We began fostering puppies nearly two weeks ago (what? only one week? well, you begin to see where I’m going with this), and already the “cuteness” of baby puppies is harder for me to see — past the “messiness” of baby puppies. They’re still adorable, don’t get me wrong, and I’ll still play, pet or hold yours if you ask me to, but I don’t think we’ll be adopting one anytime soon.
I grew up with dogs. Rescue dogs, all of them, from the very first. I don’t remember much about the one I “was puppies” with, other than what I know from pictures, but I remember feeling comforted when I petted her, and I remember that she was warm. After that, we got this funny little beast called Rascal, who drove us all completely up the wall and we loved him with ALL OUR HEARTS. He was a tiny little thing, all dark fur and energy, and he would run around you so fast the leash would tie you up in knots. (Seriously. My mother had to rescue me more than once.) Our next dog was a beagle (of course), and I grew up with my Obie always there. I loved him so much, and he loved me. My heart nearly broke when I went to college and had to leave him behind. He died just a couple months later. After a few years of school, WhyDaddy and I graduated from college and we adopted a puppy. He lived with WhyDaddy for a bit (puppies? are not good for apartments), and then I took him to graduate school with me. I loved Watson with all my heart, and he was my constant companion through graduate school, marriage, six moves, my first job, and the birth of my first child. He died soon after, from a massive tumor that filled his chest. Meanwhile, WhyDaddy and I had adopted a beagle (mix) ourselves after years of walking dogs at the Humane Society on weekends, as a wedding present to ourselves, and he was all kinds of a mess, but we loved him with all our hearts too, and worked with his insecurities and his separation anxiety, doing behavioural training, crating, not crating, rescue remedy, chlomicalm, and, as a last resort, taking him to work with us, alternating days so that neither advisor would get too angry with us. We kind of had to, as he would freak out and destroy the house or howl and rock his crate if we left him alone, or alone with Watson, who would look quizzically at him for being such a nut sometimes. Kepler passed away last spring at the age of 11, old for a beagle/coonhound mix (beagles can live to 20; the larger Treeing Walker Coonhounds rarely to 10), after going senile, panicking like in his puppy days, freaking out, and even biting us, as if he no longer recognized the people he loved — and who loved him — so much. It would be a while before we got another dog.
So. I love dogs. I’ve wanted a dog again for a long time. When I heard that BREW beagle rescue had two litters of puppies and desparately needed more foster homes, I jumped at the chance to bring dogs into our home again. I wanted puppies. I wanted to bring extra joy into our home, to see my children’s happy faces, and to help them do something good for someone else. It was entirely selfish. I wanted the extra joy.
I forgot, however, that puppies are A LOT more work than grown-up dogs! First, they’re not housetrained. At all. And nine-week-old puppies poop a LOT. And pee. A LOT. Second, they’re babies, only recently separated from their mom. They miss her. A LOT. And third, they’re still figuring out this world and all its wonders. They LOVE scampering around outside, pouncing on a grasshopper, pushing their noses under holes in the fence you didn’t even know you had, tossing sticks into the air with their ever-working mouths, and just generally having a good time. WHILE YOU’RE TRYING TO GET THEM TO PEE AND POOP OUTSIDE.
So. Fostering puppies has been an exercise in patience. And apparently I’m not as patient as I used to be.
My preschooler, though? He LOVES the puppies, and much to my surprise, he’s a nearly perfect “puppy parent.” Even though he and I are both in the same room with the dogs, he is nearly always quicker to attend to her needs than his mommy, who typically is balancing an educational activity for the kids (copying letters counts as education, right?), the breakfast dishes, a couple loads of laundry (baby puppies create laundry too, although not nearly as much as human babies, thank goodness), and the latest chapter that I’m writing in my head. I’m pulled in several directions when we’re all home, but he? sees only her.
When she cries, he comforts her.
When she nibbles him, he says NO.
When she jumps up, he stands up and says, NO JUMP.
When she needs to go outside, he’s first to the door with the leash.
When we go upstairs, he’s helping her up on the leash, saying come ON, doggie. You CAN do it!
When she’s hungry, he goes to the laundry room and feeds her.
When she’s thirsty, he picks up her bowl and fills it from the tap.
When we eat, he kisses her goodbye and helps me put her in the crate.
When she wakes at 4 a.m., because we put her to bed at 7 the night before, he rolls out of bed and heads downstairs to take her out (with me), calling, “Me coming, puppy!” and “Mine puppy NEEDS me!”
When she’s tired, he ‘nuggles with her, and she with him.
When she’s happy, he’s happy, and his broad smile proves it.
When she’s quiet, he’s quietly petting her, whispering secrets in her pink puppy ears.
When she’s relaxed, he’s there, saying, GOOD DOG, and sometimes, I AM SO PROUD OF YOU.
I am not making a word of this up.
I am, however, ashamed at how his innocent, unconditional love reveals my imperfections. I admit, I’ve been impatient. I’ve been upset at the poop and pee in my house. I’ve been frustrated and short-tempered at the frequency of the poop and pee, even when I’m doing nothing but watching her, but I miss her signal as her little puppy bottom drops slightly to the floor. I’ve lost my temper, and I’ve even raised my voice.
At a puppy.
I’m not proud of this. But I am proud that my little one is so good with this even littler one, this nine-week-old pooping and peeing gift that is teaching him that he is capable of helping out someone smaller than himself — and is teaching me patience.