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Friday, July 22, 2011

Vetting The Dogs

We became dog owners by accident. I had lived with dogs as a child; my earliest doggie memory was someone about my height whose stubby tail wagged and who I liked. Her name was Ginger, and she was really my mother's dog, but I was too young to know that. To me, Ginger was just the other kid in the house, albeit sort of funny looking. Ginger was, as her name implied, a red-gold Cocker Spaniel back in the days when Cocker Spaniels hadn't had all the brains bred out of them.

My parents told me years later that Ginger was "practice" for having a child: learn to care for the demands of an animal, and you're on the right path to child-rearing.

My father was transferred to the north-east, to Boston. Ginger wasn't there. I don't recall if she left before we moved or because we moved, but since shortly thereafter my mother acquired another animal, this time a baby brother, I was more fascinated by the new arrival than cognizant of my loss.

I don't remember this, but my parents often told me that Ginger was the best baby-sitter: I would play in the front yard in our 1940s-era rental home (something no child dares to do today) with no front fence. Ginger, no doubt relying on some ancient instinct, would always herd me away from that fascinating thing called "the Road" with all the shiny cars moving on it.

Again at 11, I had another dog. Scamp was a puppy from our cousins' bitch, and a lovely blend of German Shepherd and retriever. In retrospect, I wasn't mature enough to deserve her. First, I couldn't believe it when my father really held me to my promise that I would walk her. "But it's dark!" I whined as he woke me, the leash in hand. It was dark--it was right after Thanksgiving and there was snow on the Rhode Island fields all around us. The sun was a hint of light beneath the eastern horizon. I walked her. I cared about her. But I was also turning 12 and hanging out with girlfriends; sneaking cigarettes, listening to the Beatles and memorizing the lyrics of every popular song and playing, dreadfully, with make-up took up much to much of my time, and poor Scamp spent a lot of time alone in our yard.

We moved from rural Rhode Island to suburban Virginia. My parents, without telling me, gave Scamp away to a retired gentleman who wanted a companion and had the time and the loneliness to give to a sweet dog. Still.....I almost ran away with Scamp when she came back, having escaped her new owner. I reasoned that we were both unhappy with the arrangement, but I couldn't figure out for the life of me how I would take care of her on the road. I didn't care if I didn't eat, but I cared if Scamp didn't eat. There is a part of me that never forgave my parents for giving her away without telling me, without giving me the peace of mind of meeting her new owner, seeing where he lived, seeing that she was happy.

So I never had a dog after that....too much attachment, too much pain. I told myself they were slobbery, demanding, they shed, they smelled bad - in short, I made up reasons not to get a dog. Cats were another story. Cats can take care of themselves in disasters, or if I go away for the weekend. The cat doesn't care as long as I leave ample food and water.

Then my oldest daughter got divorced. They had three dogs. One dog went to a friend; another dog went to his parents. She was heart-broken over giving up and finding a placement for her long-haired Shepard-Husky mix, especially in Florida where a non-hunting, high-maintenance dog is considered more of a nuisance than a working member of the family. Daughter came to California while her Ex disposed of the dogs. She showed me a picture of this last, unplaceable dog---and my heart stopped!

She looked exactly like Scamp.

Divorce was bad enough--frosting that cake with the loss of a beloved dog, one nursed back from near drowning in a hurricane, one that was not a 'good fit' in rural Florida, one about whom she would always wonder....naw, her dog came to live with us. There was no other answer. [So did her cats, who made themselves highly unwelcome, but that's another story.]

Her name was PAX--no, not "Pax" as in "peace" but as in military jargon for "passenger" since she went everywhere in the car with them. By this time we were in a real house with a fenced backyard amid moderate northern California temperatures. Perfect for this dog, who also loved long walks in the neighboring hills with her mistress.

But then, the daughter changed careers, went back to school full-time, worked part-time and ultimately departed to Arizona. Pax stayed with us. The daughter would have taken her but we said, "No." An Arizona apartment was no place for a mid-sized dog alone all day while the daughter worked two jobs to cover rent and school loans.

So when it came time to make aliyah, Pax came with us. Of course. Her crate had a large sign on it, "Aliyah Dog" in English and Hebrew, which garnered a lot of sympathy and good will from the El Al crew.

We found a great landlord who was agreeable to us having a dog in his garden apartment, and we had a huge park in front of our building, so Pax was perfectly happy. The daughter, who had made aliyah herself a couple of months before us, came over often enough to make Pax happy and content as well.

We lived in this rental while waiting for our condo to be finished. Like every condo in Jerusalem, it is part of a multi-story building on a street full of multi-story buildings. I made frequent treks out there and found a 6-week old puppy amid the building debris one day.

Dog number two thus came to live with us. I would have liked to have named her "Biscuit" but since giving my husband a stake in unasked-for-ownership was a must, he named her "Hobbit" for her small size, insatiable appetite and furry feet. We were told she would be a Jack Russell terrier, something we still laugh about today as our mid-sized Kanaani leaps over the couch to chase her sister.

Not really her "sister" -- but another Kanaani, abandoned at the Malcha Shopping Center, no doubt by an owner who either found dog ownership too onerous, or who simply could no longer afford to feed both his kids and his dog following the 2008 financial collapse. We weren't going to take her, or keep her. We saw her and went inside. When we came back outside an hour later, she was still there, looking hopefully from man to man with that lost-dog-look that says, "Are you my person?" It broke my heart. She was sweet, gentle and clearly distraught.

I proposed that we take her to the SPCA shelter. "The last time we did this, we ended up with a dog," my husband pointed out, correctly. No, no, I assured him--we'll just take her to the shelter because she'll be road kill if we leave her here where the Mall traffic, technology park and freeway all come together. He agreed.

Man plans, and G-d laughs.

The shelter was full. Our choice was to take her to the pound or take her home. "How long will the pound keep her?" I asked hopefully. "Two weeks and then they'll put her down -- there's no demand for a six-month-old brown dog."

So she came home with us.

Dogs need food. Dogs need shots. Dogs need companionship and love. Dogs need grooming. Dogs need exercise, especially if one has large dogs in a small condo. But they're worth it, because they pay it back ten times over in love and protection. I used to tell people, only half-joking, that I loved coming home from work because I was greeted with enthusiastic, unconditional love. "Ahhhh, your son?" or "your husband?" they would ask.

No, my dogs. No matter how bad the day, no matter how late the hour, my dogs are always thrilled to see me. Much pack-style greetings, nudges, affection and bright happy eyes. My son? Glued to his computer. My husband? Glued to the television. The dogs always make a big deal out of my home-coming. The rest of the family hardly notices.

This week's adventure was the trip to the vet. We like the SPCA in part because it's close, but also because it's reliable and all the money goes to its programs and no-kill shelter.

However, three dogs in one trip is a challenge. Pax likes riding in the car, but whines. Pax is the Queen of Whiners. Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm....all the way there. Anxious, high-pitched whining. Car rides are rare these days, so she knows something is up.

Kinnimon, our abandoned brown Kanaani, was hesitant about getting into the car this time, a first, but once inside settled down and did her best to be comfortable while gazing out the window and ocassionally leaning forward to lick my husband's ear while he drove.

Hobbit, the brave, the unflinching, the guard dog extraordinaire -- terrified! She hates anything with wheels (perhaps a nightmare from puppyhood, dodging them as she sought shelter on our truck-and-tractor busy street during construction?). The husband had to lift her into the back seat. I sat between Hobbit and Kinnamon and spent the entire trip holding both so they didn't slide or fall as we rounded corners. We have roundabouts in Jerusalem--slows down the traffic but also makes for lots of centrifugal force on three dogs.

Hobbit spent most of the trip to the vet trying to climb out of the car through the back window. When she finally figured out that it wasn't going to open, she literally climbed on my shoulders in fear. I moved forward a bit, and she huddled behind me, trembling.

It was a 10 minute drive to the vet. It felt like an hour.

They were champs with the shots and meds. Just getting them to the vet was the challenge. They were a bit tired and anxious going home, but no one was climbing on my shoulders or whining like a bad violin.

On the other hand, I noticed not one of them had a nice thing to say to us for the rest of the day.

Sorry, girls. It's only once a year (thank G-d!).

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