Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Canine Companions

In October 2008, we had to have our beloved Annabelle, a shih tzu mix, put to sleep after a year of serious health problems - cushings disease, a brain tumor, and congestive heart failure. It wasn't the first time we had to have this done, and certainly won't be the last, but it was hard none the less. She was our fluffy butt, our cutie patootie, our princess, our lap dog in a house of big dogs. We had had a bad year all around, also losing another dog and three cats to old age. Down to two dogs, I have waited the longest I've ever done before going in search of a new lap dog to fill the void that her departure had left.

I decided to have Annabelle cremated instead of burying her under a bush like we usually do with our pets. In her honor and memory, I planted an Annabelle Hydrangea in the front yard. Perhaps serendipitously, her bush started to bloom during the same week that I found another dog to adopt.

A few weeks back, after months of searching the rescue and shelter sites, I stumbled across a picture of a shih tzu named Bentley (below). It was love at first site, and the shih tzu is one of my favorite dogs. Two years old, housebroken, good with other dogs. A week later, after many emails back and forth with the rescue group, Garrett and I headed to Petco to adopt our newest family member. I could hardly wait to have Bentley in my arms, had dreamed about it all week.

Bentley was a handful. He grudgingly let Garrett and I hold him and carry him around the store, but he yap yap yapped, especially at any other dogs that came around. He wouldn't make eye contact or focus on us at all. In fact, all he could think about were the mice, hamsters and rats in the cages, and we could hardly set him down that he didn't head straight to their cages. But that was ok, I wanted him anyway.

So up to the adoption table we went, money in hand that I had saved up from my house cleaning and babysitting. Told her I wanted him. She said "there's another couple, an older couple who travels a lot, who are also in love with him. Wouldn't you like to look at this other dog that I brought with me?" Well, no. But to humor her we stepped in front of a cage with what looked like a small collie or sheltie puppy named Bear. It wasn't a collie or sheltie, it was a longhaired chihuahua.

Two of the best dogs we ever had were chihuahua mixes, Lulu and Gracie. I have always wanted another chihuahua, but there was no way that was going to happen with our big boxer and terrier. Yet here one was, rolling around on his back, showing us his belly, prancing eagerly at the wire, kissing Garrett's hand, asking us to take him out and have a look, to give him a chance despite having one of the worst overbites I'd ever seen. Bear willingly and excitedly let Garrett lead and carry him all over the store. We went to a quiet back corner, and Bear climbed onto Garrett's lap, snuggling up with a look of adoration and content. He snuggled in my arms and licked my face. He looked in our eyes, focused on what we were saying. So up to the table we went, money in hand, and told her that we wanted him.

Let me tell you, this was not an easy decision for me. I had already let myself love Bentley (go back and look at that face!), so, as I was filling out the adoption papers, I was literally sick to my stomach and near tears. Not that I didn't want Bear, because no one would have trouble loving this little dog. But if Garrett had not been with me, if I had never taken Bear out of that cage, this story would have had a different ending.

Let me introduce you to my new dog, my sweet companion, now named Oliver. Garrett thought it looked like he had "one of those black things on the pizza" on his nose, which was an olive, which is a girl's name, so we settled on Oliver. He's eight months old, eight and a half pounds, and the sweetest and most well behaved puppy you'll ever meet. He was going to have his work cut out for him, because I was about to take him into a home with an unstable pack.

As cute as he was, as sweet or well behaved or playful, he was about to enter a home with an unequal balance of power between it's members - specifically between the two human people and the resident boxer, Eva Jean. It would take all of Oliver's charms to win her over.

This is Eva Jean, a full blooded boxer. (She's actually much prettier, happier and sweeter looking than this photo indicates!) She came into our home five and a half years ago, when I was working at a vet's office. She was four weeks old and had drank from a mastitis tit and developed sepsis. She was in a coma for several days when the owner decided to have her euthenized. James (the vet) and I had worked so hard on her, and when I asked him what he thought should happen, he said he'd give her a few more days. I said if they'd sign her over to me, I'd like to give her some more time.
Long story short, she survived, was paralyzed for a month or so, came out of it, and became a much loved but high maintenance and medically challenged family pet (with muscle atrophy, inflammatory bowel disease, the back of a fifteen year old dog, and hair loss possibly caused by alopecia). But, first and foremost, a boxer, with the most prolonged adolescence of any breed in the canine kingdom. At some point she decided that David was her man, and any of our other dogs needed to stay away. She and Charity had been best friends as young dogs, but now were fight til death enemies, and we became a house divided three years ago after their last horrendous fight that left them both badly injured, both physically and emotionally. David and I were devastated, not just by the brutality of their fights, but because our once harmonious and even admired family of animals had become flawed and unstable.

Eva Jean is such a sweet girl, and a typical boxer clown who's devoted to her family. But her temper is very scarey. She adores the boys, and they can do just about anything to her and she doesn't react. But bring Charity in the room, and she turns into a pit bull. Hence, the baby gates. For the last three years, we've shuffled Charity and Eva Jean, keeping them divided with the gates, one coming out at a time for family and play time. Very inconvenient, but very necessary. Eva Jean is very much a people dog, and was socialized well in her first year, but the female boxer in her doesn't meld with the female terrier. Cesar the Dog Whisperer and Victoria Stillwell (It's Me or the Dog) would be appalled and ashamed of the way we've handled this whole situation! We made all kinds of plans and had ideas for a reconciliation, even have a muzzle so that we could at least let them get together in the same room, but it just hasn't happened, and time has passed without us mitigating the situation.

This is Charity (above), a 50+ pound terrier mix. She came to us through an airedale terrier rescue group that had sent me to a shelter in Atlanta to get her. It was one of those urgent situations, her time was up and she was to be euthenized that afternoon if she wasn't adopted. I took her home with the intention of fostering her, but we fell in love with her the first hour she was with us, and that was seven years ago! She was approximately eight months old, and the first thing she did was gather every pillow and stuffed toy in the house and pile them in the living room. She's very people shy, but has slowly come out of her shell - as long as you don't make sudden moves or talk in a stern or loud voice! She would run and hide from the boys when they were younger, but has slowly but surely started seeking them out or at least stays in the room when they're here. Sadly, since she and Eva Jean have been separated, she has become a bedroom dog (albeit with tv and radio) in need of a playmate. Even though I would go outside with her, she could not be coerced into playing or romping, wanting just hugs and petting.
Enter Oliver. He has surpassed my expectations of him! He adores both boys, and I have been so proud of their respect and gentleness with him. In fact, the biggest problem is that when they're here they fight over who gets to hold or play with Oliver! We've gone very slowly (he's only been here three weeks), but he's fit in and won all hearts, including Eva Jean. I would never allow them to be alone, but we're definitely working toward at least being able to be in the same room together with supervision. I take them out back together, and Eva Jean wags her tail and wants to play, but I'm having to tell her to keep back, as much because of her size and exuberance as anything else, and she's accepting that for now. And, of course, I walk them together.

Conner, the three year old, has already gotten a little ggrrrr from Oliver because he was trying to carry him around too much, but they've since made up, and Conner knows now that he has to only pet Oliver and let him sit on his lap, no carrying or dragging by the leash. His favorite thing is for the two of them to get into the kennel together.

But the best thing of all is this photo above. Oliver and Charity are friends, despite the size difference. I was brought to tears at the sight of Charity dancing and running around in play mode for the first time in three years. They've even played tug of war and frisbee, and first thing in the morning, when I let Oliver out of his sleeping crate, the two run to each other with excitement at seeing each other. I couldn't ask for anything better.

Oliver's definitely a keeper, even though he wasn't my first choice. He's a good friend for the boys, a lap dog for me, a playmate for Charity. And really, who couldn't love a little boy who's so eager to please and so darn cute? I mean, really, look at that face!

You may be wondering why I've devoted so much space to these three dogs. I guess because being a pet owner in your sixties is different than when you're in your twenties. I never thought anything about bringing home a stray or going to the shelter and bringing them home to the other four dogs and three or four cats. But now, there is so much more to think about. Number one, of course, is Eva Jean and her issues that have to be worked around. My daughter and her husband actually didn't want me to get any more animals now that we were down to the two, because they live in fear that David and I will die at the same time and they'll end up having to integrate our animals into their household (though they're both pet lovers!). And then there are the expenses - Eva Jean is on an outrageously priced dog food, and flea and heartworm preventatives are equally expensive.

The idea of being too old to have pets is beyond my wildest imaginings. It just will never happen. To not have at least one to hold and interact with ... how sad! My whole life can be documented by the animals that have shared it. I will, however, try to keep it under control, to use my head instead of my heart. I'll concede that a cat is out of the question right now, but reserve the right to consider it at a later date (when Eva Jean is gone).
Three seems to be a manageable number for right now, and, even though it's not the stable pack of years past, it'll do just fine. They are each special in their own way, and are loved, and make our family complete.


Wendy said...

Ha! I love the picture of Conner in the kennel. Why did I never think of that with Joey?

Welcome to the family, Oliver. You're a lucky little guy.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Eva Jean - great look on that dog's face. I love that picture.

Our dog died three years ago - she is still on the shelf. Perhaps we should do as you did with your dog's ashes. I do want to get another dog, but I so hate the puppy years - the digging, chewing the siding, the road trips. I really need to look into the rescue dog idea.

Wander to the Wayside said...

Wendy, I actually toyed with that idea when the boys were younger! Really, so much better than a play pen because it has a top to it, and a lock!

Midlife, Annabelle is also on a shelf, or rather on the living room buffet in front of her photo(you can probably see her box in the "Favorite Things-Buffet" photo!).I almost buried her ashes with the bush, but would rather have her ashes mixed with mine when I die (yea, I know, that's kind of wierd). Toby, the other dog that died, is on a bookcase in the hallway, and will be mixed with David's. The three cats are each under a bush in the yard with cute little markers that I found at the nursery. Can you imagine - five animals in one year? I was definitely in a funk in 2008!

Yes, consider a rescue! I cruised all the rescue/shelter sites in my area, and there are so many wonderdful dogs of any age and temperament. The nice thing is that they test drive them for you to find out their basic traits. I really really wanted to get a senior dog as they're so hard to place, but we went thru a huge expense with Annabelle, probably thousands of dollars with tests and medications, and we could not in any way afford that again so soon.

Malinda said...

Those are the cutest faces - every single one of them. When we first got our pointer, as a puppy, (which I feel could be right up there with the longest adolesence) I did not want to get her because I had read about the needs of the high energy pointer, and we did not plan on hunting with her, she was just going to be a stay at home dog - but Jim insisted (I'll walk her everyday and take her to the dog park, yeah right) and I was slightly resentful because I was the one who ended up having to take care of her during the day after work and alot of the other time. She was a wild one - we were not prepared, I was very frustrated with her, I wanted to give her back because we couldn't give her what she needed. Well, when she was a year old, her foot got caught in the fence she was climbing and she pulled all of the tendons off the bottom bone of her back leg - She was only a year old -ahhh. We decided we had to do the surgery and not just amputate and so she became our $3,000 dog with a metal plate holding her bones together. It was the right thing to do for this living being in our care, I would not ever let another suffer if I can help it, but that didn't help my frustration with her at all. Then one day during her recovery, I was with her alone all night and she was laying at the end of the couch with with a giant cone on her head, a cast on her leg, and she looked so pathetic - but something happened that night - I looked at her and I finally recognized the sweetness in her eyes, she had the kind of eyes that my childhood dog, Jed, had and I sensed her saying to me "I just want to be with you and love you". My heart opened up and we bonded that night, and after that she started responding to me and I started responding to her and she is the sweetest dog we could have ever asked for. Once I saw that look in her eyes, I knew she was going to be that one special childhood dog for my kids - the first one that they would always remember and love. And she is a very special part of our family and even though she still drives me crazy five years later, I can't imagine life without her. Gracie will always be a very special dog to me.

Ginger said...

I commented yesterday and it went into cyberspace.
I loved seeing the dog's pictures and reading about them. Eva Jean has a sad face, but so pretty. It's a shame they can't all get along. the last picture is so cute of Oliver and Charity looking out the fence together. We've been so lucky with rescue dogs. I wouldn't hestitate to get another when the time comes.
I love that they are housebroken, although I know that's not always the case.

Missy said...

Thank you so much for visiting my page! I have enjoyed reading about your pets! There is nothing better than a houseful of rescued animals. Oliver is precious....I have two Chi's myself...Peanut and Lily. Daisy is fitting right in. It is wonderful to see her relaxed and happy, running in our backyard. Friday when she found us, she cringed every time we would bend down to pet her, almost like she had been hit. She is more relaxed now and is getting so much love. :)

Oz Girl said...

Oliver is just adorable! And I too know how hard it is to lose our buddies. It takes a lil piece of your heart every time. My sis's MIL just had to have her dog put to sleep a week ago, but she has already adopted a chihuahua mix, who they named Roxie.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting on the whole comment forum thingie. :) I don't think there's a right or wrong way - I think we all try to do the best we can, and keep up with all our bloggy duties! :)

cujosgonewild said...

Congrats on the new rescue! He is a cutie! I was worried at first about the size difference of my dogs when I brought home my shepard mix to my chihuahua but everything worked out great and they play so well together. I can't wait until I can rescue another... I've almost talked the husband into letting me have a cat :) Enjoy!!

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