My preschooler is a better “puppy parent” than I am!

September 14, 2010

beagle puppies playing

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.



September 7, 2010

JunebugThis is Junebug.  She’s 9 weeks old and looking for a home.  There’s no sad story, there’s no urgency, there’s no tear-jerker .  There’s just joy.  She’s a puppy.  She’s a baby, and she’s bringing so much joy into our home.

We’re fostering Junebug and her sister Butterfly (whose adoption is already pending!) for BREW beagle rescue, and we’re having so much fun! 

This has to be a quick post, though, because puppies are always getting into something … and when they’re sleeping, I’m writing like a madwoman.  Good progress on the book this weekend.  More today. 

I’ll leave you with one more picture — more surely to come! resting ... briefly

Aren’t they beautiful? 

Do you have a dog, or a story about a dog you loved?  I would love to read your links!

A different story

September 2, 2010

Yesterday’s news was unspeakable.  And it was awful, and I mentioned it because I couldn’t bear not to, but it’s really not my story to tell (It’s Jessica‘s).  Today I wanted to tell you a different story.

Today I want to introduce you to two little ones who also were strong when they needed to be, and whose love for their family transcended even the worst events.  These little ones — these dogs — witnessed the murder of the man who cared for them and loved them all their lives — and showed such good grace in the moments when they were tested nearly beyond what one could bear. 

Adopt me?Adopt me?This is Wally.  And the guy over on the right there is Woody.  These senior beagles (between 8 and 10 years old) witnessed the murder of their person and stayed with him until his body was discovered … over a week later.

Their reward?  They were impounded by Animal Control, waiting in vain for a family member to come forward and take them home.  They played with each other and the staff, passing temperament tests “with flying colors.”  But no one came for them.  On the day they were to be euthanized, BREW Beagle Rescue (Midwest) was called, and BREW quickly agreed to take them in. 

The beagles are safe.  But they need a home, and they’d love to be taken in together, as they are very bonded, with “funny antics all the time. They can’t help but make you smile.”  (I’m tempted to drive to Ohio myself to adopt them!)   

BREW takes in dogs like this every day, dogs who lived in happy homes that were torn apart by some unforeseen circumstance, dogs who wandered away in search of a good scent, and dogs who simply outlived their owners’ interest.  If you’re looking for a dFoster me!og to adopt, please consider rescue, and if you’re looking for a good cause to support, I highly recommend BREW. (I can’t adopt all the dogs, but I can donate now and then to help with bills)  Oh, and if you just want to share the love with a dog but can’t commit to their sometimes-20-year lifetime?  Apply to foster a beagle, to cuddle and snuggle and feed and train and love a beagle dog or puppy — foster homes make all this rescue possible.

Bunnies and butterflies

June 17, 2010

Way back in 2003, I was deeply involved in animal rescue, fostering beagles and helping them become ready for new homes.  I did telephone interviews, homechecks, ran an online auction site, and participated on an email list for beagle owners.

One of the contributors to the I-BARC listserve was a man named Bruce, who lived alone with four beagles who he doted on.  One day, he lost his first dog, a beloved little beagle named Duncan.  Duncan’s death just about broke Bruce’s heart, and he talked about it online with his friends, who understood and provided support.  Bruce grieved deeply, talking about the loss of his little friend, not knowing how he would move past his grief.  It was my first brush with public grief, and I grieved along with him, as did we all, for we were learning that an internet listserve could be a very tight community.

Then, one day, the tone of his posts changed, and he told the list about the everyday magic of a bright yellow butterfly that visited him as he took the beagles out to the back yard.  The butterfly lingered longer than most, flitting around as if to be sure that Bruce noticed him, and staying longer than he should.  Bruce took this as a sign of hope, a message from his lost Duncan, and at that moment he knew that he would be okay.

As a scientist, I admit I scoffed.  Quietly.  But as a person with a heart, I was so relieved that no matter the source, Bruce had received comfort that day, and that he took the passing of the yellow butterfly as reassurance that Duncan was at peace, that he didn’t want Bruce to worry, and that Bruce would turn the corner and his heart would begin to heal.  I was amazed as over the next weeks it did.  Bruce’s tone became cheerier and cheerier, and he began to delight in the antics of his other beagles, coo over the list’s puppies, and celebrate adoptions with the rest of us.

I told you that to tell you this.

The week of my surgery, a pair of doves moved into our garage.  They laid eggs, tended the nest, and raised their babies until they were able to fly on their own.  We watched them from a distance, feeling comfort that our home was peaceful enough for doves to thrive in as lowly a place as the garage.  We parked in the driveway, tiptoed in and out of the house, and saved the “brrm-brrms” of the boys’ trucks for the sidewalk.  When the baby doves began to fly, they came around the house into the back yard, and they took practice flight after practice flight across the yard as my children and I sat on a blanket and watched them, amazed that they would do all this so near to us.

Not two days later, another mama dove moved into the nest in the garage.  She and her partner laid eggs, kept them warm, and hatched another pair of baby doves in that same nest.  They’ve been growing and growing, and the mama dove chirped to her babies from the driveway, coaxing them out of the nest, this weekend.  They took practice flights to the windowsill and back, finally moving out late Sunday afternoon.

On Monday morning, my husband and I went to Sloan-Kettering for a second opinion on our treatment.  We’ve been worrying over it for weeks.  We were gone all day and into the night.  I’ll tell you more about it in my next post, but I will tell you this.  When I left for radiation Tuesday morning (#19 of 35), two young bunnies emerged from a hole in our small pile of wood chips (where our giant maple used to be) in the front yard.  They hopped a few feet, looked at me, and sat down, as if to tell me that they were moving in.  And for reasons I can’t quite explain, I not only heard the message, I felt reassured.  I went to radiation surrounded by a sense of calm acceptance, and I daydreamed through the treatment.

I’ve been having a lot of trouble blogging this cancer, as I feel much more private this time.  I want to keep talking about it if it helps others, but I’m not interested in blogging for sympathy.  I need to be a big girl about this, and keep my mind on other projects in order to finish them up and to not get dragged down in the pit of questions (is my cancer metastatic? is it a recurrence? is it a new stage 3 cancer? why am i so lucky as to get three cancers in three years? what did i do to deserve this?).  You know this, as I haven’t been posting every day like I did last time, and I don’t always talk directly about the experience.   But today this was on my mind and my heart.

We don’t know what causes cancer like mine.  We don’t know why some cancers respond to treatment and some cancers don’t.  We don’t know a lot about it.  As always, I am hopeful for research to make breakthroughs that will help cure my disease and prevent others from developing inflammatory breast cancer.  I work to raise awareness of the symptoms, to encourage people to join the ACS Cancer Action Network and to sign up for studies through the National Institutes of Health or the Love/Avon Army of Women, and to raise money by supporting Relay for Life.  But some days, like today, it is enough for me to fight my cancer as the doctors tell me, to love on my children, and to take hope from everyday miracles like the constant company of small creatures.


December 13, 2009

When I was younger, I thought that a thing of beauty was a joy forever, no questions asked, no matter the conditions in which it was found.  I was young, and idealistic, and to me, a flower, an ode, a puppy … they were all beautiful and represented nothing but joy.

Now, I’m not so sure.  Now, when I look at a puppy, I still get all melty inside, but I also wonder where it came from.  Where its mother is.  If she’s healthy, happy, and loved.  Or if she has splayed feet from living in a rabbit hutch all her life.  If she sleeps on a couch.  Or if she sleeps outside, alone, in the snow.  If she sees a vet when she gets sick.  Or if she’s used to breed litter after litter, with no concern for her own health or happiness.  If she’s okay, and why her puppy ended up here.

I’ve cared for too many of the puppymamas as a foster mom in rescue for me to fully relax around puppybabies and take them at face value, you see.  But you know that.  You saw my joyous post about our fosterbaby Marie followed quickly (way too quickly) by my story about the Christmas puppy.  I just can’t let myself get too close to them, I suppose.  I love the happiness, and hope, and joy that a new puppy brings as much as anybody, but when you have helped senior beagle after senior beagle regain trust in humans, relax around a family, and even learn to come in out of the rain when invited, and you’ve seen beagle after beagle with shattered psyche, and you’ve held them, crooning to them, comforting them with helpless little words, trying to soothe their souls, I suppose that it’s only natural that when you see a puppy, you start to wonder about its mother, and the conditions in which she lived.

And so, when my friend Amy began looking for a puppy, I recommended rescue, but when she fell in love elsewhere, I held my tounge.  I couldn’t figure out how to say all this without sounding preachy.  I don’t want to sound preachy.  I just wish I could tell you all what it’s like out there where the backyard breeders keep dozens of dogs in rabbit hutches out back, with no place for the dogs to rest, no place for the dogs to run or even walk, no place for the dogs to love and be loved.  Those places are empty, devoid of compassion, and that blankness scares me more than words can express.  I’ve seen what they do to a dog, and for that, I am embarrassed for my humanity.

Every dog, every pet, every person should be wanted and loved, and when one is lost, it always makes me worry about the mother, and what condition she is in, right now.

Today, my friend Amy is telling her story, and what she found when she answered an ad in the paper for beagle puppies.  Go check it out.  Go on.  I’ll wait here.

100 words

December 7, 2009

This puppy is looking for a home in the Midwest.Christmas morning was bright and sparkly, a blur of colored lights, joyful music, ribbon and boxes to chew, and the children, of course, the children, who laughed and loved and snuggled the little puppy to their hearts’ content.  It was the best day of her life.

Soon, however, Christmas was put away, the children returned to school, busy with school plays and soccer practice, and life went on as it had before, for everyone except the little puppy.

It had been the best day of her life, she thought, watching the truck speed away, its taillights lighting the dusty road.

Puppies are heavenly, but please DON’T get one impulsively or give one for a gift this Christmas.   We see so many come into rescue when the bloom is off the rose — and that’s not fair, to your friend/family, or to the dog who finds herself by the side of the road.

This post written in response to Slouchy’s 100 word challenge.

BREW’s Marie

December 7, 2009

BREW’s Marie is a 6 month old puppy, found wandering alone in West Virginia on Thanksgiving weekend.  She was brought to the shelter, given a warm place to stay, a bowl of nutritious food, and another of water.  Gentle hands cared for her, and soft voices murmured sweet things to this homeless dog, just one in a long line of strays to pass through the doors.

But there was no room for her to stay.  So rescue was called, and pictures and information were promised.  The footsteps she heard approaching her cell on Monday were coming for her, and I imagine she bent down a bit in submission and then followed the lady happily along, on leash, unsure where she was taking her, but glad at last to be with someone again.  For she loves people, and crawls into any available lap, ready to snuggle her way into yet another heart in hopes that she can stay.

Her crate sat on the porch for a rest, this I know, as I saw the picture, with the white rocking chairs in the background, and the strong arms around her, ponytail swinging in time with her ears, as the woman who held her tried to show her off to best advantage, tried to capture the girl’s personality, or at least make her look cute enough, young enough, adorable enough, adoptable enough for rescue to take a chance.

Rescue did take a chance on her.  BREW beagle rescue agreed to take her in, and a kind woman loaded her into the van and took her out of West Virginia to a vet’s office, full of dogs rich and poor who had come to stay for a night or a weekend.  A caring tech took her leash and brought her back to another warm place, with food, and water, and maybe a toy or soft blanket, and she went to sleep.

When she woke up again, it was to an empty bowl, for, as she would soon learn, she was scheduled for surgery that day.  At 6 months, there’s no reason to wait to be spayed, and so she was, quickly, carefully, with just the tiniest scar, no bigger than the mark that a human would have after the removal of a gall bladder or ovary.  And the rest of the day, she slept.

The next afternoon, more food, more water, and those footsteps again.  The tech was coming for her again, and she wondered what would be next.  She bent her head as the leash was slipped over her little neck, and walked slowly alongside through the swinging door.

But there, outside, there were new people to meet.  Not a woman this time, but a man, tall and handsome, and two little tow-headed boys, standing, waiting to meet — her?  They were here for her?

Yes, they were here for the little beagle.  They took the leash and offered her their hands to sniff, one by one, and then the boys and the beagle collapsed together in a fit of giggles and licks and kisses.

Two hours later, the minivan stopped at last, and the man carried the boys into the house gently and quietly, one by one, for they had fallen asleep on the long car ride home.  The beagle waited to learn her fate.  When the door was opened again, it was a woman this time.  It was only a second before the man joined her, and the woman opened the travel crate, softly cooing, and reached out her arms to the little beagle to carry her inside.

And it was there that the little beagle stayed most of the evening, while the little boys slept, safe in his foster mommy’s arms.  They snuggled each other, giving each other comfort, peacefulness, and hope about the future that was to come.

BREW foster beagle Marie

The beagle wondered if she would be staying here for long, or if she would soon be off again to other adventures, and perhaps a family that could be hers alone.

(rescue tags: good with kids, good with dogs, good with cats, crate trained, potties on leash, has a clue, good in car)