Last Thursday I sat on the couch and stroked the fur of my beloved elderly miniature poodle, Willie, and told him it was okay to go if he felt it was his time. He died peacefully at 1pm. We didn't even get a chance to call the vet for euthanasia; they were closed for the day. I felt lucky that he died so beautifully, lucky I was with him and that he wasn't in terrible pain.
I did not feel lucky that he died.
We raised him from a tiny puppy, took him everywhere, taught him an assortment of silly tricks, gave him bad haircuts and incomplete trims. He was cute and very puppy-like in appearance, even as a little old man. And he was my shadow.
I knew I was going to miss him with an ache that wouldn't soon ease. I buried him with heart-shaped rocks.
Two days later by an odd combination of events, we found ourselves at the local animal control shelter, not to find a replacement, but just to observe life. We could have been anywhere else that day. We could have left the shelter early. We could have taken home the big old dogs we befriended there, convinced it was the right next path for our lives' journeys.
But we were there at closing, at the right time to see an old van pull up, and a sad young man bring out a big bin. I knew it was puppies or kittens in the bin. I thought, what kind of person brings a whole litter to a shelter? How irresponsible.
I actively avoided the drama, but it sucked me in: My 12 year old daughter was trapped inside the now-locked shelter, and the keys were with the animal control officers who were talking to the guy with the bin.
And since I saw prison inmates helping in the shelter, I wanted my Emily out of there as soon as possible.
The officers let Emily out of the building.
I let myself relax, then, enough to hear the man's story.
He's unemployed (so's my husband, and the guy across the street, and a few of our good friends, and a few relatives... Here in Michigan it's a common start to a story).
He lost his house. He and his family (wife, two teens with Down's Syndrome -- and that's another story in itself, but to me it said, here's a family with compassion and mercy) were moving to a relative's house for a while. They couldn't bring the dogs.
He found good homes for 3 puppies and the two parent dogs. Mom: full-blooded American pit bull terrier. Dad: half small Rottie, half big chihuahua.
In the bin: EIGHT puppies, age 7 weeks.
The Humane Society sent him away -- too many pups.
Animal Control was closed til Tuesday.
They asked me to foster the pups just til Tuesday. It didn't take long to say yes.
I promised the man we would find excellent (stable, appropriate) homes for the puppies. I turned down his offer of $25 for food until Tuesday.
Katie (age 20) and Emily were thrilled. My husband Charlie... not so excited.
But we did it.
It was an exhausting mix of sleeplessness, cooperation, and cramming our brains with Puppy 101 information from the Monks of New Skete (that's how I'd raised Willie), and Wikipedia, and an Animal Planet dvd.
Many times I felt like Octomom, torn in 8 directions.
I swear, puppies are liquid. Not that they pee a lot (they do) but that they disperse and spread like only a liquid can. This idea came to me at 3:30am as I tried to corral them enough to not lose them to the dark bushes and any hiding predators (we have hawks in the woods behind us), but not so much that they were inhibited about 'doing their business.'
Frantic that we might have 8 puppies forever, I put a note on my Facebook page. Friends came immediately, and some eventually adopted puppies from us. One of my fondest memories is of a bunch of neighbors and my kids and me (and Charlie) on the lawn with the puppies, giving them love and reporting on potty accomplishments and comparing each pup's personality and physical traits.
It was so sweet, and it took me right back to when our across-the-street neighbors had newborn puppies 6 years ago and they let then-6 Emily gently hold them that very day they were born.
As of yesterday, we've found homes for every wonderful pup:
Othello went home with Mary the first night.
Lady MacBeth became Bella, at Tyson, Beth's and Sydney's house. And we've seen her twice since. Yesterday she nearly licked my chin off. I'm convinced she remembered me.
Feisty Helena went home with Diane and Steven, dear friends who swore they were only coming over to help pet the puppies. I'll see her a lot. :) (She likely has a new name too, a comics-related one, because her big dog companion there is named Squee)
Henry became Zeus after going home yesterday with Michelle after a neighborhood picnic. He was perfectly behaved there and lots of people fell in love with him. I teared up kissing his forehead goodbye. If that adoption doesn't work out, I have another lady waiting to take him.
Tybalt will become Zeus also (!) next week on Friday, when he goes home with Heather. It's not yet a good time for them to take him.
Rosalind, Rozzie, is up north vacationing with my son and his wife. She will live here until they find an apartment that allows pets (or negotiate with the current landlord).
Boots Tewksbury is Katie's now, and he will live here until she moves out, maybe this fall. (She's taking a break from college)
Clarence is ours. He's the right combination of spirit and docile, intellect and playfulness, for Charlie, Emily and me.
Those are all Shakespearean names -- did you notice? It all started with a hamster named Hamlet.
I'll probably still tell my funny Willie story in my author events at libraries -- kids always laugh on cue. I won't tell them Willie is gone now. I don't want to cry at author events.
But, maybe soon I will have funny puppy stories to tell, too.
The vet gave us tips on avoiding aggression, and he answered a million questions, and he gave them their first shots.
The neighbor kids come to play a few times a day.
We still have to get up in the middle of the night. Charlie's become an active participant in their care -- he handles the morning shift. I am grateful to have Emily and Katie around -- they're experts in the puppies' care too. Katie's teaching them to sit. I think they've caught on. I also think they've gone backwards, a little, on potty training. (argh)
We aren't looking for new puppy homes anymore -- we're all set.
I looked in the mirror a couple days ago and noticed I was smiling.
The sadness of losing Willie won't evaporate, but I feel very lucky to have had, for one day, the distraction of eight new puppies to love. (the next day it was 7, two days later it was 5, today 4...) But, really, as losing Willie taught me, I'll always have those puppies to love, even if they're in new, far-away homes.
And now, I have to get back to revisions for Ellie McDoodle: Best Friends Fur-Ever, due in stores in 2010. If you see Shakespearean names in the finished book, you'll know why.
(No photos of the pups - my digital camera broke last year. No drawings uploaded yet - I've been in survival mode. At some point I'll upload some)