The Dangerous Privilege of Loving a Dog

11260843_10155902566435411_3526323269060517134_nTuesday was a hard day.

I thought it would be a hard day because it was my first ever live TV interview. I was nervous and excited. I spent extra time with the dogs in the morning giving them an extended playtime outside because I knew they would be cooped up for a good portion of the day. They had their usual crazy runaround and tackle game for a good 20 minutes. Then I leashed Frank to end the shenanigans and took them for a walk.

Tex and Tennessee swirled around us as we walked the perimeter of the pasture. Then we ventured into Gracie-land and they were very polite and respectful, keeping their distance from the grumpy girl dog. At the bottom of the property, Tex spied my neighbor’s goats and immediately assumed the low crouch of a herding border collie, scuttling off towards the road. I panicked for a moment worrying that he would dart across the road to herd the goats, but when I whistled he immediately spun around and raced back to me. Such a good dog.

My interview went fine. It was interesting to see the inner workings of a TV studio and meet the other guests. It was over before I knew it and I was back home again. I took the boys out for a romp, but they tired quickly in the heat and we went back inside. I double checked that there was no food on the counter and nothing I didn’t want chewed to bits within reach and left all three boys gated in the kitchen to go run a quick errand.

When I came home, Frank and Tennessee greeted me at the door. I knew something was wrong the moment I stepped inside. There was an eery smell I can’t describe and the energy felt all wrong. I found Texas lying on the giant Frank bed with his chin on his front legs as if asleep. Only he wasn’t asleep. He was gone.

I still can’t believe it. I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening calling people, looking for clues, trying to figure out how Tex could have just lay down and die. “It happens,” said my neighbor/vet/friend after we’d talked through every possibility. But it still makes no sense to me. He was healthy, happy. Just that day I’d noticed what a shine his coat had gotten. He ate well, had learned to love treats, played and ran and smiled his big border collie smile. He loved wrestling with Frank, always going for Frank’s ankles, probably well aware Frank was too strong and big for him to out-and-out tackle. Watching Tex creep up on my horses, letting it go as far as I dared before calling him off, were some of my favorite dog-moments.

That night when the tears finally slowed, I was angry. One of the reasons I got into fostering was because I didn’t want to ever watch another dog die. Losing my beloved Lucy a year ago just hurt too much. I didn’t want to do it again. I’d rather suffer through a thousand goodbyes than bury another dog. And now that’s exactly what I was doing. I didn’t sign up for this. I was done fostering. No more.

But this morning, walking Tennessee and Frank I reflected on how risky love is. And not just dogs. If you love hard, you will grieve hard. And life wouldn’t be nearly as rich if you didn’t love hard and deep and honest. So that’s what you sign up for when you open your heart to anyone – dog or human. For the privilege of experiencing the beautiful, amazing, unconditional love of an animal you are signing up for the pain of an ending. Is it worth it?

I know it is. Nothing is more worth it.

I’m comforted by the fact it seems Texas didn’t suffer. Dying is inevitable, so a peaceful passing is more than you can ask for. He was a beautiful, amazing, sweet dog. I know by the way he cowered at loud noises and sudden movements that his life didn’t start out so peaceful, but I’m glad that in the end he knew safety and love and happiness. I feel blessed that we were able to give him that, but mostly I feel blessed to have had the privilege to love, even for a short time, such a good dog.DSC_0002

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They’re Really Lovers, Not Fighters, Honest!

DSC_9994I need to find a way to harness all this dog energy to power my house. Two border collies, the Amazing Frank, and my own over-anxious, awkward personal dog, Gracie, have turned our home into something of a three-ring circus.

Lucky for us the boys are all super good at coming when they are called, so they can have regular romps outside. This is a video of the craziness…

It’s so entertaining that one of my new favorite activities is to retire to the top of our hillside in the evening with a glass of wine and watch the shenanigans. The only problem is, just like boy children, boy dog play can sometimes graduate to boy dog fights.

Usually this happens when somebody (the “senior” member of these musketeers) gets tired and has had enough. Texas, who has endless energy and can outrun all the others, just never quits, but since he is too speedy for Frank to grab him, Tennessee usually ends up on the bottom of the pile. Unlike Texas and Gracie who will both take their licks and slink away, Tenn hangs in there for a moment too long probably protesting with growls that say, “Hey! That wasn’t me! It was him! He did it! He’s the one you want!” but either Frank is color blind and simply sees an annoying black dog or he enjoys kicking a little Tennessee butt on occasion.DSC_0059

There’s only been one serious incident which resulted in a small cut on Tennessee’s face. It’s one more nick on his sweet face that was already covered with tiny tooth sized injuries when he arrived at our house, so I’m guessing he isn’t a stranger to these scuffles. I tended his wound and chastised Frank and kept them apart for a few days, but finally relented. They really, really, really wanted to play. And up until that point, they’d done well together, wrestling for hours without it breaking into bloody battles. Besides, Texas needed some relief as he was limping from one too many top-speed full-body slams with Frank. Continue reading They’re Really Lovers, Not Fighters, Honest!

Being Frank About Frank

DSC_9975I’ve been thinking a lot about Frank. He’s the first foster dog I’ve had who was returned. I feel partially responsible for that fact. I worry I didn’t present Frank as frankly as I could have. I wonder if I could have said or done something differently that would have made the situation turn out differently. Maybe, maybe not. I do believe that there are courses we are all on and we must follow them. So maybe Frank moving to Virginia and then back a week later was a lesson for me, for his adopters, and probably for Frank.

Since he moved back in, Frank has been my daily joy, showering me with his devoted affection and constant company, but he has also had a few episodes that illustrate why he wasn’t such a great fit in Virginia.

This morning, I separated him from the other dogs so that everyone could eat in peace. Frank has a habit of sampling everyone else’s food when it’s served and Gracie and Tenn are not sharers, plus Tex can’t afford to miss a meal. So Frank was left alone in the living room with his bowl. I was nearby, folding laundry.

Frank did not eat. Instead, he grew frantic running between me, the gate into the kitchen where he knew T&T were and the door to the porch where Gracie was. Panicked would describe the expression on his sweet face.

When he finally slowed down for a moment, he paused and peed on the dog recliner (the ugly, filthy blue recliner that we long ago stopped trying to keep the dogs off and now keep around just so they can rebel and sit on it). I was shocked! Frank hadn’t peed in our house since the first day he was here over three weeks ago. I yelled and reached for him, but he raced away and I followed him upstairs where he peed on the edge of the blanket on our bed. This time I yelled, but I was able to grab him. I dragged him outside, and left him there while I cleaned up his mess. He whined at the door, but I didn’t let him in until I’d located his male dog wrap and securely fastened it around him. There would be no more peeing in my house.

As soon as Frank was reunited with the other dogs, he relaxed. He spent a half hour wrestling on his humongous bed with Tennessee, his favorite playmate and his biggest advisory. Continue reading Being Frank About Frank

One Dog, Two Dog, Three Dog….Four?

imagejpeg_0Texas and Tennessee have landed! What sweet boys these two are. Couldn’t find better mannered guests. (Well, guests who were housebroken might be better…) They are gentle and eager to please. They watch my (and everyone else’s) every move. Sadly, they both cower when anyone raises a hand above their waist, moves quickly, or picks up anything large (Ian has to keep his baseball bat hidden). I am guessing not every human has handled them kindly. No matter, they seem ready to give just about anyone a chance, loving on every person who walks through my door.

Texas - isn't he a stunner!
Texas – isn’t he a stunner!

These guys seem grateful for every kindness thrown their way. They’re like that visiting relative who is always saying, “Please don’t got to any trouble….really, I’m fine.”  They still haven’t figured out what a treat is and Texas kept running into glass doors, so they seem a bit new to this living-in-a-house-and-being-loved thing. But they are both smart as whips, so they are picking up very quickly on everything, even the don’t-pee-in-the-house rule. We’ve outfitted them with “male dog wraps” which sounds kind of cosmopolitan but is actually a glorified diaper. Male Dog Wraps are my new favorite thing, ever.

IMG_1953 (1)
Here’s Tennessee modeling the latest in dog wrap fashion – a nice gray nylon number.

It’s very good that T&T are such model guests because the house is overflowing with dogs. T&T arrived late Friday night and at 8am on Saturday morning Frank returned to us. He could not make the adjustment to his new home and his wonderful family. It just wasn’t the right fit. I know it was a heartbreaking week for both Frank and his adopters. It was very hard to hear the stories from afar, only able to offer advice when what I wanted to do was run down there and move in and help all of them. In the end, they made the difficult decision to return Frank to OPH and Nick and I knew immediately he had to come back to us. We are wrestling with that decision – the one I said I wouldn’t write about again in this blog. I’ve thought all along that it was up to us to choose a dog, but I’m beginning to wonder if it isn’t actually up to the dog to choose us. We shall see. Meanwhile, we are loving on Frank and he has happily assimilated right back into our world and is currently lying behind me watching every word I type (and hopefully not reading this and thinking his little plan worked…). Continue reading One Dog, Two Dog, Three Dog….Four?

What’s a Little More Madness?

Whew. It’s been a crazy month. Sleep is tough, my mind is always spinning. Food isn’t easy either, since my stomach is constantly churning. So much to do that most days I’m overwhelmed like a deer in the headlights and simply surf Facebook and wander around the gardens trying to figure out where to begin. Not much gets done. Sigh. I know it’ll get better. The kids start school this week and the college bound kiddo departs next week. Life will resume. I’m ready for that.

I long for my solitary days alone with the computer and the cats. And I miss Frank. He was such constant quiet company these last few weeks. He felt like my body guard and devoted friend, never leaving my side and always happy to listen to my ramblings. Such loyalty is a rare and beautiful thing. I’ve been praying fervently that he’s forgiven me for letting him go and discovering a new love in Margarita and Terry.

I’m sure it’s a confusing time. That’s another tricky aspect of fostering. You love on these dogs and they grow attached. And then you send them off to their new home, never to see you again. It must be confusing and maybe a little painful for many of them, especially when they’ve been with you more than a week or two. It’s a necessary step in the foster care process and probably for many dogs it’s a healing step. It allows them to catch their breath, accept a little affection, and get their feet back under them before launching into their real lives. I get that it’s unavoidable, but I still wish there was some way to explain it to the dogs so they understand whats going on and don’t think I’m one more person deserting them. It does help to see the pictures that many adopters send a few weeks later of a happy dog who’s long forgotten me.

I just wish I didn’t get so attached. I’m serious about my purpose here and I know going in that these dogs are not staying. You’d think I could do a better job of keeping my heart in check. I wish I could stop falling in love time after time. It’s quite a work out emotionally.

My new goal in fostering is to move my dogs fast. No more dogs hanging around endearing themselves to me. This Friday my two new boys are arriving on transport and I will be hotly advertising them the moment their sweet little feet hit my porch.

The energy level in this house is near manic lately with school starting for two kiddos, my oldest getting packed for college (and feeling the need to fill our house daily with a pack of his friends), plus my book’s launch. So why not add a little more madness to the mix? Two border collies under the age of two should do the trick….

My next guests are Texas and Tennessee.

Tennessee
Tennessee
Texas
Texas

Handsome, aren’t they? Be prepared for WAY too many pictures and posts. Everyone wants a border collie!

Taking two seems especially crazy, but as they appear to be related, it felt like the right thing to do. I purchased a leash divider in the hopes that I will be able to walk them both at the same time. In my previous life, I foxhunted and remember the hounds happily coupled together. I’m envisioning T&T having the same experience. Yes, this may be another of my naive fantasies, but I’m going to give it a go. (I promise to post pictures, even if they’re embarrassing!) Their combined weight is pretty substantial, but I’m counting on them countering each other and hopefully never truly setting off for the same hills at the same time.

There are no OPH events near me this weekend, so if the dual leash idea pans out, we’ll hit the Farmers Markets, baseball practice, soccer practice, pet store– anywhere I can get them out and available. If necessary, I’ll bribe a kid to hold a leash. My goal is two adoptions one week from Saturday.

And in the meantime, I’ll try very hard not to lose my heart or my footing.

Frank with his new Mommy and Daddy
Frank with his new Mommy and Daddy

A Day in the Life

My days are still blurring together on this publishing roller coaster, but Frank is steady as can be. He did prove that he is a real dog and not the Super Dog I thought him to be…..

He rolled in horse manure. Covered himself in it actually. Proving himself to be a true dog. Fun times.

And then a group of deer ran across the road in front of us and he scrambled to the end of his leash in a hurry to join that parade as opposed to staying with me on our happy run. I’m relieved to say that all these years of running with Gracie have prepared me to hold tight while a dog levitates at a full-run (ala Wylie Coyote) on the end of my retractable leash.

So, yes, Frank is mortal. Sigh. He’s still my favorite dog ever, though.

Here’s what it’s like to be Frank….

6am wake up call. He waits patiently in his crate, thumping his tale against the wire sides, occasionally emitting a high pitch whine that you would swear couldn’t possibly have come from him.

DSC_9782 Continue reading A Day in the Life

Thanking the Timing of the Doggy gods (and possibly exploiting Our Relationship)

DSC_9717It’s been a busy week. It’s been a good week. I’ve been grateful to have a dog like Frank around. A dog who doesn’t require my constant attention, yet is always ready to give me his.

Frank is getting healthier by the day. He’s almost finished his full course of meds and things seem to be back in working order. He’s settling in at a decent weight and doesn’t respond to food like a dog on a deserted island anymore. Yay.

Frank’s going to hang around our B&B for another ten days until his new forever family is able to make the drive up here to pick him up. We don’t mind one bit because, as I said, he’s easy to have around, a pleasure even.IMG_1915

Somehow I think the doggy gods knew I needed a coast these weeks in terms of foster dogs. This week my first novel was published. So, in many ways, my dreams have come true.

I’ve been writing for years, getting published in magazines, newspapers, anthologies, blogs, websites, even my own independently published book that grew out of my blog and workshops, but being a novelist…this is what pretty much every writer is working towards.

And it happened! But it’s a crazy time to be a first time novelist. The publishing industry is tight and getting your name up on the shelves with the established writers is not an easy task.

It requires lots of time and attention. Much like some foster dogs, but instead of cleaning up messes, concocting special meals, and walking endless loops around the yard, I am working the social networks, writing guest blogs, pitching libraries and bookstores, and all the while, getting my next book written.

Oh, and then there are these people who live in my house and expect to be fed and chauffeured and even, on occasion, to have clean laundry. Continue reading Thanking the Timing of the Doggy gods (and possibly exploiting Our Relationship)