I wasn’t consciously planning to increase my brood, but I’ve been dreaming about it for some time.
A few months ago at the dog park, I noticed a flyer for Muttville, an organization that cares for and relocates senior dogs. Often these are dogs whose people have died. I looked at the picture of their poster girl “Sheila” and thought about how I’d like to foster and adopt a senior dog who has lost its people.
I’d been thinking that if Maggie dies before me, I would, of course, adopt another dog. And why not a senior dog?
I’d been thinking for the several years I’ve had Maggie that I wish I’d adopted two at a time, to raise together, and that if I have another chance to adopt, I’ll get two small dogs next time.
I’ve thought—and worried – about what would happen to Maggie if I die before her. How can I ensure that good people will take her and get her re-adopted? When I go out of town without her, I leave contact info at the boarding place for friends to call if something happens and I don’t return. I need to make more explicit instructions in my estate plan, including providing money for the care and relocation of my pets.
I had all these thoughts percolating when, in late June, I saw another flyer posted at the gate of the field where we walk every day. “Jake needs a new home. Elderly couple can no longer care for him.” Below that line, a photo of Jake. He looks like Maggie. He’s a maltese-poodle mix, with beige hair and big brown eyes.
I saw the flyer every day for a week. I took down the phone number and didn’t call it. Neighbors in the field started asking me: don’t you think he’d be a good buddy for Maggie?
By chance – or, really, by synchronicity– I ran into Cathy, owner of her own beautiful poodle named Calvin. “I’ve been thinking about you,” she said. “You’d be great for Jake. He deserves a loving home.”
It was Cathy who had posted the flyer about Jake and she told me his story. Jake lived next door to her, with a couple in their late 90s. The couple had both developed dementia, could not take good care of themselves, and were not taking good care of Jake. His hair grew long and he was covered with mats. They overfed him, and he was obese. Finally, their son had put them in an assisted living home. Jake was taken to be boarded with Dianne, our local groomer who also helps rescue dogs find new homes. Dianne shaved Jake’s matted hair and put him on a weight-loss diet. Cathy took him on walks.
I was torn. Jake appealed to me and I was very interested. But how would adopting him affect Maggie? And my relationship with Maggie? Would Maggie still have a great life as a co-dog?
I called Dianne and told her I was interested, and I went to meet Jake. He’s cute as a button. He’s also rambunctious and he needs a lot of love and rehabilitation to recover from neglect.
I almost backed out. But then I agreed to foster Jake and adopt him on the condition that Maggie would thrive with him.
What an adventure we three have now em-barked on. (I stole that pun from my friend Jane.)
Jake spent his first night whimpering on my bedroom floor. The second night, he had a panic attack. He flung himself on his back, flailed his four legs, yelped, and scratched his dry skin raw. It was 4:30 in the morning, and all I could think to do was to give him part of a Benadryl, wrap him in a t-shirt, hold the 20 pounds of him still on the floor, and sing to him the Green Tara mantra until the Benadryl kicked in. Within a half hour, he relaxed and heaved a sigh.
It went on like this for several nights until he finally got it that he can be safe, warm, well-fed – even while on a diet — and happy here.
Now he’s learning that we are early to bed and early to rise here. He’s sleeping through the night, and in the morning, he rolls on his back joyfully waiting for belly rubs.
He has lost one pound in his first ten days here. (I think I’ve lost a pound, too.) He has five more to lose.
Both dogs get a small bowl of homemade chicken bone broth each day before or after our daily hour long walk. For breakfast and dinner, Jake scarfs down his food before delicate Maggie barely gets started. But I’ve already taught Jake that if he will sit still at a distance while Maggie eats slowly, I’ll slip him a few extra kibbles. I also use those few minutes while she’s eating to have him practice his basic skills: “sit,” “down” and “stay.” Once he slims down, I’ll use more treats to teach him the tricks Maggie knows. I’ll train him to not chase the feral cat who has adopted my neighbor and who also sits and eats cat food on my porch.
Maggie, who had been spending most of her time lying on my bed, seems to be blossoming. She sits or stands close to Jake and follows him around the house. She wags her tail at him. She runs with him to chase squeaky toys she never took an interest in before. She is livening up as he is calming down.
Two dogs are more work and more fun.
I am having more laughs and I have a happier Maggie.
I imagine we look pretty funny ambling up the street, me in sunglasses and a hat, pockets stuffed with empty poop bags and treats, dogs on leashes, marching in formation or one in the lead and the other behind.
You’ve probably heard of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ classic book Women Who Run With the Wolves. If you haven’t read it, do. It’s a great, complex Jungian reading of folk tales about the Wild Woman archetype.
Well, my pampered Maltese-poodles aren’t exactly wolves. They have expensive haircuts and sleep on cushioned pet beds. Yet I’d like to think that some shred of the wild remains within them, and within me.
I run with poodles.
Maggie and Jake, and I, each have our own stories of suffering and recovery.
We make a pack.