Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dog trouble

More dog tales, you say? Sorry. It will be over soon.

I brought my dog Chico back from the kennel last Tuesday. He and his sister Annie did not get along at first, but within 24 hours, they were best friends again. Worse, I fell in love with the big lug all over again. He kept jumping the fence, but he kept coming home, too, and I loved greeting him at the back door.

Over Christmas, I took him back to the kennel because I knew I'd be gone most of the time.

I knew I still needed to find him a new home. People who had seen my flyers or the ad in the paper called about Chico. One woman was so eager she agreed to drive over an hour round trip to meet Chico at the kennel. Well, he got so excited he almost pulled me down the hill, and the poor woman, who was grieving the loss of her Yorkie, decided he was too much for her. Oh well. Since I was there, I brought him home.

This time we all made friends much more quickly. I started thinking maybe I ought to keep my dog. But I don't think that anymore. Not after today.

Today a prospective new owner showed up around lunchtime. I had both dogs in the house and didn't have time to stash them outside or in the laundry room. When the door opened, both dashed out and ran away. This kind man actually cleaned part of my clogged gutter--in the rain--while I tried to get the pups back. Finally he said he'd come back later. It didn't bother him that Chico ran off or that he jumped as high as his head in his excitement. He seemed like the kind of man who could handle a big dog.

It took me an hour and a half to find my dogs and get them into the car. Both were covered with mud. All three of us were soaked. About 10 minutes later, the man returned with his dog, a slightly smaller Chico lookalike. Same breed even: half Lab, half pit bull. Chico almost tore my arm off trying to get to the door. The man and his dog came in. Once the door was shut, I let Chico go. Mistake. He went after that dog with every intention of killing him. He latched on and wouldn't let go as the dog screeched. Somehow I got bitten on the leg in middle of the action. It took forever for Chico to let go. The man quickly removed his dog, saying he was sorry. Crying, I exiled my dog, cleaned my wound and considered taking him to the animal shelter immediately. Who is going to want a dog that attacks other animals and may attack people, too? He even scared me, even though now he's as loving as ever. When he pulls with all his strength, I can't hold him. He still jumps the fences, and if he bites someone, I'm in trouble. So Chico has to go. I called the shelter, leaving a message that I needed to "surrender" my dog.

My baby has to go to jail, unless some strong, easy-going person with no other pets and a fence that Chico can't jump or climb steps forward this week. Damn. Sometimes being the only human in the house stinks.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

He's baaaack

More dog tales. What does this have to do with being childless? For some of us, our dogs are our only children.

I was right about not bringing my exiled dog Chico back home. He immediately jumped the fence again, shaking off his sister's eager gestures to stay and play. I left the gate open and he eventually came back. Now I've got both dogs in the house, but they aren't getting along. I don't know what Chico told his smaller sibling in dog talk, but first she was hiding in the kitchen while he took up all the warm space in front of the pellet stove. Then, while I practiced piano music for Christmas, she disappeared. I found her on my bed in the dark. Hiding. Suddenly my alpha dog, the one I intend to keep, is slinking around the corners with her tail tucked between her legs.

The two used to be inseparable, but the bond seems to have broken during their time apart. Chico, distant with me at first, is now following me everywhere. I find myself suddenly defensive of Annie and anxious to ship him off to somewhere else. I have no more motherly feelings for him. He's an animal and a problem. They still have room for him at the kennel, and I'm thinking of taking him there for Christmas Eve and Christmas. After that, I hope my prayers for a new owner are answered. He can't live at the kennel forever.

On the way home from the kennel, we visited one woman who was interested. She had an old black Lab and four cats. I had my doubts. As soon as I opened the car door, Chico jumped out and pounced on the Lab. That was the end of that.

Folks at the kennel tell me that aside from destroying his blanket, Chico behaved well. He even took his first bath peacefully.

Now he's sleeping on the floor next to my desk. Annie is still on my bed. What will happen when I try to feed them? Dare I leave them together in the laundry room tonight? What about tomorrow, when I have to go out?

Ring, phone, ring.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Now it's just Annie and me

My family has boiled down to just my dog Annie and me. Think of us as a cautionary tale for those considering marrying an older man and not having children. Someday he might be gone, and there is a chance his children--if he has them--will no longer consider you part of the family. Or perhaps you and Mr. Right moved far away and now you don't have the means to move back to where they live.

Last week, I told about how I need to give my other dog, Chico, away. I have not found a home for him yet. He is still in the kennel. But I do have lots of people looking, so I'm hopeful. I really don't feel that I can bring him back to the house. He's too much for me to handle alone. When I started this particular dog-journey, I had Fred here to help. For those who haven't been following along, my husband is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's Disease. Who could have predicted that when we got married almost 25 years ago?

Meanwhile, Annie and I have really bonded. Through an artic freeze and through the current barrage of rain and wind, we have spent most of our time together. We walk together, we eat together, we sleep together. When I cry, she licks my face. When she wakes me up in the middle of the night, I stagger down the hall to let her out. Sometimes she just wants company. I understand. We have both lost our partners. I no longer feel like her mother; we're companions, housemates. We take care of each other. With luck, we'll grow old together.

At least I'm not the weird old lady with a dozen cats. I'm too allergic to them!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Minus one baby dog

Last weekend, things reached a crisis point with my dog Chico. He not only can jump the outer four-foot fence in our yard, but he learned on Saturday how to get over the six-foot fence (the one the fence guy said no dog could escape). The minute I let him out, he was over the fence and gone. Often I could see him roaming just beyond the fences, but he wouldn't come and he wouldn't stay. Meanwhile, I was getting reports of Chico terrorizing my neighbors' pets. Some of them have guns and are not afraid to use them. Of course, anyone could sue me or get me in other big trouble if this giant black lab/pit bull mix went after them, their children or their pets.

I hobbled him with a harness while I went to church Saturday evening. Two hours later, nothing was left but the metal rings. Chico and his sister Annie ate the harness. They're equally good at destroying any kind of collar.

People have suggested new fencing, keeping him on a chain, or putting a weight on his collar. I can't afford a whole new fence, and I can't abuse him just to keep him here.

Crying hard, I took him to a kennel to stay for a while until I can find him a new home. I still have Annie, who is smaller and has not learned to jump the fences. Yet. I will selfishly hang on to her as long as I can. I raised both dogs from eight weeks to 21 months. I took them to school, walked them, kept their shots up to date and made sure they stayed warm and safe. I love them both. But with my husband gone to the nursing home, I'm on my own, and I can't handle both big dogs. These are the first pets for which I actually called myself their mom. I talked about them all the time, loved to show them off, sent their pictures all over the Internet. But they are dogs, not children, and reality must prevail.

I put an ad in the paper today to find a new home for Chico. It was hard not to cry. I raised him to almost two years old. Except for his need to run and terrorize other dogs, he's the sweetest pup. He'll be a great companion for someone. In dog years, he's a young adult. Time to send him on to his next adventure.

This would be a good time to have human adult children and grandchildren to help me, keep me company and put things in perspective, but I don't have them. Now that my husband isn't here, my stepchildren have chosen not to contact me. So it's just me and Annie now. She's the cute puppy in my photo, except she's all grown up.

Is there a conclusion to this story? I suppose the moral is that no matter how much we love them and treat them as our children, they are still dogs, and sometimes we have to let them go.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Holiday orphans

Most childless women fear being alone in old age. Yes, sure, many tell me they have good friends or siblings who will care for them, but it's not the same as having grown children who feel some obligation to you.

Driving by my neighbors' house yesterday, I saw their son putting up their Christmas lights. Oh, how I envied them. This year my husband is gone, and I'm not even sure I can get the lights down from their high perch at the top of the garage. At least not without falling off the ladder or dropping the boxes so hard everything inside breaks.

Whom do I call for help? Yes, I have friends, busy friends who work all the time, elderly friends with physical limitations, and grandmother friends who leave town to spend the holidays with their families. I have a brother who always welcomes me to his home, but he lives too far away.

This Thanksgiving, my first year without my husband, I spent the afternoon with friends. We had a wonderful time full of good food, music, and laughter. Then I came home to an empty house. And I cried.

Women become widows whether they have children or not. Most of us choose men who are older than we are. At some point we lose them and end up alone. But if we have children, we can hope for a telephone call or a knock at the door. We can envision a younger person who looks like us wrapping us in a big hug and filling our homes with life.

Childless women without husbands or partners are holiday orphans. That's what my yoga teacher called the singles she invited to her dinner. Yes, I was invited, too. In fact, I had several invitations to spend the day with other people's families. Poor Sue must not be alone. But it was not the same.

How was your Thanksgiving experience without children? And how will your childless state affect your Christmas? It's okay to whine, like me. You'll never find a more sympathetic audience.