My mother raised animals in much the same way she raised children: by allowing them to have everything they want, not giving them limitations, and then smiling charmingly when one of them peed on the couch. I craved the curfews that my friends had and even thought being grounded sounded pretty good — or at least like you were like kids were in movies.
With the animals, she didn’t believe in leashes or take cats with cancer to the vet (she was convinced they lived a whole lot longer that way — it turned out to be true in at least one case). She gave them enough dinner scraps to make them pretty much wholly disdainful of their food whenever they were forced to eat it.
But the greatest gift she bequeathed on them had to be their names. In addition to Greta (a German Shepard), Xanadu (a Basset Hound-Saint Bernard mix) and Yuppie Puppy (a straight up Basset Hound), there were the Golden Retrievers Malo and Bueno, the cat Hard Licker (he gave more kisses than a girl sitting at a kissing booth in a fair) and her dog du jour, a Bulldog named Guapo. Just so you fully get how nuts Mom is for the animals, I should probably mention the chickens (Over, Easy, Chantal, and oh so many others — those chickens didn’t live long, but oh they lived well…though no dinner scraps for them.)
The whole lack of discipline thing has only really become a problem with the current animals. Guapo is a sweetheart to anyone who truly knows him but there have been enough incidents between Guapo and various delivery men (Mom claims Guapo only antagonizes “wimpy men” because he doesn’t respect them) for him to have been officially quarantined for a while. I’m convinced that the only reason Mom got Baylo, a Newfoundland who’s easily double Mom’s weight, is to make Guapo look good in comparison (Baylo means well but it’s simply not terribly enjoyable to be knocked over and kissed by an untrained 200-pound furball who’s convinced you’re going to love him now matter how well he means).
I’m not sure what she’ll have to get to make Baylo seem like he’s not that bad, but I’m guessing it will have to be from the bear family.
George Carlin has said that “Life is a series of dogs.” My own life thus far has been touched by a Domino, a Scooter, a Pepsi, a Lucky, a Buster, a Suka, a Marley, and last but certainly not least, a Daisy. Each dog was certainly an individual, with unique quirks and talents ranging from disco dancing to possum wrangling.
I was originally going to write a very sad post about my first puppy—the first dog that truly belonged just to me, whose complete care was my sole responsibility. But it’s a depressing tale. Marley, the sweetest little furball of Cairn Terrier ever, died at twelve weeks of age from kidney failure.
So in lieu of a tear-jerking post, here’s a sweet photo of that little cutepea, who, despite being only two pounds, left an enormous pawprint on my heart.
I’ve discussed my current Cairn (Daisy…gee, isn’t that a clever name?) at length on my own blog: her tendency to bark at anything that isn’t nailed down, her hatred for certain theme music on public radio, the way she leaps as if spring-loaded, growling, in front of the television whenever an animal comes onscreen. She is a tennis ball Nazi, an all-around grump, a despiser of sneezes.
Daisy is an excellent alarm clock as well as an excellent weather station and calendar. For example, when the temperature drops below thirty degrees, she begins to use the throw rug in the back hall as her own personal toilet. (She’s not keen on being outdoors in the cold weather for too long.)
So who needs a calendar to know when to defrost the turkey and hang the lights on the tree when you have a magical defecating dog to tell you such things in a very special and personal way?
Daisy’s other hobbies include a desperate yearning to have her tummy scratched by any human being in the world, coating every surface in the house in a fine layer of blonde dog hair, stealing socks, tearing up fabric softener sheets, destuffing toys, and being a very adorable pain in the ass. Especially when she wakes me up at four in the morning with a series of teeny, tiny disgruntled “Hmmphfffs!” next to the bed. These “Hmmphffs!” are the signal for me to get out of bed to lift her highness up into bed with us. Or, sometimes she wants me to chase her around the room and play. Which is always fun, particularly when I have an important meeting at work mere hours from then and I’d only fallen asleep thirty minutes prior to her signal.
She is also an excellent writing buddy, sleeping beneath my computer chair whenever I clack away at the keys. Unfortunately, I need to alert her before I get up, as her shaggy hair has, on numerous occasions, gotten caught in the casters of my chair. Which always leads to a pleasant, low-decibal reaction.
She will only kiss boys, actually turning her head away disdainfully when I lean in for a kiss on the nose. (Cesar Milan would say she’s asserting her dominance over me.) You always love the ones that play hard to get, so of course I dote on her. She’s a clever little monster. She’s trained me well. I’m a bit worried about her reaction should we expand our family to include a non-furry two-legged little creature, but I’m hoping that should such an event occur, she will welcome the noise-making New Human Food Distribution Device with open paws.
In the meantime, Daisy will remain our only child: the spoiled, well-loved Fur Kid with the sh*t-eating grin. And oh, how I wish that were only a figure of speech.
I am as much “at one” with nature as I ever hope to be. More, actually. Tomorrow we’ll be back near the Outward Bound cabin/office and I’m sure when I call to explain everything you’ll agree I should come home. You wanted me to do this because the boys both did it but they stayed in CABINS and besides, they both probably loved being smelly and dirty—they’re boys. They probably had contests to see who could sniff their own armpits the longest.
Funny enough, the group has helped me a lot in the decision to leave and we have bonded. I will actually be sad to go. The ex-con has even offered to trade headbands and given me some stones he carries around in his pocket. I can’t help but notice my headband is much nicer than his but I will make the trade, nevertheless.
Oh God. You flipped out. I have talked and wept and begged to no avail and have finally agreed to return to the program tomorrow morning and finish it. I never said anything to you about being eighteen because it doesn’t matter—I am far from free to make the decision and I was a fool to think I was.
I’m staying over at the cabin in my vile sleeping bag. Tomorrow I will slink back to camp and rejoin the group. Pathetic. There is a shower here and all the (clean!) belongings I left behind at the start of the trip. I won’t be allowed any of it now, since I’m going back. I am miserable, spineless and filthy, like some kind of Shakespearean exile in the forest, but with no romantic ending in sight, just body odor, bug bites and bags of soiled toilet paper.
I was so proud that you agreed to finish the trip when you’re having such a hard time. Of course I called the Outward Bound office this morning to get to the bottom of what’s going on there. Imagine my surprise when they said you were gone. Imagine how I felt when I discovered that you got on a plane this morning and flew back to Toronto. I have not heard from you and neither has anyone in the family. I am furious beyond belief and so scared but trying not to panic.
Where are you?!
I couldn’t go back.
There were things I liked about Outward Bound, things I achieved—building a fire, pitching a tent, cooking, hiking, finding the trail when no one else could. My back and legs got strong and I saw beautiful places and thought about the meaning of life. But I wasn’t prepared for the weird intimacy with strangers or the way they seemed to be setting us up to reveal our weaknesses and face our fears and so on. I thought it was just a camping trip.
Yet there was something I needed to learn, Mom. You see, you think I’m an underachiever and that I need survival skills. You think I CHOSE not to get perfect grades. But I didn’t get the A+ average because I didn’t know how, Mom. I didn’t have the study skills because all through high school I was working on something else: my survival skills, and don’t mean the wilderness kind. Also, I was working on making you happy—something that has been my driving goal since I was nine years old.
But I’ve learned that sometimes making you happy is going to make me unhappy—in this case, miserable—and I don’t think I can live my life like that. To do Outward Bound, to face down the physical and emotional challenges, you have to want to do it. It doesn’t work if you’re doing it for someone else and it really doesn’t work if you’re doing it under duress.
So here I am at eighteen and I couldn’t do the thing that would make you happy, the thing that would make you proud. That hurts me so much, Mom, it feels like I’m dying inside. And yet I know it’s the right thing. Maybe someday when you’ve had some time, you will be proud. And you should be, Mom, because to get on that plane I had to face my worst fear of all: my fear of losing you.
It cost me $87.00 to change my flight. At the airport in Toronto I called a lifelong friend who was living in residence at U of T and then took a bus downtown where he managed to get me a room in the women’s residence where I stayed for a few weeks.
I called my mom that night to let her know I was okay and that Mike had found me a room. My reception was chilly to say the least, but I knew from her voice that I’d be forgiven at some point, maybe even before I left for McGill in the fall.
Weirdly enough, leaving Outward Bound is one of the things I’m most proud of. It changed me, strengthened me and set me on the course to be an adult in a way that staying, under those circumstances, would not have.
And once she calmed down, it turned out my mom was proud of me too, which was quite a nice bonus.
Thanks for reading.
Welcome to guest author Jennifer Estep (who, by the way, has one way cool website), whose superhero chick lit novel Karma Girl debuted in May, and her sequel, Hot Mama, came out earlier this month. Jen wants to share a little about her favorite pet:
First of all, thanks to the Debs for having me on the blog. You gals rock!
I was really happy when I found out the theme this week is “Family Pets,” because it gives me a chance to talk about the best dog in the world — Lucky.
He was just a puppy when I met him, a few months old, mingling with the other dogs at the local animal shelter. But there was something special about the way he scampered over and sniffed my feet. Something magical about the way he wagged his tail. Something completely adorable about the way his snow-white belly would bounce off the ground when he threw his head back and barked.
So, we took him home from the pound, and I named him Lucky. (Not the most original name, but in my defense, I was only nine at the time. Besides, I knew what would happen to him if we didn’t take him home. That’s another reason he was Lucky.)
Lucky was the best $10 pound dog money could buy. Happy, energetic, enthusiastic, playful. He was Welsh Pembroke Corgi mixed with something else and extremely smart. One of his favorite toys was an empty milk jug. He’d pounce on it, grab it by the handle, shake it with his head, and throw it in the air. When the jug hit the ground, he’d repeat the process all over again.
He loved to go for walks, enjoyed rolling around in the snow, and was terrified of the water hose. He also liked to eat grasshoppers and turtles. (Don’t ask me why).
Over time, Lucky became more my mom’s dog than mine. But that was okay, because they loved each other so much. Whenever she would go out, he’d lay down by the door and wait for her. As soon as he heard her come back, he’d scramble to his feet and start barking. He was that happy to see her. Always.
Sadly, we had to put Lucky to sleep last year. He had a seizure, congestive heart failure, arthritis … it was just time. He was nineteen. Losing him broke my mom’s heart. Mine, too.
But his photo and leash are on my bookcase, and he’ll always be in my heart. One of my books will be dedicated to him. If I ever have a daughter, I hope I’ll find her a dog just like Lucky.
What about you? What memories do you have of your pets? Inquiring minds want to know …
*While pondering which of the many pet tales with which I could regale you, I decided to roam through my files of essays and happened upon something I wrote two and a half years ago as we were about to hand off the litter of puppies our dog Sassy had borne to their new owners. It’s a bit long but I hope you enjoy it.
Today is the day. In a few short hours, the litter of puppies our cherished Labrador retriever, Sassy, gave birth to just ten weeks ago, will be picked up by their new owners, hastened off to homes far away. Today these puppies will embark on a new phase in their lives, leaving behind a sad though perhaps relieved mother; an exhausted yet nonetheless enriched human family; another family dog who has spent the past few months utterly perplexed about the aliens who invaded her peaceful home; an aloof cat who once eyed the young pups as a possible meal and who now contemptuously evades their menacing presence; and a gregarious parrot who has learned to mimic that particularly sharp and alarming cry of puppy-in-distress, a sound she’s heard all too often in the past month or so as the puppies’ play became aggressive enough to draw blood. Yes, today is the day the kids and I have been dreading: the day we give away our babies.
Soon the tears will flow unwillingly; this I know. But for now, I’m enjoying the last I’ll see of their roughhousing, as they gallop softly back and forth, tumbling en masse, their fur the swirled ecru of molten marshmallow, the sleek black sheen of a newborn seal. To us, they’ve become a little furry family, yet I know they’re really a pack of miniature dogs, and we are merely their captors. I can tell it when we get caught up in their midst and their teeth connect with our flesh instead of each other’s. I can tell it when they’re heaped together, black on white on black on white, or nestled close to their mother, nursing with a frenzy of desperation reserved solely for animals teeming with hunger.
But in an odd way, these puppies have become our own babies, and now we must abandon a piece of ourselves as we give away these four little lives that we’ve helped nurture over the past two and a half months. As I blow my nose against my suppressed tears, the thundering noise of pups at play nearby comes to an abrupt halt. I turn to see four curious faces pointed at me, silhouetted innocently against the morning sun pouring through the mudroom door, the pups wondering what it was they just heard for the first time—me, sobbing. Four faces filled with the boundless optimism that only a Labrador retriever can know. A happiness that, if bottled, would put pharmaceutical firms out of business, for who would need anti-depressants?
Ah, but I know for a fact, that even a cheerful Labrador can become overwhelmed with sadness. For weeks, Sassy mournfully wandered the house and yard, in search of one puppy, which had died unexpectedly two days after his birth. We watched with heavy hearts as she retrieved small black or white Beanie Babies from our kids’ bedrooms and brought them back into the whelping box with the living pups, licking and tending to the inanimate toy just as she would her own baby. Clearly the emotion of pain is not reserved merely for humans.
The decision to breed our dog was one made with great deliberation. I had fond recollections of the two litters of Labradors that my family reared when I was young. Of course my child’s mind must have tucked away the intense emotion of loss and the grim reality of hard labor that inevitably accompany such a venture. Our youngest daughter, an Animal Planet devotee, enthusiastically embraced the idea. After all, she’d spent hours addictively glued to that network’s That’s My Baby series, watching all sorts of animals be ushered into the world. With her bedroom door riddled with catalogue photos and downloaded images of puppies and kitties, she was more than ready to take an active role in the process. Our middle daughter, while relishing the idea of puppies, was nonetheless reluctant to subject Sassy to the potential health risks involved. Our son, like most teenaged boys, was completely uninterested in the work such a project would entail.
And so the decision was left to my husband and me. We ultimately determined that the benefits of the experience would outweigh the downsides to it. The next step was garnering the approval of our breeder, who would only relinquish full AKC registration to us if Sassy’s physical design met the scrupulous standards of the breed. Thus our pet had her hips and elbows x-rayed, her heart examined by a veterinary cardiologist, her eyes vetted by a veterinary ophthalmologist. These standards were important to us, as well, as we once had a Lab with severe allergies, and knew that passing on bad genes would be irresponsible and burdensome to any pet owner. We only wanted to breed Sassy if her health merited it.
Breeding our admittedly pampered house pet meant farming her off to The Stud, leaving her to be violated for five days in the dead of February cold, as we remained guiltily ensconced at home by the fireplace. A skittish dog returned to us, desperately thirsty and with open wounds around her nose and mouth, apparently due to her Mission Impossible attempts to dig out from under the kennel fence. Guilt-ridden, I knew the deal was done. Nevertheless, soon Sassy’s happy demeanor returned.
Following an uneventful gestation, toward the end of which our dog more closely resembled a coffee table than a canine, labor began. It was then that we realized that breeding is normally left to the professionals for good reason, as Sassy labored for 24 hours before delivering the first pup, dead. Too large to fit through the birth canal, the puppy’s placenta had evidently broken early on in the labor, unbeknownst to us. As our fleeting elation turned to grief, the labor continued. For the next several hours, puppies came slowly, often in need of at least some resuscitation. We knew from a pre-birth x-ray that Sassy was carrying seven puppies. But by dawn’s light, only four had come out, and Sassy was exhausted. Thus we hastened to the vet’s office, where the vet labored as much as the dog to deliver the final three puppies. She tried for hours to allow the babies to come on their own. Eventually, Sassy had to have a C-section for the last puppy, which by then had died, again far too big to come on his own.
The first two weeks came relatively easily for our family, as Sassy did all of the important work of feeding and cleaning up after her babies. My husband and I took turns holding the nighttime vigil, sleeping aside the whelping box to ensure no puppies died from suffocation or hypothermia, with a space heater cranked up to an oppressive 80°. Sleep deprivation took its toll on us, however, as sleep was elusive with puppies emitting alarmingly loud Geiger counter-like sounds when in distress.
Eventually, the baton of puppy maintenance was passed on to us. Each morning we were accosted with the noxious aroma of puppy waste wafting to the 2nd floor of the house, and we were greeted with the cacophonous yelps of very soiled pups demanding service. The first hour and 45 minutes of each day were devoted to cleaning up the mess they’d created while we slept, starting with bathing the puppies. By my rough calculation, over the past ten weeks, we exhausted over a hundred rolls of paper towels, twenty double-packs of Swiffer refills (The Sam’s Club wretched- excess size), forty containers of Chlorox wet wipes, two hundred days worth of newspapers (advertising supplements included). And half of an industrial-size roll of newsprint, a gift from a friend who publishes a paper.
Amazingly, my Swiffer Wetjet—which I once resented for having ruined the high gloss finish on my hardwood floors, yet has become my salvation in my dismal daily undertaking—has only required two changes of batteries (along with about eight hundred refill pads). How’s that for staying power? I, on the other hand, have required battery power that is not yet available for human consumption, and instead have spent roughly, oh, three hundred hours (a conservative estimate) mopping, sopping, washing, and picking up teeny, tiny shreds of newspaper from every imaginable surface in the mudroom. As the puppies rapidly grew in size and ability, they transformed from fragile incubators of potentially deadly germs into hearty perpetrators of unwittingly ferocious acts.
“They’re barracudas!” We’d say.
“They’re terrorists with tails!” I’d lament.
“Mom! Don’t make me go in there with them! Look at all the cuts and punctures they’ve given me!” The kids would cry.
And yet, despite their propensity to be a little rough with the incisors, they were precious. Soft. Cuddly. Adorable. Until they turned around and bit your ear. Lovable. In a watch-your-back sort of way.
The phrase most often heard around my house has been “Oh, they are so cute!” Amazing how far looks can get one in life, really. Because with regularity we have alternated (sometimes every 15 seconds or so) between being beyond smitten by those beautiful pups, to wanting to immediately farm them off to finishing school, several states away. All the while carrying the burden of the knowledge of the compressed lifetime we’d share with them. A mother knows from the moment of conception that one day she’ll be forced to reluctantly allow her child to depart from her sphere of influence. But a mother usually has a good eighteen years to prepare for that separation. Yet with the pups, the countdown began at birth.
Just as with motherhood, the behavior of the offspring lent a sort of ease to the inevitable departure. We weren’t just giving up our beautiful puppies; we were gladly relinquishing this pack of scoundrels that had wrought destruction upon our house and our tender flesh. Yes, the puppies chewed. And chewed. And chewed. They pulled the newly-applied caulking out of the mudroom shower (I had just proudly reapplied it shortly before their birth). They gnawed on wood trim, cabinets and benches. They scratched and chewed holes into the drywall, repeatedly. They pulled the wood out of the drywall that had been placed there as a chewing deterrent. Because the other deterring products failed miserably. We learned that Bitter Apple, designed to discourage puppy chewing, had a particularly offensive flavor that our puppies especially enjoyed. Same with Bitter Lime. I next moved on to Fooey, the atomizing effect of which rendered the humans feeling slightly ill with a very bitter taste in their mouths, but somehow had no effect on the puppies whatsoever. Chewing away to the tune of five holes in the drywall, ten areas of chewed baseboards, and a variety of other wood trimmed items that have been shredded beyond repair.With each newly-minted hole, each sliced thumb, and scratched ankle, the umbilical cord linking the puppies to us frayed just a little bit more.
The intended eight-week puppy project was not done, however, as those who’d claimed the puppies needed us to hold on to them for just a few more weeks, while they enjoyed summer vacations at the seashore. By week eight I was weary of the whole thing. On my hands and knees cleaning after the puppies, I felt like Cinderella, only I had no grand Ball to look forward to, no debonair prince to sweep me off my feet. And I began to wonder why I couldn’t be lounging on some tropical beach. Thus I found myself almost looking forward to D-day. Delivery day: the day I’d dreaded all along.
People often asked me: would we do it again? Well, maybe if you paid us a million dollars we might consider it. But truth is, we’d probably have an easier time of it winning a million dollars being stranded on a desert island in a reality TV show than in another puppy breeding venture. Those same people inevitably then ask: are you glad you did it? And to this I can answer a resounding yes. When all four puppies were piled up atop one another, nestled in for a much-deserved rest after trashing the mudroom for yet another morning, my heart would just melt, and I simply could not resist their innate charms.
Though the realist in me recalls a trip to Africa, in which we saw all sorts of babies from the animal kingdom. Even the ugly ones were cute: the warthogs, the jackals, the wildebeests. The truth is, babies of any sort are adorable for a good reason: it’s the only way that the grown-ups in charge of them put up with them so obligingly, even when they are at their four-legged, terrorist-tailed worst.
And now as the clock ticks down, I find myself dancing on a sensory tightrope, my emotions as raw as the ground beef that’s defrosting on my kitchen counter (something I’ve had to fry up each day for Sassy’s nutritional benefit). Staving off the assault on my tear ducts that is imminent, I’m riddled with sadness and guilt, anticipating the loss, knowing that because of us, our dog’s babies will disappear from her world today, perhaps leaving her to wander the house in search of them, as with her previous loss.
Our inexhaustible supply of newspapers to be recycled is now exhausted, and the time has come for the puppies to leave. And I reluctantly acknowledge there will be not just a little bit of relief as well, as my burden will have been lifted. I can only hope that after the tears subside, and our heartache for our dog has faded into a mild sense of guilt for having subjected her to the vagaries of loss that we all must face in life, that we will all have been better for having lived the experience, despite our love lost. And while the puppies may be gone, I suppose we’ll occasionally hear a gentle reminder of their once omnipresent existence in our lives, when our parrot emits the shrill cry of pain that once sent me running, but will now evoke only a wistful smile, and perhaps a tear or two.
Born: September 27, 2007
Household Coup D’Etat: November 16, 2007
Months since I promised my son we’d get a puppy: 21
Deb Danielle is over the moon about this endorsement: “Danielle Younge-Ullman’s Falling Under is heartwrenching and provocative all at once. With crisp, polished prose and a fearless narrative style, Younge-Ullman creates a spellbinding journey through young adulthood. Fans of Stephen Elliott and A.M. Homes will enjoy this raw, edgy debut.” Martha O’Connor, author of The Bitch Posse.
Guest Author Series:
This week the debs welcome Jennifer Estep as our guest blogger. Ms. Estep is the author of the Bigtime series from Berkley, which includes Karma Girl (May, 2007) Hot Mama (just released!) and the upcoming Jinx (Sept 2008). We look forward to dancing with you, Jennifer!
What the debs are reading:
Deb Jenny is reading Christie Craig’s debut, Divorced, Desperate and Delicious
Deb Gail just finished The Florist’s Daughter by Patricia Hampl
Deb Lisa is reading the (yet to be released) The Ten Best Days of My Life by Adena Halpern
Deb Danielle is reading Porcupine by Meg Tilly
Deb Jess is reading The Last of her Kind by Sigrid Nunez
Deb Eileen is re-reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett