Thursday, February 24, 2011

Life with puppy

It's been 16 years since we've lived with a puppy.

Savannah was our last one. After she disappeared in a blowing snow on her final adventure Jan. 8 and we never located her, we began looking for a shaggy, small dog to adopt as a companion for our 12-year-old Lhasa Apso, Hairy Dawg, who is blind.

Skippy came home with us two weeks ago. He's a black-and-white "Goodview terrier," whose daddy was a Shih Tzu and whose mother was a Cairn terrier. Think "Toto," Dorothy's dog in "The Wizard of Oz." This pup who definitely tends toward the terrier side of his family came from Goodview in Bedford County, and he's 3 months old.

We weren't looking for a puppy. Even though we had looked into adopting adult dogs at just about every shelter, checked with rescue groups, adoption websites and Craigslist postings within a 100-mile radius, almost all of them available in January and early February were big, were hounds or had a healthy "re-homing fee."

Skippy – whose original name was Billy – was the last of four puppies and his human mama, Delores, just wanted a good home for him. We set off with Hairy in the car one Sunday afternoon for a meet-and-sniff. (The dogs did the sniffing, not us.)

My husband wanted to name the pup Skippy after his first dog, a Spitz mix. Billy-Skippy doesn't seem to mind the change. He was ecstatic to have a friend to lie next to on the dog pillow in the back of the car, to sleep with in the crate for the first two nights, and to roll all over in general.

Skippy didn't know about leashes, walking on lead, housebreaking or stairs. But he didn't whimper when we put him to bed, as his original mama told us to do, "every night at 9 when I give him a hug and kiss him on the nose."

That worked the first night, once I put Hairy in with him, and might have after that if Hairy, who isn't used to being crated, hadn't decided enough was enough. Hairy started barking in the wee hours of the morning and wouldn't stop voicing his discontent over being confined with a youngun who thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

OK, so I'm a wimp. After that, we turned the two of them loose in the kitchen with a puppy gate confining them, and plenty of puppy pee pads, food, water and toys.

Hairy didn't think much of that, either. He's used to sleeping on carpet next to our bed.

His domain upstairs was puppy proof for a brief while. But Skippy, who's definitely not an alpha dog and isn't used to being alone, started barking in the middle of the night in the kitchen.

He solved that himself. Over the weekend Skippy – who was raised in a single-story mobile home – taught himself to climb stairs and scamper down again. No more crates, no more puppy gates. Still plenty of pee pads, but it's a lot easier to open the upstairs door and let the dogs outside in the fenced yard in the dark instead of trying to walk the pair of them in the middle of the night. The full moon was gorgeous, though.

Our devilishly clever plan is working. Skippy plays with Hairy's toys, lies close to him on the dog bed, and gives him somebody to follow up the stairs and out the door. The three cats have adjusted much easier than I expected, and tolerate the newcomer.

Hairy is moving around better. Maybe it's having a youngster in the house. Maybe it's the glucosamine sulfate-chondroitin I grind up and put in his food.

I think Savannah would approve of Skippy. She would be licking him.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An old dog's last adventure

How many times will I look out the front door to see if she's back? Or walk along the road calling her name and whistling?

On Saturday, our old shaggy dog Savannah went off on her last adventure. It was still dark out and snowing lightly when I let our gray-and-white Shitzu mix who had lived with us for 16 years out the front door for a few minutes on our private road. She spent her life in a fenced yard but occasionally I gave her a special treat of going by herself to our mailbox to check out the neighbors before trotting back up our driveway, with her plumed tail wagging, and a happy grin.

When she didn't come right back and the snow was coming down thick, I began calling her. She's deaf so it didn't really do any good, but I didn't know anything else to do. I followed her paw prints to the end of our walk. Then they disappeared. Just disappeared.

Throughout the day Bill and I searched surrounding woods, and called neighbors. He walked a mile down Lawyer Drive onto Wildwood and back again, looking underneath anything where she might have taken shelter.

We figure she probably just went off to die, on her own terms. These last few months I've taken to checking in the mornings to see if she was still breathing. Sixteen is old for a dog. We knew it.

She had slowed down a lot in the last year, I realized, from looking at this picture I took of her and next-door dog Mars in the snow in February 2010. When I called his mistress, Gayle, about Savannah she told me the black Chow mix had died Dec. 30 while they were all together in South Carolina. It's appropriate two mailbox buddies passed on about the same time.

Last week I noticed Savannah lying very close to Hairy Dawg, our blind 12-plus-year-old Lhasa Apso. I thought maybe she knew he was fading. Instead, she might have been telling him goodbye.

She was not an alpha dog. Youngest daughter Haley picked her out from a litter a former boyfriend's family had. Mama was a Shitzu, Daddy was a traveling man. My guess was a speckled bird dog. Savannah always did have her nose to the ground while walking on a leash. She put up with a lot. Haley dyed her lavender one time. I put a sweater on her in October and took her and Hairy to the Blessing of the Animals at St. Paul's Episcopal.

She was the one dog I brought with me when I moved to Salem 11 years ago. Bill and the other dog stayed behind in Madison Heights to go through the accumulated "stuff" of 26 years, three children and leftovers from two sets of their grandparents.

Our yard wasn't fenced then, and Savannah didn't do well alone by herself during the day. She leaped puppy gates closing her in the kitchen – the only room not carpeted – and another time nosed the kennel down the stairs until it and she was standing on her nose. So we adopted Hairy Dawg to replace Putney, our Lhasa who didn't wake up from a grand mal seizure when we were in the throes of moving.

Hairy led Savannah out and in the doors, and gave her somebody to lick and play fight. I wasn't sure how he'd do without her, but he's managing.

Two years ago on Mother's Day morning, Savannah brought me a present when I let her out the back door into the yard in the dark. It was a half-grown baby possum she dropped at my feet. It was, of course, playing possum. I picked it up by the tail. One eye blinked open, so I took it outside and freed it across the fence.

This week just after Bill and I watched the last-minute field goal by Auburn (Go, War Eagle!) to win the national championship over Oregon early Tuesday morning, a possum I've dubbed Cracker climbed onto the glass-topped table on the front deck and gobbled down the rest of the homemade cookie crumbs left for the birds. Savannah's rescue, maybe?

I'll always see her come running down the walk after one of her short adventures. This was her final adventure – one she chose.