Dog trouble

More dog tales, you say? Sorry. It will be over soon.

I brought my dog Chico back from the kennel last Tuesday. He and his sister Annie did not get along at first, but within 24 hours, they were best friends again. Worse, I fell in love with the big lug all over again. He kept jumping the fence, but he kept coming home, too, and I loved greeting him at the back door.

Over Christmas, I took him back to the kennel because I knew I’d be gone most of the time.

I knew I still needed to find him a new home. People who had seen my flyers or the ad in the paper called about Chico. One woman was so eager she agreed to drive over an hour round trip to meet Chico at the kennel. Well, he got so excited he almost pulled me down the hill, and the poor woman, who was grieving the loss of her Yorkie, decided he was too much for her. Oh well. Since I was there, I brought him home.

This time we all made friends much more quickly. I started thinking maybe I ought to keep my dog. But I don’t think that anymore. Not after today.

Today a prospective new owner showed up around lunchtime. I had both dogs in the house and didn’t have time to stash them outside or in the laundry room. When the door opened, both dashed out and ran away. This kind man actually cleaned part of my clogged gutter–in the rain–while I tried to get the pups back. Finally he said he’d come back later. It didn’t bother him that Chico ran off or that he jumped as high as his head in his excitement. He seemed like the kind of man who could handle a big dog.

It took me an hour and a half to find my dogs and get them into the car. Both were covered with mud. All three of us were soaked. About 10 minutes later, the man returned with his dog, a slightly smaller Chico lookalike. Same breed even: half Lab, half pit bull. Chico almost tore my arm off trying to get to the door. The man and his dog came in. Once the door was shut, I let Chico go. Mistake. He went after that dog with every intention of killing him. He latched on and wouldn’t let go as the dog screeched. Somehow I got bitten on the leg in middle of the action. It took forever for Chico to let go. The man quickly removed his dog, saying he was sorry. Crying, I exiled my dog, cleaned my wound and considered taking him to the animal shelter immediately. Who is going to want a dog that attacks other animals and may attack people, too? He even scared me, even though now he’s as loving as ever. When he pulls with all his strength, I can’t hold him. He still jumps the fences, and if he bites someone, I’m in trouble. So Chico has to go. I called the shelter, leaving a message that I needed to “surrender” my dog.

My baby has to go to jail, unless some strong, easy-going person with no other pets and a fence that Chico can’t jump or climb steps forward this week. Damn. Sometimes being the only human in the house stinks.

He’s baaaack

More dog tales. What does this have to do with being childless? For some of us, our dogs are our only children.

I was right about not bringing my exiled dog Chico back home. He immediately jumped the fence again, shaking off his sister’s eager gestures to stay and play. I left the gate open and he eventually came back. Now I’ve got both dogs in the house, but they aren’t getting along. I don’t know what Chico told his smaller sibling in dog talk, but first she was hiding in the kitchen while he took up all the warm space in front of the pellet stove. Then, while I practiced piano music for Christmas, she disappeared. I found her on my bed in the dark. Hiding. Suddenly my alpha dog, the one I intend to keep, is slinking around the corners with her tail tucked between her legs.

The two used to be inseparable, but the bond seems to have broken during their time apart. Chico, distant with me at first, is now following me everywhere. I find myself suddenly defensive of Annie and anxious to ship him off to somewhere else. I have no more motherly feelings for him. He’s an animal and a problem. They still have room for him at the kennel, and I’m thinking of taking him there for Christmas Eve and Christmas. After that, I hope my prayers for a new owner are answered. He can’t live at the kennel forever.

On the way home from the kennel, we visited one woman who was interested. She had an old black Lab and four cats. I had my doubts. As soon as I opened the car door, Chico jumped out and pounced on the Lab. That was the end of that.

Folks at the kennel tell me that aside from destroying his blanket, Chico behaved well. He even took his first bath peacefully.

Now he’s sleeping on the floor next to my desk. Annie is still on my bed. What will happen when I try to feed them? Dare I leave them together in the laundry room tonight? What about tomorrow, when I have to go out?

Ring, phone, ring.

Minus one baby dog

Last weekend, things reached a crisis point with my dog Chico. He not only can jump the outer four-foot fence in our yard, but he learned on Saturday how to get over the six-foot fence (the one the fence guy said no dog could escape). The minute I let him out, he was over the fence and gone. Often I could see him roaming just beyond the fences, but he wouldn’t come and he wouldn’t stay. Meanwhile, I was getting reports of Chico terrorizing my neighbors’ pets. Some of them have guns and are not afraid to use them. Of course, anyone could sue me or get me in other big trouble if this giant black lab/pit bull mix went after them, their children or their pets.

I hobbled him with a harness while I went to church Saturday evening. Two hours later, nothing was left but the metal rings. Chico and his sister Annie ate the harness. They’re equally good at destroying any kind of collar.

People have suggested new fencing, keeping him on a chain, or putting a weight on his collar. I can’t afford a whole new fence, and I can’t abuse him just to keep him here.

Crying hard, I took him to a kennel to stay for a while until I can find him a new home. I still have Annie, who is smaller and has not learned to jump the fences. Yet. I will selfishly hang on to her as long as I can. I raised both dogs from eight weeks to 21 months. I took them to school, walked them, kept their shots up to date and made sure they stayed warm and safe. I love them both. But with my husband gone to the nursing home, I’m on my own, and I can’t handle both big dogs. These are the first pets for which I actually called myself their mom. I talked about them all the time, loved to show them off, sent their pictures all over the Internet. But they are dogs, not children, and reality must prevail.

I put an ad in the paper today to find a new home for Chico. It was hard not to cry. I raised him to almost two years old. Except for his need to run and terrorize other dogs, he’s the sweetest pup. He’ll be a great companion for someone. In dog years, he’s a young adult. Time to send him on to his next adventure.

This would be a good time to have human adult children and grandchildren to help me, keep me company and put things in perspective, but I don’t have them. Now that my husband isn’t here, my stepchildren have chosen not to contact me. So it’s just me and Annie now. She’s the cute puppy in my photo, except she’s all grown up.

Is there a conclusion to this story? I suppose the moral is that no matter how much we love them and treat them as our children, they are still dogs, and sometimes we have to let them go.

Thank you for being here

It’s Thanksgiving. I’m not about to say I’m thankful I don’t have children. I’m not. I wish with all my heart I had children and grandchildren to spend the holidays with, especially because this will be my first Thanksgiving in 25 years without my husband Fred. He will spend the day like any other day at Timberwood Court Memory Care Center, a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients.

I feared I would be alone, but I have lost count of the number of people who have invited me to spend the day with them. I have a lot of good friends, and for that I am grateful. Perhaps this is a day to put away thoughts of who we don’t have and appreciate the people we do have. Tomorrow, thank someone for being in your life.

I am also thankful for my dogs. I am glad that I still have both of them, even though Chico the fence-jumper keeps running away. So far, he always comes back. He and Annie are giant dogs who sit in my lap, lean against my legs, and lick my face when I cry.

I’m thankful for my house, my health and work that I love. I’m thankful for little things like poppyseed muffins and Red Zinger tea and big things like sunshine and having the ocean nearby.

I’m very thankful that someone else is cooking the turkey tomorrow.

If you’re feeling particularly childless during the holidays, make a list of things you’re thankful for. They can be as silly as pink shoestrings or as serious as a cancer scare survived. We could all make long lists of complaints, but this week, let’s be grateful for the good stuff.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dog motherhood is tough

I’m typing this with a sprained wrist. The other day the dogs and I had a disagreement and I wound up flying through the air straight at the back wall of the house. I hit with my right hand, right knee and the left side of my glasses. This isn’t the first time the dogs have caused me to fall. I can remember sitting on the beach a few months ago wondering if I’d ever get up after little (70-pound) Chico got scared by the waves coming at him. I had some major bruises, but I walked away. This time I got a trip to the ER, a splint, an enforced vacation from my music and a major slowdown in my writing. I am not supposed to be typing, but this hurts a lot less than doing dishes.

Anyway, Chico and Annie, 19-month-old lab-bull terrier siblings, have never and would never attack me. They’re just big, and they play rough. Sometimes they’re stubborn. Many of my friends, my father, my pastor and others are recommending that I get rid of the dogs. Only one friend, who is childless by marriage like me, insists that I can’t possibly get rid of my babies. They are my babies, having arrived in my arms at 8 weeks old, when they were 8 and 9 pounds. I have certainly considered looking for a family to love them. They are good with other people, including children, but a little scary with other dogs. Still they are the only company I have in this house these days, and the quiet would be unbearable. Right now they are sleeping in the living room, but any minute, Chico or Annie could come into my office and lay a warm nose in my lap. I would miss that.

These being the only “babies,” I’ll ever have, I feel an obligation to care for them as long as I can. Maybe I can’t keep them forever, but I intend to try. I’m still training them. They have already learned so much. They knock me down, but they also make me laugh and give me someone to hug when I need it. And these days, with no kids and my husband in a nursing home, I need it.

Dogs too much for me?

I know this is not about babies; it’s about dogs. Again. If I had children who turned big and wild right as I was becoming a single parent, I don’t know how I would handle them. They might end up in foster care. Then again, I wouldn’t be in my 50s, so I might have the energy to parent them properly. Perhaps if I had had children, I wouldn’t have felt so driven to raise puppies. Anyway, that ship has sailed.

With my husband in a care home and his doctor confirming yesterday that he needs to stay there, I’m on my own. I’m grieving and trying to adjust to big changes in my life. I know I’m not thinking straight, but for the first time, I’m wondering if I should find another home for Annie and Chico. The dogs were in the kennel last night and this morning, and it was so peaceful.

When I went to pick them up, I was asked not to bring Chico back. He’s too aggressive toward other dogs. I don’t see him that way, but he and Annie are very rough with each other, clacking their teeth, throwing each other around, banging into the door, the furniture, my knees. I need to acknowledge their half pit bull ancestry. They love me and would never hurt me on purpose, but I can’t handle them both at the same time. Chico can pull me right off my feet. I wish I’d had these thoughts before I approved an $1,800 fence and the posts were cemented in. I love my dogs. They’re only a year old, and they will calm down, I hope, but maybe they’re too much for me.

Of course I didn’t expect them to get so big, and I didn’t expect to be alone at this point.

Even as I pet these big dogs and hug them to me for comfort, they exhaust me. I wonder if I should give them away. I don’t want to separate them. They’re siblings who have always been together. Maybe the new fence, going up tomorrow, will make life manageable. But are they worth the effort now that my life has changed so dramatically? My father says I should get rid of them. He may be right.

Then again, he doesn’t like my stepchildren either.

Get rid of the dogs?

I’m having an $1,800 fence built for my dogs because they keep jumping over the existing four-foot fence. Don’t anybody tell my father–who believes computers are the work of the devil. He thinks I should get rid of the pups. My life is too complicated to deal with them now, he says. But these are my babies. I adopted them when they were 8 and 9 pounds. Now, at one year plus two weeks, they’re about 65 and 70 pounds, but they’re still my puppies, and they’re the only babies I’ll ever have. I can’t just give them away. They’re family.

Yes, they interrupt my work, my meals, my favorite TV shows. They have ruined the carpet and they’re always chewing up something, but I’m proud of how beautiful they are and how much they have learned. When they smother me with kisses or fall asleep leaning against me, my heart melts. I have made a commitment to them, to love them and care for them for life. When they go, I’ll get one small old lady dog, but Chico and Annie are family. Sorry, Dad. Maybe this is some of that immaturity that comes from not being a mom, but when you say get rid of the dogs, I’m more determined than ever to keep them.

Dirty Dog Day

Those who are following my saga know that my husband Fred has Alzheimer’s Disease and moved to a care home almost two weeks ago. We have no children together, just our dogs Chico and Annie, who turned one year old last Monday. It’s a pretty lonely house these days.

Yesterday, it got even lonelier when Chico and Annie escaped out a gate I had left unsecure. After visiting Fred, I was just turning onto our street when my cell phone rang. My neighbor Carol wanted to tell me the dogs were out. She couldn’t catch them, she said, but she left the gate open in case they wanted to go back into the yard. Uh, no.

I parked, grabbed two leashes and a pocketful of dog treats from the house and started walking and calling. My old dog always used to come home on her own, but these guys are young and crazy. They haven’t had a walk in weeks. I was all dressed up from my visit to Fred, wearing new shoes and no jacket. The temperature was in the 40s. I walked and walked and walked, moving so quickly I got shin splints and barely felt it. Calling, “Chico, Annie, come, I’ve got cookies,” I felt that the whole neighborhood could hear me, but saw no dog of mine responding. I ran into the man who walks his basset hounds every evening before dinner. He hadn’t seen my dogs.
I had heard other dogs barking, but now I knew they were barking at the bassets.

The visit to Fred had been very difficult. At lunch, he had cried and said he wanted to come home. If you’ve ever been through this, you know how much it hurts. Now I pictured life without my dogs. I know that all those dogs on the posters are rarely found. They’re usually dead or lost forever. I pictured myself sitting in that house all alone and fought to keep my composure and keep calling.

It was cold and getting dark. I walked through a construction site, muddying my new shoes, aching for a glimpse of a black or tan dog. Even if I could have just one of them back . . . I couldn’t care for my husband, and now I had failed at caring for my dogs.

At the end of the road, I turned back toward home, thinking I’d put on a jacket and get in the car and drive farther into the wilderness area to the east. But as I came up the driveway, weakly calling the dogs’ names, I suddenly saw a yellow dog emerge from the across-the-street neighbor’s yard, soon followed by a black one. They zoomed past me to the door, tongues out, panting, filthy with mud. I grabbed them, sobbing.

What does this have to do with being childless? Nothing directly, but it’s my life because I don’t have any other relatives close by to help me or keep me company and because these dogs are the only things I ever have or ever will raise from infancy. I’ll get back to my childless research soon, but this is the life I lead right now, sitting on the deck in the dark, hugging my dirty dogs against me as they lick my face until I get up and feed them.

One-year-olds, canine vs. human

Chico and Annie are a year old today. They’re dogs. This is one case where things are definitely different between pets and children. I have a photo of my niece Susan covered in white frosting, her arms and legs chubby and tanned in her striped sunsuit. The whole family gathered at her maternal grandmother’s house to celebrate the occasion. Another picture shows my brother cuddling her in his lap. You can see the resemblance, the same dark eyes and black hair, the lips so like my mother’s. She’s learning to walk and talk, and everyone adores her.

Folks adore my puppies, too. My church choir friends even gave me a puppy shower when I adopted them last April. But asking them to attend a birthday party would probably be pushing things, especially after all the support they have given me in other aspects of my life lately. So it’s just the pups and me. I can’t bake them a cake. Any gift I gave them would be shredded all over the back yard before the sun sank into the sea. All I can do is hug them and say, “Wow, you’re a year old. We made it.” They’re housetrained, and all the odd things they have eaten and excreted have not killed them yet. They’re a long way from becoming calm, mature dogs, But even when they grow up, they will never be like my niece, who is a young adult now, beautiful, smart and old enough to build a life away from her parents. Chico and Annie will be my cherished friends but never my children.

Nor are they Fred’s children. My dear husband, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, is living in a care home now after a series of falls that led to two days in the hospital and 14 days in a nursing home where he wasn’t allowed to leave his wheelchair even though he could walk. He is in a good place now, a beautiful place in the hills above Newport where he is well cared for and loved for his sweet, easygoing nature. However, the dogs are not allowed inside, so I haven’t taken them there. To be honest, he is already forgetting them. He doesn’t even remember that he fell the first time trying to corral them after they escaped from the back yard. Why he fell two more times two days later, we don’t know. Back spasms? A small stroke? Now he has Lucy, who roams the yard at Graceland and nuzzles against his pants and shoes when he ventures out for short walks on his unsteady legs.

Fred’s son Michael has been here off and on during our transition. Everyone gets to know him quickly because he is six foot four, with a unique hairstyle, and he’s usually the only person under 50 not wearing a nursing smock. Michael is good with his father, helpful and caring, thinking of just the right thing to do or say. His presence is a blessing to both of us. This crisis has brought us closer than we have ever been, with very honest talks, not so much as mother and son but as two adults hurting over someone we both love.

Everyone says you can’t count on your children to help you in your old age, that that’s not a good reason to have kids. True. In fact, on “family day” at Newport Rehab, I was often the only visitor. Grace, an immigrant from China who runs Graceland, shakes her head at this. “In my country, we honor our elders. I don’t understand.”

I don’t either.

Anyway, happy birthday, Chico and Annie. Michael isn’t too happy with them because they just woke him up. But when he’s gone back to Portland, I’ll have them to snuggle with, and that’s something.

My thanks to everyone who has sent good wishes and prayers during this difficult time. Our troubles are not over, of course. Fred still has Alzheimer’s, and now we’re living in separate homes. I’m visiting every day and overseeing prescriptions, insurance, and countless other details, but God has taken Fred out of my hands and put him into the care of many capable hands, and that’s a blessing.