother are emotionally unstable.”

“And when have you met a woman who wasn’t emotionally unstable?” I retorted, setting the crate on the exam table.

“While I’m sure there’s a special place in heaven for people like you,” he said, avoiding my question, “for now, on this earth, you are part of my own personal hell.”

I love my vet.

His prognosis for the pups was very good – they would most likely live with the proper care.  He did a skin scraping and confirmed that the skin condition was mange – luckily it was sarcoptic mange, which is easily treated though highly contagious.  He did a fecal culture and found a high occurrence of yeast – “Most likely from eating a great deal of garbage,” he told me.  “Keep them isolated from your other dogs, give them these antibiotics, sprinkle this probiotic powder on their food, feed them a good high-quality food, and we’ll treat the mange with Revolution.  They will be just fine.”

“What a relief!  I was fully prepared to leave here without them.”  I slipped the pups back into the crate.  “And I’ll have you know that there’s a big difference between me & my mother.”

“And what would that be?”

“I rescue dogs with the intention of rehoming them.  Mama rescues cats with the intention of keeping them.”

“Inconsequential details,” Doc said.  “I stand by what I said.”

Tonight Merry & Pippin have had a bath and are now laying in the floor chewing on their toy flamingo.  They had their second dose of Revolution last week, and Doc had told me that after the second dose they would most likely no longer be contagious, so I have integrated them into the pack.  They’re so happy – they hated isolation.  In the house they play with each other and with Jackie Chan – Baby won’t play much with them, though she tolerates them.  All of my outside dogs are fine with them.  Max has gotten to where when I bring a new dog or puppy in, he just gives me this look – very much like the look Doc gave me the morning I showed up on his doorstep with two extra puppies.

As for me – I’m back where I was before Hershey & Lil’ Bit were adopted:  I have TOO MANY DOGS!  But I’m happy, and my dogs are happy.  Of the cats Jackie Chan is the only one who is happy – Cookie & Tudna hate dogs.  There’s a lady coming to meet Chunkybutt tomorrow, and I really hope she loves him as much as I do.  He’s a good dog.  Once Merry & Pippin have their third & final dose of Revolution next weekend, they will be put up for adoption as well.

Of course I miss them when they go – but I’ve been lucky enough so far that my pups have gone to people who keep in touch with me – I’m Facebook friends with three of them!  I have friends who tell me that they’d love to be able to do this, but they’d get too attached and not be able to let the puppies go.  I tell them that I get attached too, and letting the pups go is not getting any easier.  But I’m not in this to keep them.  I’m in this to find them good homes so I can go back and save some more.  I can’t save them all – but I will save as many as I can.  And that makes it more bearable when the time comes to say good-bye.  I love every puppy and every dog that has passed through my hands – I even love Baby’s demon spawn puppies.  If I ever reach a place where I don’t fall in love with every animal I rescue, then it will be time to stop rescuing.  Until then, I’m going to save the ones I can, and mourn the ones I can’t, and when I go to bed at night I don’t have a bit of trouble sleeping.

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.