09 March 2017

The Dog Saga

I’m a cat person. It’s a color that runs through and through. Cats are clean, smart, and independent—much like me. That said, I once entertained the idea of getting a doggie companion; shortly after Azrael died. I simply could not see myself ever replacing the beloved feline with another, lesser member of the feline species. This new pet had to be a fresh start.

Azrael, the best cat ever lived
In preparation for this dog—mind you this is 20 years ago—I read all of the dog books in the library, surveyed dog owners in the neighborhood, and visited dog parks to observe unfettered canine behavior. I knew of disease, dysplasia, and diarrhea (causes). I had amassed recipes for healthy meals to cook and share on special occasions—like any given Sunday. I had even researched the local veterinarians and gotten pros and cons from at least two clients of each. I was prepared.

Then one day it was over, my desire for a dog. On a rainy afternoon I walked home—umbrella in hand, sweaty wellies hugging my feet—behind an intrepid dog owner taking her companion home from their afternoon walk. Fido, trotting along beside his friend, stepped into a mushy pile of anther dogs’ leavings. Fido did not bat an eye. Turning off to enter my apartment building I could not help but extrapolate:

Fido and lady would turn off to enter their own apartment building, and he would run inside, violently shake off the excess wetness—likely while standing adjacent to the clean white sofa, then spring up onto a pristine cushion, to quietly lick his nethers while his put-upon owner fixed him a bowl of kibble; foot feces forgotten.

Inside my flat, I removed my shoes by the front door, placed them neatly in line with the others, and changed my mind about getting a dog.

Years later, my sister wanted to get herself a dog. This creature would be her guard animal and walking companion. However, she did not want it to live indoors with her, but  out in the yard in a fairly large and comfortable enclosure. My research came back to me, “Jo, if you want this dog to truly protect you that you will need to bond with it…not just throw food over the back fence.”

She trusted my counsel, but valuing the cleanness of her surroundings above other things, she came up with all sorts of caveats. Her doggie would not be allowed in certain rooms, etc.

Armed with my encyclopedic knowledge of just the basics and a few breeds, we drove to the SPCA and sis pointed to the first male dog she saw, “ask the volunteer to let me walk that one.”

Chow is a large breed
Before going much further, I should say that my sister was attacked by a dog when we were kids in Antigua. She has held a slight, yet visceral wariness of dogs since then.

Anyway, the volunteer leashed the 80lb, ginger Chow and took him to the outdoor enclosure. We both entered the gated area and she was handed the leash. Outwardly she was calm, maybe, but the germ of fear must have radiated off of her. Ginger grabbed her leg and humped in a quick show of dominance, then he strode off, nonplussed, to worry a nearby tennis ball. My advice to her was the hump him back... and do it quickly. If she gets him home having endured that affront, he would never recognize her dominance.

On the dog-less car ride home, she mused, maybe Chow is not the breed for her.

Beautiful, silver-grey stained hardwood floors
Many years later, my hubby and I wed, bought a house and lived for three comfortably pet-free years with our beautifully custom installed hardwood floors. The finish on those floors is like glass! And one day—tricked into loving a dog by his best friend’s Coon Hound, Bea, I suggested that we get a dog (he’s claimed allergies to cats in the past).

For weeks I scoured the internet looking for a place to get said dog. I read online training manuals, and I fretted about wee on the carpet, and not walking it enough (or walking it too much) or giving it a complex because of my aversion to filth—y’know the normal stuff. We visited the local shelters and I called in all sorts of favors—remember we are a 6-bike / 0-car family. In case you didn’t realize, Baltimore and DC shelters have a ton of Pit Bulls (unfortunately, not my cup of tea).

I wanted a female dog, a bitch, medium-size, with shorter hair, roughly 3 - 7 years old.

Three finalists
My search yielded three dogs of distinction, a Feist mix (in Northern VA), a Terrier mix and a Lab mix (both in Maryland). All were 2-year-olds. However, I was in love with their little faces, and  prepared for the adjustment. My director and I had already discussed my part-time, work from home schedule to ease the canine adjustment period.

When the last search weekend rolled around, it turned out that the Feist was already adopted, the Terrier had birthed a litter of pups in her past (also, not my cup of tea), and the Lab was shy, shaking, and silent. She was a bit scared of me and terror struck at my husband, “We’ll take her!”

Daisy, looking fearful, at shelter
Daisy tossed her body at the back of her cage and tried to melt into the bars whenever we came near. But I was armed with liver treats and didn’t mind sitting on the floor in the doorway of her 4’tall enclosure. She’d come up and eat one then scuttle back, all the while giving me the side eye. We put in our application and visited her each day until we were approved. Then we came to see her on pick up day… I was nervous, Daisy was spooked by stationery cars in the parking lot, and did not want to leave the shelter. But too bad, we had paid our adoption fee and like it or not, she was coming with us.

Inside the car Daisy was a different dog to the ‘fraidy fowl we had met. In the back seat, I clung to her leash while she wagged her tail uncontrollably, sniffed the breeze coming through the gapped window, and enjoyed the street views from her perch. She’d definitely been in a car before—and loved it.

It was the best hour of her recent life.

That first night, we blocked off the kitchen and upstairs and allowed her to sleep on the couch. I decided to join her. We slept the requisite 8 hours. Hubby gave her a long walk after having grown tired of seeing her untouched bowl of food. Leaving for work we bellowed our love for her at the front door and were gone. I had one meeting at noon and would be able to leave at 1pm to get back to my new pup. Hubby had to turn back from his daily routine to pick up something from the house, and in that split second when he opened the door, our Daisy girl was off. She bolted!

Day 1 after return, see the huge cut?
To cut a long story short, she was gone for 10 days, we got sniffing dogs to track her, and had several community members (across several communities) keep an eye out for her. Because of the stress and uncertainty of the situation, I lost sleep, lost weight, developed an ear infection and had my period start weeks early. Hubby was despondent and wracked with guilt over the loss of our 12-Hour-Daisy-Doggie.

Eventually a good neighbor, five communities away trapped her in the yard and called me. Daisy was back from her 2-week walk about! She had been all over town, gotten into a couple of scrapes, lost her tags  microchip ID, was almost captured (by me and others)  a few times, gained a pound and a half, and somehow made it back home to us, safe.

Our initial plan was to change her name, but after spending an emotional 10 days walking the streets, and repeating the words “our dog Daisy is missing,” it seemed wrong to try to change it (it’s still a bitter-sweet reminder).

Daisy & hubby watching basketball
We got her home. I meticulously cleaned away the scads of feces and dead animal tissue that she had managed to cover herself in. While she dried off in the living room we shed a few happy tears.

Today, hubby is her best friend, and we’re her new pack!