Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Dog-Shaped Hole in my Heart

Baloo truly believes that Osage Oranges were created just for him.

I have two amazing animals. Baloo is a golden retriever who loves sticks, balls, but most of all, he loves me. When we go for walks he stays right by my side without a leash; when I go in a building he sits in front of the door and waits for me to come back out. He pops his nose up to the bed for a morning snuffle, and curls up at the end of the bed each evening. In between, he lies at my feet, and stares at me. He is a delight, and a joy.

We didn’t know that we needed a cat, but Suzanne Schroedl did. When an orange cat appeared in Dancing Rabbit’s machine shed, Suzanne set about finding him a home. Each day she would stop by our house, cat in her arms, and inquire “hey Alline, don’t you want a cat?” I would inform her that no, I am allergic to cats, I already have a dog, thank you very much, now go away.

Suzanne, the cat whisperer.

This went on for weeks.

Then one day Kurt and I were in the machine shed, picking up after some moron, um, I mean, fellow community member who had poured a bunch of loose packing peanuts into a trash can without a lid. We were raking and sweeping up the peanuts when the orange striped cat appeared and began to play. He leapt over the rake, ran around us in circles, and was generally hilarious. After that it was pretty much a done deal. As for the allergies: heck, I’m already allergic to straw (I live in a strawbale house), dust (I don’t clean), and pollen (solved by better living through chemistry). What was one more allergen, especially one with so much personality?

Fionn MacCool, happy at last.
So Fionn MacCool came to live with us, and is better than TV. We have learned that we did, indeed, need a cat. We have also learned that cats see things that are invisible to mere mortals. This causes Fionn (pronounced “Finn”) to run full speed up and down the stairs, to pounce on and kill what appear to be dust motes, and to sit on all books, magazines and newspapers that are being read. He never met a box that he didn’t love – size is no object, small is good, especially when all that can fit into it is his head. Best of all, after watching Baloo “sit” before eating dinner, Fionn now responds to the command “sit” before being given his dinner. It is pretty amazing to watch. We will always be grateful to Suzanne for her insight and persistence. Now that she's living in Massachusetts I wonder if she still goes door to door with cute cats?

So what the heck is my problem? Ah, yes.

A year and a half ago a big, gawky puppy, looking like she was put together with spare dog parts, wandered into Dancing Rabbit. Our animal-loving friend adopted her, primarily to keep The Girl from going to the pound, where she would most likely have been euthanized (rural Northeastern Missouri is a tough place to be an animal). Unfortunately, our friend didn’t know that dogs are pack animals and being isolated feels like punishment. And for the next year and a half The Girl was often tied up behind our friend’s house. When she’d bark for attention she’d get a “shush”, if anything. Often our friend was gone all day, leaving The Girl tied up outside for hours and hours. When her barking became especially insistent, we’d go check on her and find her lead wrapped around a tree, or her water bowl empty and dry as a bone. And The Girl was never trained. She doesn’t come when she’s called. Walking her on a leash is an exercise in arm dislocation. I was distraught each time she was tied up, but there seemed to be nothing that I could do besides talk to her, untangle her and fill her water bowl. It was a sad, depressing situation.

But a few weeks ago our friend was hospitalized, and we took The Girl in. Without expecting to, we fell totally, completely, head-over-heels in love. Within a day she was sitting on command so that we put on her leash to go on walks. With a retractable leash she was a breeze to handle. She comes when we call her. She has learned to stay out of the kitchen, to “lie down,” to not jump up on people. She is remarkably calm – we had three meetings here and she took a nap at my feet during the three long discussions. She proved to be highly-intelligent, eager to please, thrilled to particpate, and amazingly easy to train. While she was with us, I took the two dogs on three long walks a day, and also took them both everywhere I went – to the mailbox, to visit Meadow, to hang out the laundry, to bring treats to the construction guys in the Mercantile. I knew I liked having one dog, but having two was even better! Our walks were a blast. One of my favorite things to do was to take them out to the Ultimate Frisbee field each night, when the sky was dark but the stars were bright. We could all walk around without worrying about tripping, and look at the stars. I’m pretty sure the dogs didn’t care about the stars (or about tripping, either), but I did, and it was magical. The Girl is filled with life and energy, and Baloo fell in love with her, too. We’ve never seen him play with a dog before – he’d been habituated to humans instead of dogs before we got him – but with The Girl he played. The two of them (both weighing in excess of 65 pounds) would tear around the house, wrestle, roll around…I swear, they were practically giggling.

When our friend returned home from the hospital and received additional bad news about her health, it seemed kind of crazy for her to keep this big, active dog in her small room, along with her two not-very-healthy cats. So Kurt and I offered to adopt her. Our goal was to train her so that she would behave well enough to have “off-leash” status, to make her a part of our family, to socialize her and let her experience as much joy-filled life as we could provide.

Our friend gave it lots of thought, but in the end said she would miss The Girl, and wanted to keep her.

Which should be fine with me. The Girl is, after all, her dog; I need to respect that. But I am miserable.

I feel incredibly selfish. Our friend is learning how to take care of dogs, and has not tied up The Girl outside since returning home from the hospital. She has hired another community member to walk her once a day. I am hopeful that The Girl will receive a lot more attention than she has in the past. And I need to let it go. But it gnaws at me. Baloo misses her too. Even the cat, whose head she would place in her mouth (much like a circus performer) keeps looking for her.

On a walk

So I am working hard on gratitude today. My life is really is filled with innumerable blessings. I have the best husband in the world, amazing pets, a home I love, a business poised to take off, a fabulous friend who comes each day to help us get stuff done, a supportive community of friends and neighbors, good health, cute shoes, and a stash of Dr. Pepper and organic chocolate. For all of this I am grateful. I am working on being grateful that our friend wants and loves The Girl. I am working on accepting that The Girl does not have to be a part of our family to lead a rich, full life. I am working on understanding that I cannot control what happens in my life, and being grateful for the twists, turns and lessons learned on my path. I am working on it, but haven’t gotten there yet…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

am so sorry, that is such a hard situation. I hope you and your animals are able to visit with the girl, but it isn't the same. As a person with 2 cats and two dog I thought I had more than enough animals until a stray cat followed my husband into a grocery store. We spent two weeks trying to find its owner or a new owner and trying so hard not to love the cat. After two weeks he moved from garage to house and realized I guess I am a 3 cat 2 dog person. I hope things work out for you.