I caved. We got a dog. I got a dog.
After seeing how much more bearable my own children’s absences were for me when in the presence of my friend’s schnoodle this summer, I came to the realization that all the psychological things that pets do that would be healthy for Boo and Lou right now, would be healthy for me as well. Yep, me.
The dog was supposed to be Lou Lou’s big birthday gift (which he was, but..), but – in fact – adopting a large rescue dog in September was as much about Mumma’s mental health right now as any childhood heart’s desire. Friends laughed at how keyed up I was getting in anticipation of adoption day.
Babysitting my girlfriend’s schnoodle in July while she, her husband and her own teenaged daughter were in Alberta this summer was beta-testing this seemingly half-baked idea. I wanted to see how begrudgingly I dealt with the day-in-day-out realities that that sort of an animal would entail before I committed to fulfilling my own daughter’s favourite wish. I did have a half-formed idea that the doggie would be good company when my ex took my own two offspring away on vacation for more than a week. That idea proved to be quite true.
As much as Piper barked, growled, whined, and basically made my ears bleed in those first few days of adjusting for her ten day visit, she also got me out walking (just short walks, but regular, necessary ones) twice a day. She got me to get up in the mornings now, if only to feed her. When I got home from evening outings, her presence helped me get out of my parked car and into my house. No more sitting on my tailbone in the dark – windows down and swatting mosquitos – staring at my phone in the emptiness with no motivation to go inside. At night, she licked my face and settled down on my bed to sleep, a warm weight by my side on top of the covers.
She made me feel needed again. She even made me laugh.
Before the kids got back I surrendered her one Monday afternoon to her freshly returned papa. The three days then really alone, between that moment and getting my own son and daughter back, became somehow the worse, loneliest, saddest days of my entire summer. The grey fog they induced lingered into August, whenever I was alone again.
Then – one weekend – my friend was going to her in laws’ and bringing Piper was not convenient. I suddenly found myself with both dog AND kids. And my kids adored her. The first words every morning were “Where’s Piper?”, quickly followed by licked noses and cheeks. They played all day. Outside, or actively all over the house. They forgot about computers and PlayStations. They helped me walk her. Lou Lou even willingly picked up poop! And Piper now knew and trusted me. She was content here (not trying to “talk” in that disturbing way with growls and high frequency, ear-splitting yips now). I was getting used to this new routine.
It was that weekend that sealed the deal. We would get a dog. It’s pretty tough to argue against something that so obviously looks good for everyone.
In the next several weeks, as I prepared for my own upcoming vacation road trip (a 1600 km one) with Boo and Lou, I also researched breeds. I visited the Humane Society. I made excursions to Pet Smart. I had marathon Messenger chats with dog-loving friends, who recommended books, magazines, and YouTube videos. Materials piled up on the bedside table.
I decided we should get a large dog, a “working dog” breed. Boo has an intense emotional bond with his Guinea Pig, Melvin, and had some apprehensions about breeds that would instinctively want to go after our family rodent (so basically all ratters, hunting dogs, etc., including Piper herself, who we just plain banned from the basement, for Melvin’s safety). I also noticed Piper, although water-loving, was too small to venture far into wavy water. I ended up standing on the shore, holding a leash, as my children swam that weekend. I envisioned us with a Newfie, all of us swimming and laughing together without a care.
Soon my short list included Newfoundlands, Bernese Mountain dogs, and both German and Australian Shepherds. The Shepherds were appealing, dogs that might corral my ever errant six-year old daughter, but I could also see the Bernese or Newfie pulling her to school through deep snow in Ottawa winter, their harness roped to her plastic sled.
Piper’s mumma messaged me a Facebook page for Rescue Animal groups in our area. Since I am new at this, I figured an adult dog would be easier and more socially and fiscally responsible of me than a purebred puppy. I had already applied at the Ottawa Humane Society, where they’d told us the waiting time was 5-6 weeks right now. I thought that timing was about right, given the fact I wanted our road trip out of the way first, but I wasn’t entirely confident about the Humane Society process. Basically, you fill in a detailed application, wait to come to the top of their pile (about 4 weeks later) and then it’s like a lottery as you wait to see if your profile matches one of the seven or eight dogs that have “come to the front” by then. If you’re interested in adopting from OHS, btw, it’s much easier and quicker to get a cat or other small animal.
We were fortune to find DJ, a six-year old Australian Shepherd, through Facebook. He was beautiful, purported to be friendly and “good” with every situation and every sort of critter, and shown in the pictures soaking wet, fetching a tennis ball from the Ottawa River. The perfect dog for us! I PM’ed the rescue organization, filled in their paper application, and quickly returned it. They called us back, and soon brought him round to meet the family. Boo threw the ball over and over, both boy and dog jumping with excitement. Lou was territorial, then disappeared to the basement when foster mom and dog were about to leave. She “didn’t want to say goodbye” she told me, breaking my heart.
The adoption fee was $400. The rescue agency had had him neutered and his vaccinations were up-to-date.
Foster mom dropped DJ off here the morning after we got back from our trip. It was Labour Day. We spent the evening playing at the dog park, my kids proudly walking our new boy and our new boy excited to be being played with. Everything was perfect.
The next morning, my tanned and freshly laundered children marched off to school (a new and unfamiliar building, as our local school had been rebuilt over the previous year and summer). I walked DJ over to the chaotic paved school yard, griping his 4 foot leash and sometimes tugging hard to keep him in check. His apprehension, and my inability to handle him sufficiently, caught me off guard, as did my discomfort at the school and hubbub of back to school parents, kids, and new teachers. I guess the other shoe, at last, was dropping.
This wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d thought. Even after all my preparation, I was still like a mom bringing home the new baby. Not truly prepared for the reality. How could I be? On leash, he pulled hard, knocking down the kids if something disturbed his equilibrium. Even for me it was all I could do to hold him back. Like a new baby, I didn’t love him instantly, like I thought I would. He fussed and I didn’t understand what was wrong. He vomited at night. He messed the carpet in the basement. Twice. He jumped and twisted in the air, scaring the kids as they tried to throw his toys and balls for him. Rearing on hind legs, he loomed above Lou’s head. He begged constantly, using “Sit Pretty” ridiculously to try to please humans in every situation. Worse, he “spoke” only French, having come to rescue from the Quebec side. I scraped the dregs of my memory for words like “Asseids” (“Ah-Seh”, sit), “Reste” (stay), and “Viens ici” (come here).
By the time we’d had him two weeks I was already completely frustrated. What had I gotten myself into? Perhaps I’ll tell you more in the weeks to come. Of course, it’s not all bad. ;)
All for now,