My Furry Family
Thorns may hurt you, men desert you, sunlight turn to fog;
but you're never friendless ever, if you have a dog.--Douglas Mallock
but you're never friendless ever, if you have a dog.--Douglas Mallock
It was in December of 2000 that my then-wife Linda asked me "How would you feel about fostering a litter of puppies for the Humane Society? They're too young to be in the general population and they need a safe home to stay in for a few weeks." I said sure. We were (are) both huge dog lovers.
The next day I came home to eight tiny dachshunds, the smallest of which could fit entirely in the palm of my hand. I immediately took a liking to that one, being the runt of the litter. She also had a little cough, a heart murmur, and had to be fed with an eye dropper. We bonded, even though she was only a foster. It happens.
That little one, she was something else! We would take all the dogs out to pee, and most of them had to be helped up the steps. Not that one, nosiree. She would huff & puff and do whatever it took to get up those stairs. She also got to where she would yip pathetically whenever we put them up at night. All the other dogs were fine with their brothers & sisters. Little bit wanted to be with ME. One morning, I woke up to find her on the floor beside our bed. Somehow, she had climbed up and out of the cage (the opening was on the top) and found her way to my room. Unbelievable.
I named her Pip.
Once, we stopped by the place where I worked at the time and showed Pip off to everyone there. Linda mentions, casually, that Pip and all her siblings were going to be up for adoption soon. One of my co-workers, Alison, spotted the look on my face and said to Linda, "I'm not so sure about that."
We eventually took the dogs back to the Humane Society for a checkup. The volunteer vet looked over Pip and said, "I don't know that this one is adoptable, too many health issues. We might have to end up putting her down." Oh yeah? The puppy I've fed with an eye dropper for the past two weeks? Over my dead body bro.
We took back four of the smaller pups so the Humane Society could concentrate on adopting out the larger, healthier four. During this time Linda found out that some of her relatives in Florida might be interested in adopting a couple of them. We took Pip and her next-largest brother down and they agreed to take them. I was heartbroken, but it was the right thing to do.
I went and said my goodbyes to little Pip. Then I got in my car and headed home (we drove down in two cars, Linda was going to follow me later).
I got home first and proceeded to start taking apart the little bed/basket I'd made for Pip. Linda drove up an hour later with the kids.
She said: "Mom told me she saw you crying when you told Pip goodbye, and I just couldn't leave her."
(Not true!! Men don't cry!! Everyone knows that!!)
For over ten years now, Pip has been my constant companion, my bestie, my most faithful friend. She's been there for me at the lowest points in my life, licking my face to laughter at times when I wasn't even sure I wanted to live. She's a little slower now, and has little white hairs on her face, but she's still my brown-eyed girl. She taught me the meaning of unconditional love, and I'm forever grateful, til death do us part.
[Update: My brown eyed girl passed away on September 22, 2014. Rest in Peace my little angel...]
Planet Claire. Claire bin Laden. Squirm. Little Boo Hoo. Claire has a multitude of nicknames because Claire, like Whitman, contains multitudes. Multitudes of personalities, multitudes of attitude, multitudes of enthusiasm. Claire is always the most of whatever it is that's going on in her world at the time. She's the smallest dog in my pack; therefore, she is the loudest and the most fearsome. She is The Mighty Claire, the consummate chihuahua.
Claire is the only dog in my family that isn't a rescue, strictly speaking: she was conferred to me when my youngest daughter moved out and took up residence in an apartment complex that didn't allow pets. Previously, my daughter had carried tiny puppy Claire around in a purse, and after she moved out Claire let it be known that she was totally cool with being treated like royalty and will be expecting said treatment to continue, thank-you-for-asking.
Claire fit right in with the rest of the pack. Pip tolerates her, though I suspect she finds her boundless enthusiasm slightly annoying (Pip's a curmudgeon). Snoopy likes her too, but Snoopy likes everybody. More importantly, Claire ADORES Snoopy. She loves me, but she would kill for Snoopy. He is her hero, her idol, her Ideal Man. As a puppy, she would jump off chairs to ride on Snoopy's back, like he was a stallion. Snoopy would look at me as if to say: "What the heck do I do with THIS?" I think he secretly loved the adoration. She'll pester him when he's sleeping, trying to wake him to play, and if he doesn't want to he'll just groan and roll over. She pesters anyway, and I usually have to call her off the poor guy. He won't get angry at her, he's too polite.
Claire can stop trucks with her Mighty Bark. Or so she thinks. On my lazy dirt road, there aren't many trucks to stop, and the ones that do pass usually lumber along pretty cautiously. Approaching vehicles can easily see anything in the road for quite a distance, it's so sparsely populated. My pack knows to move aside when cars approach....except for Claire. I'm pretty sure that the first time she stopped and barked at an approaching truck that it was out of ignorance. What IS this thing, she must've thought. But the driver slowed and eventually stopped, obviously amused at the barking ratdog in the middle of the road. And Claire doubtless figured it was her mighty bark that brought the beast to a halt. So now, it's her regular ritual, and everyone in the neighborhood marvels at the chihuahua that barks at trucks. I guess it's a good thing I don't live near an interstate.
She's scared of frogs. Go figure.
Claire is one of those dogs that won't accept you if you approach her. "Just ignore her", I advise newcomers to Planet Claire, "and she'll eventually come to you." Follow this advice, and within minutes you'll have a friend for life. Ignore it, and within minutes you'll have an enemy for life. Ask for an opinion of Claire, and you will get extremes: She's either the CUTEST or the MEANEST dog EVER, depending.
Claire is my least socialized dog, and probably the least socializable. She took the longest to accept Holly, though now they're almost inseparable. She doesn't make dog friends well. After all, I can't give a passing Jack Russell "the advice". Dogs will be dogs, and Claire will have none of THAT.
But she has my heart, and my back as well. She will gladly charge at strangers, trucks and bigger dogs to protect her pack, and she usually prevails. She's brave to the point of being foolhardy, but I've seen German Shepherds back away from her advance. Claire has an unswerving faith in her own awesomeness, and I'm pretty convinced myself.
Just keep those damn frogs away.
It was in the springtime of 2004 when I answered a knock on my door to find three little girls--daughters of our only close neighbors in the rural community of Odenville, AL--toting around a little black and white pup, who was desperately trying to let them know he would prefer to be on the ground, thankyouverymuch. "Like our new dog?" they asked me. "His name is Snoopy! We got him at the flea market!" He did, indeed, resemble the Peanuts beagle, but only because he was still a puppy. This dog was no beagle, and he wasn't going to be a tote-puppy for long.
I immediately felt bad for the little guy. My neighbors were, to say the least, "not responsible dog owners". The dachsund that they had when they first moved in had died by getting trapped in a crawlspace. Subsequent dogs had come and gone before I could even get to know them. Snoopy seemed like he was going to be the latest in a long line of victims.
I watched him bound around the yard for a couple of weeks. He always wandered over to our yard, he loved to play and adored the attention I gave him. I tried to stay detached, but he was such a nice little doggie. I felt bad for him.
One day, while piddling around in my back yard, I heard the unmistakable sound sequence consisting of tirescreech-->thud-->yelp. Somebody had gotten hit, and I could pretty much guess who. I ran around my house, across my yard and into the neighbors', passed by all five of them standing frozen in their front yard, and into the street where little (now mid-sized) Snoopy was limping around, yelping in pain. There was no blood, no outward signs of injury, but his hind had gotten smacked pretty hard and he had gone tumbling into the ditch (according to the driver, a really great guy who felt bad and stopped to make sure Snoopy was okay).
I carried Snoopy back to "his" yard and let the neighbors look over him. I told them he would probably need to be taken to the vet, just in case he had some internal injuries, and they said they'd keep a close eye on him. I knew what that meant.
I continued to watch Snoopy from my next-door vantage point, wondering when and if I was going to have to intervene. I didn't really want to...we had four dogs of our own and were still busy fostering at the time. But I couldn't trust my neighbors.
One time, while I was driving past their house on the way to work, they flagged me over and asked if I could "watch" Snoopy for the weekend while they went to the beach. I said sure, just leave him in my (fenced-in) back yard when you go and I'll attend to him when I get home. I came home from work and saw Snoopy tied to their barbecue grill. The cord was so short he could barely move two steps back and forth. He had one bowl of dried food (now covered with ants) and water (long since knocked over). I took him to my house and kept him there for the weekend, determined that I was going to inform them how irresponsible they were and that I was going to try to adopt Snoopy out. When the neighbors returned, they sent their kids over to get Snoopy. "Can we have our dog back?" they asked, in pleading-little-girl voices. All my resolve faded away. Snoopy went home.
He ran away several times. The neighbor kids would come over and tell me Snoopy was missing, which I believe was the only single thing any of them ever did to recover him. I was the only one who went searching: on three occasions I found him and lured him back, and on two others he came back on his own. Finally, one day, he went missing and nobody could find him. Three days later, while running, I saw him tied to a front porch, almost a quarter-mile from home. I untied him and took him home. The dad said to me: "You should've left him, he's more trouble than he's worth."
"Do you not want him?" I asked.
"No, go ahead, take him." And that was that.
By this time my dogs knew Snoopy pretty well. He didn't have much trouble being accepted, and quickly became the "man of the house".
Snoopy stayed a free spirit. On a few occasions he got out of my back yard and went roaming, again. I had to track him down a few times, and one time he came back with a badly bloodied paw. He'd been shot, probably while nosing around in someone's yard. Just a little .22 wound, but the poor boy hobbled around in a cast for a month. Oh! The indignity!
When I moved to Tallahassee in 2009, his unruliness became a burden: I couldn't keep him at the house I was staying in, and I couldn't afford to board him while looking for a home. I finally settled on leaving him at a relative's ranch, where he barked, ran off, and made such a nuisance of himself that they had to resort to putting a shock-collar on him. I was horrified. I had let him down. I was finally able to get him away from there and take him to live with me, and I vowed to never again let any of my dogs become a nuisance, or let them be subjected to cruelty.
Snoopy is a survivor, a rugged free spirit who has duly appointed himself Protector of the Pack, a job which he fulfills quite well. He's practically fearless, and has fought off aggressive dogs and wildlife intruders with equal aplomb. However, he's a nervous wreck during thunderstorms and fireworks and the entire length of hunting season...but considering he's been shot I figure he comes by it pretty naturally. Yes, I allow him to get up on the bed when it storms. I can afford to comfort the brave little man who has comforted and protected me for years.
Loyalty is a two-way street. He's held up his end.
I've always had a thing for outcasts and misfits. I dunno, maybe it's because I've always been something of a square-peg-in-a-round-hole kinda guy myself, so I identify.
I found Holly back in 2010 while I was driving to my home out in the wilds of North Jefferson County. This is Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings country, sparsely populated and given to long stretches of virtually empty county road. So I could see the hound dog standing in the middle of the road from a pretty good distance. She wasn't in any danger of being hit by traffic; in fact, it looked like she was looking for someone to come along.
Me, ya think?
I slowed down, fully expecting her to bolt warily like rural dogs usually do, but it didn't happen. She was a classic Coon Hound, a Where The Red Fern Grows kinda dog (except a Black & Tan instead of a Redbone), with a hangdog face and huge floppy ears. She started wagging her tail, and seemed to want something. I came to a stop (you can do that out on Lake Road, the tractors will go around you). I said to her: "Hey boy, you okay?"(I didn't realize she was a Little Ann and not a Old Dan until later) in that way pet lovers do, as if she understood English. In this case, she might've. Ignoring my sexist faux pas, she loped up to my window, propped her paws on the door frame, and leapt into the car and onto my lap.
Then she got into the passenger seat, and waited for me to go.
Abandoned? Possibly. Or maybe just a stray.
I took her home & fed her, which was a sight to behold. Talk about ravenous! My dogs looked on with chagrin as she scarfed down a huge bowl of kibble. I was pretty disheartened myself. After all, I don't exactly feed them Ol' Roy.
I took her to my vet, who told me she was no more than two years old, spayed, and relatively healthy (though malnourished and sporting some benign growths). She checked for a microchip...none. We pored over the missing-dog registry...nothing. I took her home and decided I might as well start working on a Petfinder listing. At one point, I checked on her to discover she'd gotten my wallet off a table and was chewing on it. I held up the wallet and said, firmly, "No Ma'am". She turned and scurried to the rear of the house, where I found her slouched up against the back door, trembling, teeth bared, over a pool of her own fresh urine.
I was overcome with such feelings of pity and sympathy--and anger that she might very well have been abused--that I got down right there and put my arms around her and hugged her until she calmed down. She raised her huge paw up onto my shoulder and gave me a big wet kiss on my cheek. I hugged her again....and realized I probably wasn't going to finish the Petfinder listing.
I decided to name her Holly, after the Audrey Hepburn character in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Holly is quite possibly the sweetest and friendliest dog I've ever known. She will gladly climb into any available lap, and she loves to hug. She likes to sit on the edge of my property, right at the edge of a ledge overlooking the road, and watch the passersby. She can emit a classic coondog howl, a long oafish noise that resembles a foghorn crossed with a seal bark. This is my alarm: it alerts me when the neighbor dogs are on their walk (Beware!! The interlopers are out!!), and has helped me locate her when she came up missing (she was tied up in a neighbor's back yard). She's an avid Hide & Seek enthusiast, and I usually end up giving myself away laughing as she bounds past my hiding place with all the grace of donkey in a library. She's my barking, drooling, howling, farting, tailwagging bundle of trouble coonhound, and I love her to death.
Holly is the most recent addition to my furry family. Another tumbling tumbleweed who blew my way. But her tumbling days are over, she's in her forever home now.