Click a color link to jump to a section, or scroll down to read all the stories.
Mr. Haint, by R.D. Messer
A Tribute to O'Reilly, by Keith Wasserman, Raleigh
The Pepper Dance, by Martha O'Quinn, Hendersonville
Geese in Love, by Joy Hewett, Silk Hope
The Lost Guinea Pig, by William Powers, Chapel Hill
Ferrets on the Loose, by Eve Patterson, Raleigh
Louie's Legacy, by Bercedis Peterson
A Not So Perfect Ride Back to Raleigh This Past Weekend, by Cindy Bazemore, Raleigh
The Crow Tries, by Patricia Podlipec, Hendersonville
Virginia, by Victoria Leo, Cary
A Monkey on Her Back, by Laurie L. Stockton, Chapel Hill
Me & My Girl Kitka, by Beth Osborne, Charlotte
Alpha and the Gift of the White Deer, by Sherry Ward, North Raleigh
Boobie, Meet Barbie, by Karin Yates
Bath Time, by Dena Harris
George, "King of Corn", by AlexSandra Lett
This Old Man, by Michelle Young Hubacher, Charlotte
Savannah's Choice, by Sudie Rakusin, Carrboro
Thunder and Lightning or, Queen Bee's Incredible Adventure (A Euphonic using T and L), by Andrea Selch, Hillsborough
Elvis the Wonder(ful) Dog, by George Viconovic, Chatham County
Peyton, by Peter Eichenberger, Raleigh
Buster the Wonder Dog, by Turner Houston
Royal Pooch on the Loose, by Susan Snowden, Hendersonville
Good Boy, by Emily Buehler
Spencer, by Karen Heller
Bear, The Wilderness Dog, by Liz and Cathy Colvard
It's a Dog's Life, But Lonely, by Kathryn Bright Gurkin, Winterville
Jake and Me, by Maggie Stewart
Yesterday Sammie Died, by Lori Shapiro
Small Favors: A Little Dog Takes on a Big Job, by Veronica Noechel
Bubba, by Marian Gowan, Hendersonville
My Neighbor's Dog--A Love Story, by Victoria Leo, Cary
Walking the Dogs, by Marj Marie
Lucy, by Diane Daniel, Durham
Pearl Buttons, by Liz Watkins
Once, as a child walking through the woods on my way to the creek, I heard an unusual commotion near a group of towering pines that swayed in the soft breeze of the early summer afternoon. It wasn't the cries of blue jays, so quick to play forest sentinel, or the chatter of thrushes that find a snake inching through the grass. It wasn't even the angry hissing of a hawk when cornered.
It was the unmistakable caw of crows, coarse and loud, but much more urgent than normal. The birds were so absorbed in their task at hand that they barely noticed my approach until I was right upon them, as they swooped and cackled at something white and pale laying in the pine straw. The birds would dive, pecking at the object as they flew, then rising in the air in arcs to perch on the gnarled limbs overhead.
I walked closer, only to find a young fledgling crow, white as cotton, head bowed under its wing, feathers pecked and frayed, a few bloody spots from the onslaught of aggressive pecking by its angry kin. The cousins cackled in the trees above as I leaned forward and gathered the young bird into my jacket. Its glistening pink eyes gazed at me in shock and fright as I secured it in the folds of a cloth as the dogs sniffed closer.
As in all of nature, that which is different seems somehow dangerous, alien and set apart, something to be distanced, attacked, discarded, disregarded and ignored. I wondered if crows, like the ancients of Sparta who left unusual babies on rocky crags to die, viewed this creature as an ill omen among their species. If left alone, this albino crow would have been murdered by its own kind; but today this would not be the case.
"What in the world have you brought home now?" Aunt Lou asked as I walked into the garage. She knew from experience that I had an affinity for animals that went beyond the norm, and had over the years cared for every sort of animal from squirrel to raccoon, kit fox to possum. Once, a young fawn was brought to the house by a man who had seen the mother killed on the highway. My mother named him "Bucky" and he slept in our living room next to the easy chair recliner; we fed him oatmeal and evaporated milk from a baby bottle until he grew horns and ran away one shady fall afternoon as a herd of deer made a shortcut through our lawn.
I held up the crow for Aunt Lou's inspection. "Oh Lord, you got a HAINT!" she hollered, holding her cup to her mouth to spit out the peach blossom snuff she loved so much. "Who knows who that is, that might be somebody that done bad on this earth or even killed somebody and the good Lord cursed them and set them out as a white crow so everybody will know they are a haint," she continued, her eyes glowering at the creature like it was an alien.
"This ain't a ghost Aunt Lou, it's just an albino bird, a genetic fluke," I said in reply.
Momma walked out to see what the commotion was. "Can't you let animals stay in nature where they belong?" she pleaded.
"Ruth, make that child get rid of that haint bird. Things that are black ain't supposed to be white," Aunt Lou stated.
"What about Lena Horne then?" Momma giggled, leaning over to look at the bloodied bird. "It won't make it through the night, Sugar. When nature makes something unusual, it has but a short existence on this planet," Momma moaned and turned toward the house.
"I'm gonna name him Mr. Haint," I said, forcing his beak open to accept an earthworm grub. Mr. Haint swallowed the grub with enthusiasm and blinked his white bird lashes at me in thanks. Aunt Lou spat peach snuff on the ground and walked away mumbling and shaking her head.
I kept Mr. Haint in a makeshift cage created from a metal milk crate covered with chicken wire, with a small square cut from an old tin roof as the door. The bird soon became tame and would caw with enthusiasm upon my arrival. He would follow me everywhere, lighting from tree to tree, swooping down to land on my shoulders or head, always demanding attention. In the house he would wreck havoc, following me from room to room, landing on lamps or leaving bird droppings on the stair railings or dining room chairs as we dined in the evenings.
Sitting in the living room watching Eva Gabor on Green Acres, Mr. Haint would caw with gusto upon seeing Arnold the pig wander across the set, and when a lioness attacked a Thompson's gazelle on Wild Kingdom one Saturday night, you would have thought the house was on fire the way Mr. Haint cawed and flitted back and forth between my shoulder and the chandelier.
"Doves are the symbol of God's love for man," my father would say. "The dove brought the olive branch back into Noah's ark to prove the flood was over," he would continue.
"Frank, that is a damn white crow, not a dove, look at him!" Momma would implore, sipping her martini with double olives.
After a while, Aunt Lou became acclimated to Mr. Haint, and occasionally after school I would return to find her talking to the crow in the kitchen as she made cornbread. "What you looking at, bird?" she would say. "No matter how white you look, you're still a crow. Don't be looking at me with your pink devil eyes, 'cause I've been saved since I was 10 years old. So turn your crow head someplace else!" she would mutter, yet in the same breath, throw a bit of cornbread on the floor, which Mr. Haint dived upon immediately to ravage. "Look what you made me do, devil bird," she would gasp if anybody caught her in the act. Mr. Haint would caw and wink, his yellow toes grasping the green vinyl of the kitchen's Mediterranean-style dinette.
One day several months later, when the sun made the windows into mirrors, Mr. Haint dove headlong into a sliding glass door, cracking his neck upon impact. I ran to him and massaged his chest, holding him by the wings and even trying to blow life back into his open beak. I slumped onto the steps in grief, sobbing over this pale bit of feathery fluff, and even Aunt Lou was moved to tears at seeing me try to resurrect the doomed crow from the itchy grasp of Thanatos.
"Some things are just too beautiful to last long, Sugar," Momma said as she patted my head and looked toward the setting sun, tears like prisms in her hazel eyes.
I placed Mr. Haint in the black pleather-covered wooden box that had previously held my microscope, and wrote on the lid with a gold magic marker Mr.Haint, Corvus Alba, prince among birds, loyal friend and loving ally before placing him in the soil next to my other dearly departed pets.
A Tribute to O'Reilly
Technically, O'Reilly the parakeet wasn't my first pet. I had owned a series of small green turtles--six named Tommy (OK, originality isn't my strong suit) and one named Tiny Tim.
When I was 8 or 9 years old, my mother and I hopped into her 1968 AMC Javelin and went to Pepe's Pet Mart in search of a parakeet. After thoughtful contemplation, I chose your basic garden-variety, no-frills green model, though notable for his frenetic energy and melodic chirp. It has been nearly 35 years, but I do remember the birdcage and food costing far more than the bird.
Having returned home from the pet store, I now had to confront my fears and doubts. What was involved in caring for a parakeet? How often did I need to feed him? Was I capable of keeping a non-reptilian living creature alive for an extended period of time? Would O'Reilly and I bond and become the best of friends? Why did I have a fixation on green pets?
I was so nervous in the beginning. For what seemed like days (but was probably several hours), O'Reilly just stood silently in one spot on his perch. Was he so paralyzed with fear that he had become permanently immobile? Would his fear override his need to eat, resulting in his premature death? Or was he on a hunger strike to protest his kidnapping from Pepe's?
In time, O'Reilly became the best pet I could ever have hoped for. He enjoyed coming out of his cage to sit in the palm of my hand, or to crawl into my shirt while I sat on the couch watching TV. He would eat almost any food I would offer him from the tip of my finger; I remember him refusing only black olives. And he loved to sing along with top 40 radio, especially to Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs"--please forgive him, it was the 1970s.
Looking back, O'Reilly never saved any lives like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, but he was heroic to me. He was my pet through the difficult years of adolescence, always excited to see me whether I was in a good or bad mood, or if I was preoccupied with some seemingly earth-shattering issue in my life.
I have owned seven other parakeets since O'Reilly's death at age 7, including the 2005 addition of a rambunctious pair named Woodbird and Birdstein, but none could take O'Reilly's place in my heart.
The Pepper Dance
Pepper, my 11-year-old cockatiel, paces back and forth on his perch. His crest stands at full attention, his "fight or flight" stance, a sure sign of anxiety. Maybe some time out of his cage will calm him. I open his cage door and touch my index finger under his rounded breast. He refuses the offer, continues his pacing, and makes noises similar to that of clicking your tongue against the roof of your mouth. I call this ritual "the Pepper dance."
Inside, my home provides shelter and warmth, a stark contrast to the ice storm taking place outside. A glance out the window confirms heavy ice build-up. I hear a splintering crack as a large limb on a neighbor's maple tree falls to the ground, rattling my windows.
Lights flicker off and on. The power surge causes my digital phones to ping. Pepper shrieks in advance of each ping. He has a savage sense of high-pitched frequencies and can sound an alarm a nanosecond before the sound is audible to the human ear. Past experience tells me that I'm about to lose power. I shut down the computer and prepare something warm to eat, for what I assume will be several hours without electricity.
The lights flicker off and fail to flicker on. The silence is deafening. My imagined several hours turns into several days. Pepper begins to fuss because his light and his radio, tuned to the local National Public Radio station, are no longer available for his enjoyment. With elbows bent, I turn my palms face up, shrug and tell him "All gone." He's familiar with the gesture and the phrase. He calms somewhat and asks his favorite question: "Goodbye Pepper?" In other words, let's get out of here!
Each evening I begin the process of lighting candles throughout the house. Pepper becomes unusually quiet; the flickering flames unnerve him.
Three days later, at 9 o'clock in the evening, I'm instantly awakened from a sound sleep. Power has been restored.
"Hallelujah," I shout.
I wait a few minutes, feel confident that the good news is for real, get up and begin resetting all the digital timepieces blinking throughout the house. I click on Pepper's lamp and tune in his favorite radio station. He begins chirping, running up and down all four perches, pausing on every round to ring his bell and say "thank you." He breaks into a continuous medley of songs in his repertoire. He combines The Andy Griffith Show theme song, "Jesus Loves Me," the theme song from Jeopardy, and his good morning song, sung to the tune of "Happy Birthday," into one joyous cacophony of whistling, shrieks and bells. He pauses for an occasional "Mama l-o-o-v-es Pepper."
I whistle along with him, laughing as I watch the continuous "Pepper dance." Upon further interpretation, I'm sure I hear him chastising a favorite voice from an old commercial: "Tom Bodette, you forgot to leave the light on for me."
Geese in Love
Living by a pond below the Occoneechee Mountain near to Hillsborough, I inherited a flock of geese that came with the farm. Their numbers would rise and fall depending on how many dogs were active in the neighborhood, but for a few years they were accompanied by a Canadian goose. They didn't treat her particularly well, but this was the only family she had, so she swam along beside them during summer when we skinny-dipped in the pond (back when I had something skinny to dip) and in the winters when the pond was frozen over, she followed them out on the ice, waddling along behind.
One January day, a flock of Canadian geese stopped by. An odd time of year, I thought, for geese to be going or coming. After a brief stay they departed. Whether they were wintering around North Carolina or heading south for warmer climes, their arrival caused confusion for the lone Canadian goose who lived on our farm year-round. They talked her talk, but with her own flock she was at home--such as it was. Swimming back and forth, she would lag behind her group, but not quite join the wild strangers who had arrived. After the visitors took off and left her behind, I felt a little sorry for her, always the odd goose out, never quite accepted, with which I could sometimes identify. She'd briefly had others to talk to who spoke her language, honked her honk so to speak.
Then one day that February, the wild ones landed again. When they took off, one stayed--a Canadian goose came back for her. It was so sweet, especially on Valentine's Day. Seeing sweethearts on the pond and in the pastures brought warmth to my heart, to find them happy or at least having a good time together. I would see them in the pastures, talking Canadian goose talk, and would surprise them on walks with my cat, Ms. Chief, along the horse paths among the winter briars of blackberries that rose 10 feet tall in the brambled, overgrown pastures. They were always together, and by that spring he was teaching her to fly.
Then one day they were gone; she flew off with him never to return. Though I missed them, that tale had a happy ending, the ugly duckling sort of story: The lonely outcast flew off with Prince Charming in a fairy tale romance.
As for the flock of big white geese the Canadian goose left behind when she flew off with her true love, they had their own adventures through the years I lived on that farm. The most memorable was when they were kidnapped by a neighbor across the road who raised game cocks. I discovered they had been captured because they were coming over and eating the fighting birds' food. Each gamecock was tethered to a little house, and the geese would get them stirred up by stealing from their bowls. Their owner was mad because some of his cocks got hurt striking at the geese and injuring their valuable legs, so he locked them all up. I was somewhat intimidated by a man who would raise gamecocks, but I bravely went to their rescue. Finally, I got them freed without paying a ransom, I suppose because the cockfighting man realized that though I'd adopted them, or taken on their rescue, they really didn't belong to me but instead to the pond and farm I rented.
Another of their memorable adventures occurred when they followed the white goats who followed the white pony who followed the herd of horses led by a Morgan gelding who found a hole in the worn down fences the landlord wouldn't fix, and horses, goats and geese wandered away occasionally on excursions for greener pastures. I felt like I was herding a circus back to the farm.
The Lost Guinea Pig
The children loved Minnie and Fred, certainly the world's cutest long-haired guinea pigs. For my wife and me the small mammals with the twitching noses served as convenient instruments for teaching Billy and Amy the facts of life. With no apparent difficulty, Minnie gave birth to four darling youngsters. As each tiny creature emerged gasps of wonder escaped the mouths of our seven and five year old offspring.
While Fred nonchalantly munched lettuce, Minnie nursed her hungry litter. At first the children didn't understand what was happening. As my wife, Ann, explained quietly and reverently, little Amy crossed her chubby arms across her breast.
It was the season of Lent when the births occurred. As devout Catholics, Ann and I had erected a shrine in the solarium of our house. It was simple. Just a cross with a purple cloth around the crossbar and a Bible open to the Gospel. Before dinner we gathered in the small room, a splash of red azaleas and white rhododendrons outside providing a backdrop to our brief reading and prayer.
Each morning the children visited Minnie and her young ones. Like millions of parents around the world, the two discussed names with great seriousness. After all, these new members of the family couldn't just be "the brown one" and the "black one with white markings."
As the children went round and round trying to come up with appropriate names, their mother suggested that since there were four guinea pigs and four Gospels, why not call them Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. (We had no idea as to the sex of the little things.) Billy said, "Oh, Mom, that's silly!" But sensing an opening for a nomenclature coup, Amy piped up, "Yes! And the black one is Matthew. He was born first."
On Holy Saturday we changed the purple cloth in the prayer room to a white one and brought in flowers from the garden. We played joyful music on the tape recorder and told the children about the Resurrection. Although attentive, they were ready for dinner.
Before bed, Billy and Amy would take the guinea pigs out of their cage, holding the babies oh so gently. Little attention was paid to the parents, especially to Fred.
On Easter morning, Billy shouted, "Where's Fred?"
The daddy was nowhere to be seen. The children must have forgotten to return him to the cage.
Frantically, the pajama-clad duo searched all the bedrooms and closets. "He's not here; he's not here!"
"He couldn't go down stairs," said Billy. "But let's look anyway."
Down they went, Amy tumbling down the final three steps.
The living room, the dining room, the kitchen, the den. Nowhere!
Finally, about to lose hope, they went into the solarium. There at the foot of the cross, his head on the open Bible, was the guinea pig; dead. It was Easter Sunday morning.
The children, now adults with children of their own, tell this story over and over.
Ferrets on the Loose
I like to think I was lucky to grow up in the deep tree shrouded acres of Chatham County. My parents had a beautiful farm with exotic animals aplenty. Maybe that's where I developed a love for animals and a need to have them in my life no matter what.
Quite a few summers back, I found myself with a cat, two dogs and an abundance of ferrets. Being young, I thought it might be fun to invest in a waterbed. In retrospect ... not so much.
The day I brought the new bed home I was faced with several obstacles. Though I had nice accommodations for the six ferrets, they typically ran free in throughout the house. I tried to find them while I was assembling the monstrosity but with no luck I gave up and tried to figure out a way to get a hose in the house without leaving in doors open. Since the bedroom windows were painted shut, I had to use a door. I finally decided to remove one of the upper panels from the glass panes in the front door and slip the hose in that way. This seemed like the most guaranteed way not to let any of the rascals escape.
I was sadly mistaken. An hour into the task I looked up from the television to see Inky jumping from the couch to the now glass free door pane. As she escaped I tried to do a quick count of who was left. Only two could be accounted for, CrackerJax and Cheetah, the more overfed of the six. I locked them up and ran outside in a panic. Being that it was the dead of summer I was a little worried because ferrets don't do so well in the summer swelter of North Carolina. I had a secret weapon ... a box full of Nutty Buddies. Each and every one of them absolutely loved them. They could seek them out from trashcans or grocery bags.
I was eventually able to grab Inky and Whiskers but was unable to convince BlackJack and Squirrelly that home was the best place to go. I ended up crawling around my Franklin Street backing front yard with handfuls of ice cream cones. Of course they couldn't go to waste so I happily ate the first two but after that it wasn't so pleasant. A good three hours later and many passers-by stopping with concern, I laid down in the front yard with Buddies in both hands and waited. Finally they skipped up from underneath the bushes climbed up on my stomach and licked away. Captured!
I ended my very long day, laying on my new, rather uncomfortable waterbed with my six ferrets, two dogs, and the cat and we all shared a Nutty Buddy, and it was a wonderful evening. Me and my fella now live in Raleigh with only three dogs. The ferrets were all given new happy homes because of the move, but I hope to have many more in the years to come.
Jeff's budgie, Louie, sat preening on his shoulder for the 15 minutes I was in his kitchen, and I thought to myself, "I have to get me one of those." Over the next six months I often reflected on whether I wanted to keep a bird. Did I really want to juggle yet another commitment? No way!
Finally one rainy October morning when I was feeling a bit down, I found myself at Pet Smart. A little blue baby budgie came home with me. He was Louie II, and I was in love. Louie enjoyed running up and down the length of the couch, making pitty-pats with his birdie feet, chirping with the joy of living. He loved to take a bath in a bowl of dry Raisin Bran, flapping around so wildly that he would spray cereal all over the kitchen, astonishing my friends. Louie often settled down for the night on my finger, tucking his head along side his body, standing on one foot, as if he thought I intended to hold my finger poked out like that all night long, just for him. As Louie became an adult, he turned from blue to olive green. He broke a wing one day horsing around on a toy ladder, and it healed crooked, leaving him slightly asymmetric, but still perfectly able to fly.
It became hard for me to go to work in the morning, knowing that budgies are social creatures and that Louie would be sitting alone in his cage for nine hours. My solution? I went shopping and once again came home with a little blue baby budgie. Girlfriend, I named her, because I knew she was destined to be Louie's soulmate. I called it right: Louie became less needy for my attention, and I was off duty as the Giant Fingerperch. It was a bit of a relief.
I will now make a long story short. Louie died after living with me less than a year, and I can't think about him without crying. Louie cannot be replaced, but no one can say I haven't tried. Trying to quiet my grief, I acquired budgie after budgie, first babies from the Birdie Boutique and then rescued birds.
In the past four years since Louie's death, I have invited 15 more budgies to come live with me. Some died from natural causes, again breaking my heart. Today I have nine budgies flying around free in three rooms of my house. As I type, Pretty White Mike is sitting on my toes, and Wild Thing and Cheerio are flirting with each other on the back of my chair. I love them, but I still grieve for Louie. Sometimes I toy with the idea of volunteering to help with bird rescue at the Piedmont Wildlife Center, but then I ask myself if I really want to juggle yet another commitment. No way!
The Crow Tries
My husband was high on a ladder when the crow came. Shrieking starlings were chasing the huge bird when it landed on Frank's shoulder. Startled, he hollered and hit the crow as he managed to keep his balance.
Our two young sons and I were near-by and watched in amazement as the crow glided down to strut by our feet. It seemed to be seeking protection.
Fascinated, Mark and John stroked its blue-black feathers.
"Can we keep him?" John begged.
"This is a wild bird," I said. "He may stay around a while, but we won't 'keep' him."
I was wrong. The crow wasn't wild, and it stayed in our yard. The boys fed him, played with him, and taught him to ride on the handlebars of their bikes. Neighborhood children enjoyed watching his antics. John especially loved walking around with the crow perched on his shoulder.
The boys were delighted with the bird, but I was not. When I left the house he flew at me. I had to wave my arms and shout to keep him away. He even tried to land on my windshield, as I was driving. When company came, they had to dodge his dive-bombing method of greeting. My next-door neighbor complained about the crow waking him at dawn. I knew I had to do something, but I kept putting it off.
One day, as I combed John's hair, something caught my eye. I looked closer and was horrified to see hundreds of squirming bird lice. I rushed John to the shower.
After the eradication of lice, I boxed up that crow, drove to a field and released him. However, he flapped down to greet me as I pulled into our driveway.
That afternoon, Frank drove all four of us, with the crow, to a wildlife preserve which had nothing but fields and woods for miles. A gravel road eventually turned into a dirt path. Frank turned the car around and stopped. He opened the crow's box, placed it by a thicket, ran and leaped into the driver's seat. He gunned the engine and the car zoomed off with a lurch.
"He's following us!" the boys shouted. "He's trying to keep up!"
They sounded happy. I felt sick.
"Faster!" I cried, as we bounced along the bumpy road.
As we turned onto the main highway, we looked back just in time to see him disappear into the woods. We were silent.
When we arrived home, no swooping bird greeted us, and it seemed strange. The boys were glum.
I worried about that people-oriented bird out there all alone, until my neighbor came over a few days later.
"Where's the crow?" she asked.
I told her.
Then she laughed. "My cousin was working on his farm near the wildlife preserve, when this huge crow flew down and landed on his shoulder. He's been trying to get rid of it, but his children adore the creature."
"He will need some strong shampoo," I chuckled.
I had been noticing for about a week that the cats--especially Chui my Siamese--were hungry every morning. Every morning, I would fill the bowls and the three felines would huddle over their food bowls gulping down victuals like a pride of lionesses who hadn't seen a dead impala in a week.
I assumed that I had just forgotten to fill the bowls, so I put it on my nightly routine, between brushing my teeth and slathering moisturizer on my face. Same clamor the next morning! When the second morning left me with howling banshee cats again, I made an appointment with the vet.
I awoke to the loudest, most incessant howling I had ever heard in my life. 1:45 a.m. It must be a burglar. The smoke alarm would have gone off if it were a fire. Heart beating madly, I grabbed my gun, listened carefully, then put on a robe that would not restrict my movements, unlocked my bedroom door and carefully tip-toed down the hallway and down the stairs to the entryway. On one side, the living room was dark and quiet. Chui was howling with increased urgency: "Wake up, Mommy! Wake up, wake up!" With a deep breath and my finger on the trigger, I stepped closer to the glass door leading to the family room/kitchen.
As I watched in shock, my rabbit Virginia stopped gobbling kitty kibble and growled at Chui, lunging in threat, Chui stepped back that same tiniest bit, and my darling rabbit settled back to her second dinner of the day. Chui glanced my way, then raced over to the door, crying more urgently than ever. Virginia glanced over in time to see me step through the door and jerked in shock, then, with supreme aplomb and cleverness, raced to her cage, leaped back in and grabbing the overhead door in her teeth, pulled the door down to latch in place again. And stood there staring at me with a perfect "Oh, hi Mom, are you there? Yeah, well, I've been here the whole time. Just a good bunny, sitting in her cage at 2 a.m., uh-huh, that's me."
In the interests of my sleep, I wired the cage shut with metal wire I found in the garage, then left Chui the undisputed master of two bowls of kitty kibble and took myself and my weapons of mass destruction upstairs. If anyone says that "only people can make conscious, long-range plans; animals can't do it," I just laugh. They never met this bunny! As long as I didn't know she was doing it, as long as she kept her tracks covered, she knew she could have an endless supply of kitty kibble to demolish any night she wanted to.
Virginia, with her cast-iron gut (that meat diet should have given her violent diarrhea) and butter wouldn't melt in her mouth demeanor, bamboozled me totally. Until the night the carnivores woke up She Who Must Be Obeyed and the party was over.
A Not So Perfect Ride Back to Raleigh This Past Weekend
View from the other direction
An animal carrier on the shoulder of I 40 West
A little ahead... f l a s h i n g BLUE lights
An officer standing by
"Yes, that's right. Pig down."
(It appears dead. I feel sad.)
"That's a 10-4...pig, swine, hog DOWN!"
I am thinking...
"Bring the cooker"
Is this Eastern or Western? Come to think of it,
we are near Lexington.
A little further up the highway
F L A S H I N G!!!
The lanes are stopped
(I hate accidents.)
4 police officers, 2 animal control trucks and various
folks with poles and straps and
1 big confused pig all near the guard rail.
(I am happy to see this one made it.)
They say pigs are quite smart...
Found a safe place on I 40
No road hog here!
A FOX News truck now on the scene
How about that for the
HOG DAYS of SUMMER!
Only in North Carolina
Where barbecue rules!
A Monkey on Her Back
Laurie L. Stockton
On Wednesday, July 19, 2006, I received the following voicemail:
"Laurie, this is your mother. I need you to call me in the next 20 minutes. Your sister is in the hospital. She was mauled by a chimpanzee. Bye."
At the time, I was outside on the third-floor roof of The George Washington University's Marvin Center on 21st and I street in Washington, D.C. It was 10 o'clock in the morning and I was on break from a work-related training.
There was only a voicemail greeting to answer my questions. My experience has been that in times of crisis, you will never, ever get someone on the other line. The messenger is always the one who claims their phone never rings and that their messages do not appear in their mailbox until days later.
I have a confession to make: the message did not really surprise or alarm me. Last week my mother reported that my sister Kim was filming a man in a limousine who had a 30-foot boa constrictor riding shotgun.
The very thought of this amazed me. When Kim was five, she was viciously attacked by a dog. "Kitty" was on a chain and my aunt managed to projectile-throw Kim out of range and save her life. Of course my mother took pictures of Kim and her wounds and we wondered, "Is she planning on suing her own sister?"
As I sat through my workshop the rest of that day, I wondered whether my sister was safe and which sister it was. Mostly I dreamed about gorillas and considered the kind of damage they could inflict. Would there be limbs missing? Would she need plastic surgery? What if it was her face?
Neither of my sisters have health insurance. They are contractors and earn reasonable salaries but no benefits. I believe everyone who falls in this trap sooner or later has that experience where something happens and they realize no human being can afford to pay their own health insurance out of pocket regardless how much money they make. Maybe this was that time.
Alas, I finally got a return call from Kim around 7:30 p.m. She and Lindsey were interviewing two poker players at a private home in Las Vegas, Nevada, when their pet chimpanzees broke out of their cages. They were very aggressive and began to throw things. The girls were scrambling to get to safety and pack up their equipment when one of the chimpanzees landed on Lindsey's back and began to wail about. Before someone managed to pull it off her back, it bit her in the arm.
I commented that she must have been terrified. And then I asked, "What kind of jerks keep chimpanzees in cages as pets?"
She said, "I don't know and don't tell Lindsey I said this, but it was funnier than hell!"
Me & My Girl Kitka
When I first met Kitka, it was a humid July evening, as it always is in North Carolina. The sky was that hazy shade of purple that it often turns after a midsummer thunderstorm. I was sitting on the front porch of the house I grew up in, a house that was now empty except for me.
I first noticed her striking face, almost exactly split between black and light brown. Her tortoise-shell body was small then, and her cute white feet, with wisps of hair sticking out from her toes, were the warmest thing I'd seen in months.
I offered her some food, looked for a collar, and at that point determined that Kitka and I would face the world together. I was no longer alone. She would stay with me after everyone left, on the nights when I felt so alone and unable to feel safe even in my own skin.
She wasn't, of course, all sweet feet and purrs. She was, and still is, feisty and sassy. Her favorite attack mode is to go for your Achilles' tendon, and I've seen her take down more than one buff man.
The true beauty of Kitka is that she is my baby, a cat that snuggles when it suits her or lies across the room on her back and remains coy. She has never met a stranger, evidenced by her keen curiosity that prompts her to often go through visitor's purses. She is also not afraid of anything: not vacuum cleaners, water or anyone. She follows the vacuum, lies in the sink and prances right up to whoever might walk into the house.
Kitka saved me that night, just a few months after I had lost my mother to leukemia and my brother to a motorcycle accident. Nine years later, she is still the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing at night.
Much has changed in our time together. We've moved many times, taken in a husband and three more cats. But she is and will always be the star. And we're still having the time of our lives.
Alpha and the Gift of the White Deer
Alpha came to live with me when she was just 6 weeks old. She was a black tabby with big gold eyes, and every day for more than 19 years (minus the few short trips I took) Alpha would sit on my lap and look up at me with her big, beautiful gold eyes and purr ever so softly. I would always say to her, "Alpha, you're the prettiest kitty in the whole wide world." She was my constant companion and friend, the sweetest and smartest cat you'd ever want to meet. She loved everyone and everyone that met her loved her too.
She was very healthy most of her life, only the past few months falling ill. She took it all in stride, and I spent these last months being with her as much as I could, tending to her and stroking her head the way she loved it. When the time neared for her to go back home, she waited patiently for my husband, Ron, to return from Atlanta. I was agonizing about how to handle this the proper way: Whether to let her go on her own or help her along, but when Ron walked in the door she let us know what she wanted us to do. We took her to the vet's at her request (yes, it was her request), and peacefully, as we sang HU, a love song to God, and stroked her little head, she closed her big gold eyes.
The sun was setting as we drove home, and I remarked to Ron how appropriate the timing for her passing. We took the back way home, just a short drive from the Bowman clinic on Creedmoor Road. As we rounded the corner, there, standing in the road, was a beautiful white deer--pure white, with gentle brown eyes. Ron stopped the car, we looked at each other and both said, "Is that real?" The deer seemed to be an ethereal being as she almost glowed in the soft light. She walked past the car into the woods a few feet away and stopped to look back at us. We all just looked at each other for a moment, Ron and I with tears streaming down our faces. We knew this was a gift from the Holy Spirit telling us that yes, even a cat, our dear cat Alpha, was loved by God, and so were we.
The angelic white deer slowly continued on her journey and disappeared into the darkening woods. In that brief encounter, our grief was lifted. We were blessed to have Alpha in our lives for so many years, and I am so grateful for all the lessons she taught me and all the love that we shared. Thank you, Alpha. Thank you, white deer.
Boobie, Meet Barbie
Little Red Kitty, aka boobie, had never been much of a hunter. There was a time when he would bring home clumps of dead leaves in his mouth (and received appropriate praise), but beyond that I guess you would say boobie was a bit of a pacifist, as far as felines go.
One Saturday morning, I walked into the house to discover boobie with something brown and hairy in his mouth. He was growling to keep the other cats away from his kill. As I approached him he ran under the couch, whatever creature still firmly in his clutches.
I lifted the blanket draping the couch to find that boobie had beheaded Barbie! (One of my daughter's buxom bimbo dolls.) Again, appropriate praise.
Pots and pans flew, foundations rattled, and howls reached the heavens.
It was time to bathe the cats.
"Bloody hell," growled my husband, attempting to hold a snarling cat under the waterspout. The kitten had knocked the kitchen phone off the hook and was frantically trying to reach the Humane Society.
"You got it, you got it," I encouraged my husband from across the room. I didn't dare get any closer for fear of being mauled.
This was the ultimate exercise in stupidity. Everyone knows cats bathe themselves. But I'd read a magazine article that touted the benefits of semi-annual bathing and decided our cats deserved only the best. And for this decision, my husband's life now stood in danger.
"Come here and help me," he barked.
The drenched cat's eyes glowed a malevolent red. She'd been around long enough to suspect the reason she was wet and miserable in the first place probably originated with me. Now as she heard me summoned, an evil grin spread across her face.
"Um, maybe not," I said, backing against the wall.
"I've got to get the rest of these suds off her," he begged. "Now please, come here."
I reluctantly crossed the room. The cat flexed her right paw, extending and retracting the claw. I looked over to the corner where the kitten sat by the phone. She saw me watching her and immediately assumed the defensive Okinawa Crane pose from the Karate Kid movie. Back arched, she swayed on one foot, daring me to approach. No help there.
After ten minutes, four plastic cups, and a near-filing for divorce, we got the cat rinsed and released.
I turned to the kitten while my husband dabbed rubbing alcohol on his wounds.
"I'll take defense, you play offense," I told him, swatting his bottom in what I hoped was a gesture of encouragement. "Go get her, tiger!"
He abandoned dabbing and poured the alcohol over both arms, wincing.
"No. I'm not going back in."
"But we can't have only one clean cat!"
The look he gave me suggested I back slowly from the room.
I kept my distance from him, and the cat, who was none too pleased the kitten had escaped the watery ordeal. In fact, since this bathing episode I've awakened during the night with the feeling of being watched...or stalked. It turns out to be my cat perched beside me, waiting for the right moment to take revenge.
At least that's my take. My husband says I'm imagining things and the cat has long since forgotten about the bath, but I'm not so sure.
I may have the kitten teach me that Okinawa Crane technique. Just in case.
George, "King of Corn"
When I was a "young'un" growing up in rural North Carolina my favorite thing in the whole world was animals, and I relished feeding them. Nothing was wasted on our farm because I appointed myself the "queen of leftovers." Meat and bread scraps went to the dogs and cats, vegetables and fruits to the chickens, and everything else edible to the hogs.
My all-time favorite animal was a cat was named George, who was a gift from a neighbor when I was about 11 years old. At first he was like a wild tiger, hiding in the tall pines in our yard or disappearing in the attic space, but eventually succumbed to my food offerings. Once we opened our hearts to each other there was no turning back.
Daddy (Bud Lett) said he would never allow a cat in the house, but was seduced by George's charms. Daddy, wearing overalls and short-sleeved shirts, would casually walk into the house with a sneaky look on his face. George would catch an enticing scent, and with a wild rush he would run up Daddy's overalls and out his arm where, sure enough, Daddy had a dead mouse hiding in his hand!
When Mama (Ruby K. Lett) scrambled eggs in the morning she fixed a plate for George. After devouring his breakfast George would come to my bedroom and tenderly put his paws on my eyelids, prodding me to snuggle with him before I joined the family at the breakfast table. As soon as I got up George crawled into the warm spot I left in the bed. Later, Mama would make up my bed, leaving a big lump in the middle where George rested for hours. Visiting neighbors eventually quit asking about the strange bulge--everyone knew that George roamed by night and slept by day in my bed.
George's favorite food was corn on the cob. When corn was ripe in the summer he would come to the house and meow until someone followed him to the garden and shucked him some corn for his eager mouth. He liked it raw as well as cooked. One summer day we decided to play a trick on George who loved to attend our corn-shuckings and eat until he fell over in sweet slumber. He was resting peacefully on my bed when he heard us chattering, shucking, silking, and putting corn in pots outside the window. He peeped out to see what we were doing and put all four paws on the screen and yelled loudly, then ran back and forth from the front door to the back, begging for release. When we finally let George join us outside he broke his record and gobbled down three ears of corn.
George was a fat cat that night, and we were a happy family--having laughed loud and long. We agreed on one thing: King George ruled our house and brought our hearts together in harmony.
This Old Man
Michelle Young Hubacher
"Can we get a dog?" Once in a while, my daughters will ask this question. "Mmm hmm," I'll say absently as I walk through the sunroom and step over 73 pounds of snoring bulldog prostrate on the floor. It's a question that comes up at least once a month--at about the same rate we seem to drop no less than $263 at the vet's for care and keeping of the dog we already have.
Part of me really does understand the question. Beesley was a member of the family before either of our girls was born, so for them he's sort of a fixture in the house. Not unlike the radiator in the upstairs bathroom that wheezes but fails to put out heat. (The fact that he doesn't move around a lot and is, thus, almost literally a fixture doesn't help his case.) And he's my girls' first experience with the aging of a loved one. It's just that this old man has four legs and a furry face. One who sometimes forgets what he's doing and occasionally bumps into furniture before good-naturedly rambling on his way.
My daughter keeps trying to explain the equation of "dog years," which by the way is a lot more complicated than the multiply-by-seven trick I know. And for different breeds, there is apparently a different benchmark for old age. For English bulldogs, seniority comes faster than for many other breeds. But I can't keep up with all of that multiplying out in decreasing quantities and tracking breed traits. I'm too busy carrying the dog up and down the steps.
We've switched to a vet who specializes in geriatric treatment of pets. She's nice. (And I bet she has a nice house. And a nice cottage on a nice beach somewhere.) She's used words like "dementia" and "joint atrophy"--right before we plunk down a credit card for myriad doggie pharmaceuticals designed to keep Beesley in top shape for his days of almost continuous slumber.
But recently, the phrase "quality of life" came up. The words sort of tumbled out of her mouth onto the examining table between us. And, well, I was taken aback. You see, even though Beesley doesn't get around a whole lot, I can't imagine him not being around. He is not suffering from an illness; he is not in pain, other than what I imagine is the general ache of old age; and he still enjoys a pleasant walk (Granted, it's only to the end of our sidewalk and it takes an hour.) But the thought of him going from a fixture in our house to one in our memories is tough.
So I pray for Beesley's continued graceful aging and a peaceful end for him. And I hope my girls grasp the value of what we're learning from our family's furry old man. I really need to talk with them about it ... as soon as I finish carrying Beesley down the steps to pee.
When my Great Dane had to choose between life and death, I hugged her close and said, "If you need to go, go with my blessings; but if you stay, I promise to give you the best life you can imagine." What I didn't realize was that her choice would lead me closer to my own best life.
Savannah Blue, a merle with ice blue eyes whom I had rescued, was 2 years old the night she disappeared into the woods behind my house. She had never stayed out all night before. I was frantic and sleepless, crying into the fur of my two other dogs, Josie Louise and Jezebel, while we waited.
In the morning, Savannah Blue appeared at the back door, crying and dragging an injured leg. The orthopedic surgeon my vet recommended was not immediately available, so I rushed her to North Carolina State University Veterinary Hospital. Despite the staff's efforts, Savannah's crying continued throughout the day and the following night.
The next morning, we met Dr. Marcellin, who recognized that Savannah had a heart murmur and sent her to cardiology, where she was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. Without the abscess on her leg, Savannah's life-threatening heart disease might never have been discovered.
I had to leave Savannah in the hospital for treatment. She was so ill and lifeless during my visits, I thought she must not know I was there, but one of my friends assured me otherwise. Before I left one afternoon, I whispered my promise into Savannah's ear. Days later, I sat silently praying outside her room, thinking how amazing it would be to see Savannah walk through the door, when she did just that. She had chosen to stay!
When Savannah was finally well enough to come home, my sister brought my 7-year-old niece, Calla Ruth, to visit from Maryland. Calla and Savannah became fast friends, and after Calla left, inspiration in the form of a large, sad dog led me to begin writing letters to Calla in the voice of Savannah Blue. Calla embraced the fantasy and wrote back, telling me-aka-Savannah all about her life. When Calla got older, she wrote a letter to Savannah asking if it would be OK if she addressed future letters to me instead.
The relationship Savannah had helped me build with Calla was so special, my sister suggested I do something with all the wonderful letters my dog and niece had exchanged. I was a visual artist and, although I had never thought of myself as a writer, I decided to create a children's book using the letters. I formed Winged Willow Press and have published three books featuring Savannah Blue. Now, I travel to elementary schools sharing Savannah's stories.
In choosing to live, Savannah Blue gave me not only the pleasure of her company for many years, but also a new creative direction and the joy of sharing her funny, gentle spirit with new friends who love her nearly as much as I do.
Thunder and Lightning
or, Queen Bee's Incredible Adventure
(A Euphonic using T and L)
Thusly I'll put it--you've done it before,
loaded the sippy cups, tamped down the diaper bag,
thrown the toddlers into the Toyota, without a thought to me:
This time, thankfully, it was Doggie Dinnertime
and, while you went this way and that, you thunked
some kibble in my bowl, then led me out to tinkle.
But when I'd done inspecting the thready tires
on the old truck, the van had left
and then, in my thighbone, where my tumor sits,
I felt the barometer rising, the thrum of thunder
in the distance, lightning striking miles away,
but moving Southeast at a clip I thought
I might outrun.
So run I did: hell for leather through the thorns
and thistle, past loblolly pines where I heard the creaking of limbs,
god's lumberjacks hollering "Timber!" thick and threefold
before I reached a haven off St Mary's Road: a thoroughbred barn
where I tunneled under musty turnout sheets
until I couldn't hear the tumult, feel the alluvial main.
That night, like some hack librettist, I thought back
through my life: My first year--beaten--then a stray,
a livelihood of litter and trash cans, running from thunder
all that summer down by Siler City, where I bared my tick-laden belly
for the Baileys, was deloused, then given lodgment in your home.
And since then, though there've been rough spots,
I have thrived: survived two baby humans,
been thwacked (not hard!) by Tinkertoys and Legos,
lionized by first steps in my direction, ridden (unsuccessfully),
and (admittedly my favorite) lauded with linguini, cheese toast,
legions of lima beans secreted to me beneath
the laminate tabletop, where I take root at mealtimes,
a shameless, shaggy footrest for the family.
Oh such moments, thought I, shall they never come again?
The following morning, my tummy thundering
for lemon coolers, pop-tarts, Lucky Charms,
I threw off the lousy livery and tiptoed out:
First thing, I spied a Labrador, leering at me,
and by his side a lanky tinkerer--a lumpy, tufted duffer--
who looked closely at my tags, then muttered,
"Aw, you're owned, go on home."
I tell you, truly, I turned tail and lit out
down the fence line, thinking oh yes, home.
That whole day, while you tracked me
with a trail of posters thumb-tacked to light posts,
I loped past trailers and townhouses,
traversed luteous pastures, the county laid out
in my mind like a blot from the Thematic
Apperception Test, but somehow skewed.
Snout down, I snuffled for some trace of you,
or perhaps the little ones ... oh for a crumb
of Barnum's Crackers, a thimble of Kix, a pretzel broken in two!
Then I went into a trance, thinking Lithium, Thorazine
or Lobotomy is what it'll be for me,
or, at the least, some serious therapy.
And then, like an angel, in her Chevy Lumina,
she pulled over and took me in,
checked my skin for ticks (no Lyme!)
and, when Monday dawned, called
my tags in to the county, so you came
and brought me, finally, home.
Now, like always, I herd the tiny lion and lioness,
their luscious trickle of Cheerios my lifeline....
How better than Zeus's thunderbolts
are these little people's leaky Ziplocs in the living room!
Therefore, thankful, I lick you liberally: Thwap Thwap Thwap.
Elvis the Wonder(ful) Dog
He sleeps between us, his legs up in the air, every once in awhile barking and growling in his pursuit of squirrels and other creatures in his puppy dreams.
He is a Jack Russell terrier, the big dog in a little body. The puppy who could not scale the canyon-like sides of four-wheel drive tire tracks in the sand when we first got him in Kill Devil Hills, but eight weeks later stood down a 60-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback that he thought was going after his treat at graduation from puppy class.
He gets a new rawhide chew bone every night at bedtime. What about one of the several thousand partially chewed ones scattered around the house and under everything? No, those only do when we are not watching. At bedtime, it must be new. Oh, and bedtime is at 10, he does not care what is on the tube or what you may be reading.
He watches with great interest (and expectations) as we prepare meals, hoping beyond all hope for something to fall off the counter. Zucchini!!! Well, if I must I must, but what about that steak?
He knows what we are saying, and at times thinking, so that we have resorted to spelling in front of him. But he is learning to spell.
He looks at us with those big brown eyes, eyes that seem way oversized for such a little dog. They look up with love, and again with anticipation of something falling off the counter.
He is known by name throughout the neighborhood. We, on the other hand (paw?), are known as The People Who Walk Elvis.
He is not our dog and we are not his owners. He is our friend and companion and we believe that we are his.
Early on the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 25, Indy writer Peter Eichenberger crashed his bicycle on Bickett Boulevard in Raleigh, banging his head so hard he needed brain surgery to drain the bleeding and relieve the pressure. His cover story about the accident is here. He sent us this Dog Days story with a note: "This dog did not know me and had no interest in what happened. Yet Peyton set off an alarm that likely saved my life. Peyton has never received recognition for this. Dogs are taken for granted too often."
It was time to go and inspect where I had crashed; providence had produced a long-absent dear friend. We rode in her Volvo, me chattering like a bird. I thought I was talking too much.
"I love hearing you talk. I'm glad you didn't die. Is that a weird thing to say?"
On Bickett, a couple of young guys are loading a U-Haul humped up in the yard.
"This is not a drill," I tell my friend. I feel kind of funny bringing someone into this particular spooky slice of reality. She parks the car. At the house, I am greeted by Joe Moore and Bryan Taylor.
Peyton runs at me and stops. He nudges my leg and searches my eyes. "Oh, you again. Up and about, I see, heh heh." The dog pants for a bit. "Look, I'd love to stay and chat, but I gotta go." Peyton dashes off looking for trouble, a skill natural to dogs and bred into these Aussies.
Jan. 25, Joe and Bryan were hanging out at one of the cozy sensible houses in the neighborhood up the street from Bickett Gallery.
"We were going to go to bed. It was around 11:30 and I let Peyton out to pee. Peyton started barking at something behind a car, like a stray cat or something. I walked behind this car. You were laying it in the middle of the street, blood coming out of your nose and your mouth. Your head was in a puddle of blood. You weren't moving. I thought you were dead. We started checking you for signs and you started making this gurgling, rasping breathing noise. If he hadn't started barking, we wouldn't have seen you."
Peyton circles back around and sits by us. I rubbed his ears and wanted everyone to be a dog for a while.
Buster the Wonder Dog
I thought we were looking for a mature dog when we went to the Marin California Animal Shelter. But, the dog I'd seen online had already been adopted.
"Let's look around anyway," said my husband, Wayne.
We walked back into dog adoption room and began looking. I walked quickly ahead, scanning the cages guiltily, sorry not to be adopting all of the dogs there. I thought Wayne was right with me but then I heard his voice pipe up from somewhere else.
"I've always wanted a small dog," he said.
"What do you mean? A Chihuahua? A dachshund?"
"No... like this one." He was back by the front entrance, pointing to a pile of sleeping black and white puppies.
"Oh God, a puppy?" I exclaimed in alarm, thinking of all the work a puppy entails.
An eager shelter worker quickly unlocked the cage and stepped in. "Is there a particular puppy you like?"
Wayne's eyes had stayed on one puppy, sleeping behind the others, a fat ball of mostly black fur with white socks and a white chest. "That one," he pointed.
"But, wouldn't you rather have an older dog?" I asked, my voice trailing off as a look of pure love and adoration came across Wayne's face when the puppy was put in his arms. There was no stopping this adoption...
We named the puppy Buster after Wayne's father, adding "the Wonder Dog" as the pup grew rapidly and we wondered when he'd stop growing. The shelter had guessed he would be 45 pounds, maximum. At year one, he was around 80 pounds. Eventually, he topped the scales at 105 pounds.
Buster and Wayne were inseparable. He had to carry Buster up the Marin hills at first, but Buster was soon able to climb all the way by himself and would run the beautiful trails, high over the fog banks. Using a special leash holder on the rear wheel of his bike, Wayne would take Buster on excursions along Richardson Bay.
Buster is an amusing dog with an over-abundance of kindness and empathy for humans as well as for other animals. When he was young, he caught a mouse and once it was in his mouth, he didn't seem to know what to do with it. He stood, legs apart, a worried look on his face, the tail of the mouse drooping out of his mouth. "Drop it," I yelled at him. And very slowly, he lowered his mouth to the ground, opened it, and the terrified mouse ran off.
We think Buster's part Great Dane, part something else. The Dane part makes him susceptible to allergies, but it also drives him to lean his big body against us as a sign of affection. He will always squeeze in between us when we hug each other, eager to be part of the Love. We feel so blessed to have known him and to have had him in our lives for 11 years.
Royal Pooch on the Loose
"Penny's gone! She must've wriggled out through the air vent in our basement!"
The call came the day after my husband and I arrived in Connecticut for a week-long visit with his mother. It was Linda, my friend back in Atlanta, the person we'd entrusted with our precious Vizsla.
Vizslas are Hungarian pointers, the favored dog of Hungarian nobility before World War II. In her five years with us, Penny had proved that she remembered her royal heritage. She wouldn't dream of sitting on a floor unless there was an Aubusson rug on it. For snacks she preferred hearts of palm over chew sticks. And she wanted nothing to do with kennels. Whenever we tried to board her, she escaped before we pulled away.
"We've combed the neighborhood, but no one's spotted her," Linda said, frantic.
I pictured Penny roaming the streets, or worse, lying dead beside the road. "We'll fly back right away," I said, "but please keep looking!"
My mother-in-law was crushed. She'd bought our plane tickets, not a cheap treat for a widow on a pension. But she understood that we had no choice. Our phone number was on Penny's collar, but we had turned off our answering machine. If someone found her and called, they'd get no answer. And if they took her to the pound. . .it was too horrible to consider.
The flight to Atlanta was miserable. A thunderstorm rocked the plane, and my stomach rolled as I imagined Penny drenched, huddled in some alley. What's worse, the couple across from us--obviously not animal lovers--said we were nuts to cancel a vacation because of a dog.
Back home, I broke down at the sight of Penny's water bowl. The house was dark and silent, and there was absolutely nothing we could do. . .but wait. My husband scanned the "Pets Found" ads and I stared out the window.
We'd been home almost twenty-four hours when the call came. "Is this 352-2822?" A woman's voice.
"Yes," I said, holding my breath. "Do you have our dog?"
"She's right here. She's fine."
When she learned of our ordeal, she insisted on bringing Penny to us--right away. We were standing in the front yard as a sleek silver Mercedes pulled up, Penny riding proudly in the back seat as if being chauffeured to high tea with the Queen.
After happy tears and hugs for Penny, we invited our heroine inside. She told us that Penny had spent the last few days sleeping in a velvet wing chair, dined on sirloin steak, and had endeared herself to everyone in the family.
"Penny had to cross an eight-lane highway and travel ten miles to get to your house," I said when I heard where they lived.
"Well, it's a good thing you flew back. We'd decided that if I called today and still got no answer, we were going to keep her!"
When my friends found Perkins, he was starving. The vet recommended a diet to fatten him up, and no one ever thought to take him off it. Perkins swelled like a balloon. A furry, golden balloon. People would smirk as he waddled down the sidewalk. Sometimes, we called him "Porkins." Eventually, he began getting the right food ration and shrank to normal dog size.
He never stopped being obsessive about food, however. Once he snatched a loaf of cornbread from the center of the dining room table. I'd placed it there on my way out, thinking he wouldn't even know about it. I caught him because I'd forgotten my cell phone and returned to the house. Ashamed, he stood before me, bits of foil scattered on the floor nearby. He'd only just gotten the corner open. I almost wished I hadn't caught him--all that guilt didn't seem worth a few nibbles of cornbread.
Another time, he busted into a bag of rice I had stored in the spare room. Thankfully he didn't eat enough to hurt himself. Bill reported that the next day, Perkins pooped out brown balls of rice. For months after, the site of the teeth marks in the rice bag made me laugh every time I had rice for dinner.
My favorite Perkins story involves vegetarian chili. I've always wondered if he had no interest in vegetarian "meat," or if he was just being crafty. I'd heated up a bowl of vegetarian chili and grated some cheese on top. I put it on the coffee table and returned to the kitchen for my drink. When I came back a minute later, the air felt different. Perkins was sitting in the same place, but his guilt was palpable.
I immediately looked at my chili; it was just as I'd left it. "It's okay!" I told him. He hung his head. "Perkins, what's wrong? You're a good boy!" I scratched his ears and sat down on the sofa. It wasn't until I picked up the bowl of chili that I realized it: all the cheese was gone.
Perkins passed away last fall. I like to think of him, wings askew, sitting on a fluffy cloud, surrounded by piles of muffins. He hesitates before he eats one. Then he hears us say, "It's okay! You're good boy!" and he digs in.
Spencer came into my life in August 2001 at 11 weeks old from Whippet Rescue. Spencer was living with a "dog collector" out of state who had 75-plus dogs she couldn't care for. He wasn't physically abused, but he was given the most minor care and when Whippet Rescue obtained him, he had a severe case of worms and was on the verge of death. I believe he held on because in his heart he knew something better was just around the corner. And it was!
When I met Spencer, I fell in love. I never imagined one little guy could bring so much joy and happiness into my life. He is the sweetest and most loving dog I've ever met. He greets me every morning with a hug, and dances around like a maniac when I get home from work. He also sleeps in bed with me every night, with his only request being that he is under the covers.
Spencer has taught me what it means to love unconditionally, with no end. He never judges me, and if I'm sick or having a bad day, it's his little wet nose that is always right there next to me as if to say "It will be OK Mom." Spencer has many favorite pastimes, his top favorite is food and treats, and running is a close second. He has been known to entertain and fascinate many people with his crazy and fast running, his 360-degree turns, tongue hanging out of his mouth, and his ears standing straight up!
Spencer is now 5 years old and has a little whippet sister to teach the things that all dogs must know: how to sneak food off the counter, how to de-squeak a toy, and most importantly to learn the sweet innocent look that lets them get away with just about anything!
Spencer's sweet and affectionate nature, and all the love he so easily gives is an inspiration to me, and gives me hope living in a world with so many tragedies. Spencer represents the true meaning of why we need dogs, and why dogs need us: LOVE!
Bear, The Wilderness Dog
Liz and Cathy Colvard
When sister Liz came to visit and my Boston Terrier's new puppy went to sleep in her open suitcase, Liz knew they were meant to be buddies! Six-pound Bear, who had a panda bear's white face and one blue eye, moved to Yellowstone Park., where she and Liz lived in Mammoth Hot Springs, surrounded by elk, and had many adventures. From one of Liz Colvard's letters:
The Wilderness Dog has adjusted very well to life in Yellowstone. She sleeps in bed with me, usually under the covers with her head in the middle of the pillow. I often take Bear into the office with me in the morning, where she has a part-time job as official morning greeter and morale booster. She spends her spare time there chewing on a Yellowstone fire-fighting glove. She goes back home at 8:30 a.m., where she sleeps and protects the house all day, taking a break from this arduous schedule whenever someone shows up for lunch. Much of her active time is employed in the art of "arranging." Her favorite medium is down sleeping bags, which she loves to arrange into piles and then throw herself onto. She also arranges my plastic bag full of winter accoutrements, which she completely empties at least once a day. We have quickly become accustomed to a kitchen floor full of doggie squeaky toys, rawhide chew sticks, socks, gloves, wooden spoons, and assorted other chewable items. Dean thinks she speaks Tasmanian Devil and attempts to communicate with her in that language. Everyone who sees her says "Yoda!" Maybe I should have named her that. I had no idea that strangers to Boston Terriers would see Bear as such an oddity. I've heard such comments as "Is it a cat?" "I think she's choking." "Does it bark like a real dog?" "Do you have to bottle feed it?" "It's cute, but it's not a dog" "What happened to its tail?" and "Whatever possessed you to get such an ugly dog?" Bear takes the frequent laughter and curiosity in stride and ultimately charms everyone. So many people have told me "I don't like little dogs, but this one is great." Bear leads a life of great adventure, having touched noses with cats, dogs, horses, and even a lamb. She would like to bite an elk but has to settle for eating their droppings (elk duds) and barking. I was playing with her the other day when I detected a distinctly barnyard-like aroma. Then I inadvertently smelled Bear's breath and almost passed out - it was dreadful! Too many elk duds! I had to rush her downstairs and force-feed her Milkbone dog biscuits, all the while wishing for the mint-flavored variety.
It's a Dog's Life, But Lonely
Kathryn Bright Gurkin
Earl is a West Highland terrier who rules the household and this end of the neighborhood from an old teak director's chair on the deck, a perch from which he can survey his kingdom and join in the evening bark. Before Earl the family had had a series of Labrador retrievers, patient even-tempered large companions who spent a lot of time outdoors. Lapdogs like Earl were a revelation, not the least of which was housebreaking. That first summer was so trying that Liz swore she would never train a dog again but soon the Duke of Windsor--that's his official name--had wriggled his way into our hearts, literally, because stroking him actually reduces blood pressure.
Westies are short-legged and covered with white hair that looks and feels like silk chenille. In summer, if they are not clipped, their "skirts" hang down to the bottoms of their very short legs. Their eyes peek out through the whiskers that cover their faces, giving them a myopic appearance but don't be fooled. They can see a cookie crumb on the carpet twenty feet away.
Because Earl was bred to catch rats hiding in holes in the ground, he loves to play a game called Fetch the Prey. The prey is a squeaky furry horse-like toy that he fetches but won't turn loose. He also likes the Tug of War game, played with a length of rope and bone-like rattles that he defends with much growling and woe to anyone who tries to make him turn loose. The human player must strike him smartly on the nose and say "Release!" Eventually he will let go out of boredom.
Like all blondes, Earl is dumb, although he can be quick to take advantage of an open door. He is a purebred but cannot be mated because he was sired by his own grandfather. No matter how pitifully he begs to be with other dogs, we cannot allow it. Not long ago a couple of dog walkers came along while Earl was leashed outdoors. The very sight of the beautiful black Pekingese sent him into a frenzy, straining at the leash and assuming the show dog posture, tail erect, body extended, head alert. He was impressive but the pug-nosed black ball of fur was coy.
And like all blondes, he likes to sleep until noon, his favorite sleeping posture being on his back with legs in the air and usually in the cushiest chair in the house, or better yet under the covers of a human's bed. Not long ago I bought one of those memory foam beds with machinery for lowering and raising the head and foot. Earl unaccountably fell in love with the remote-controlled black box that rests on the carpet under the bed and he spends hours hidden behind the bedspread that hangs to the floor communing, I suppose, with the electronic control.
Jake and Me
I got a little dog a while back from the pound. I named him Jake.
Jake is not a looker. As with most dogs from the pound, his parts don't match up. He's part dachshund; his front legs are short and turn outwards a bit. Whenever he is met with steps, Jake always backs up and takes a flying start, as if he knows with his short legs he might not make it. He gets up all the speed he can and makes it up the steps most of the time. His head is a little too large for his body. I'm scared to roll down the window all the way and let him stick his head out of the truck the way dogs love to do, for fear with that large head, he will topple out completely. His ears, rather large but not long like a dachshund's, tend to flop backwards instead of forwards. A friend of mine who doesn't mince words said he looks like a ferret. But we love him anyway.
The other day I took Jake to Jordan Lake to fish. Jake was doing fine until we got out to the center of the lake. He was sitting on the bow of the boat when all of the sudden, he jumped out of the boat right into the water. I couldn't believe my eyes. I cut the motor and threw the anchor in the water. Then I stood up and yelled, "Jake!! Come here! Come here right now! Swim to me!" For once, Jake did what I told him. He swam to me. And there was a look in his eyes as he did so that told he knew he was in trouble--he was a mighty small dog in the center of a mighty big lake. I leaned down and scooped him in the boat. He shook himself dry and sat down. I said, "Jake, you can't be jumping off the boat if you are going to be a fishing dog."
Jake does hold some promise as a fishing dog. The other day I had him in the truck with me to make an errand and we drove across the bridge at Jordan Lake. I noticed he recognized the lake. He got all excited and started jumping up and down, looking out the window at the lake. He's jumped out of the boat one more time since that first time. We were about to dock, and he jumped for the dock and missed it with those short legs, splashing around in the water between the boat and the dock. He looked like a drowned rat. I pushed the boat away from the dock and scooped up Jake. Then I managed to get the boat docked and Jake on the dock instead of in the water. So the verdict is still out as to whether Jake will make a good fishing dog. But we love him anyway.
Yesterday Sammie Died
Yesterday at about 6am my best friend and little girl Sammie died.
Her loss leaves a chasm in its wake, internally and everywhere I look.
The quiet is deafening.
In me, she tapped a source of love and compassion I never knew was there.
She gave me a place to experience the magic and miracles of attachment.
Her pull on me was magnetic.
I felt a continuous draw to her side, it was intimately maternal,
urging me to hold her close, to provide containment for her comfort and safety.
She taught me about being at the service of another soul with selfless and unwavering responsibility,
a soul that was at my total mercy and dependence
always eager to please and receive my attentions,
whose threshold for tolerance and forgiveness was greater than anything I thought I could deserve.
She helped me blaze new paths, often stumbling as I did,
as I tried reading her cues,
learning her needs,
and figuring out who I was in this small private world of love I shared with her.
With my husband, she completed our family.
She enriched our marriage and helped us deepen our communication.
She taught us how to become cooperative partners.
From my friends, I received listening ears to share tales of becoming a first-time pet parent,
the joys and sorrows, the challenges and frustrations.
I often brought her with us when we took weekend trips away,
or went visiting friends nearby,
and always she was at my side on neighborhood walks.
It feels impossible to imagine life going on without her.
Next week we had planned a week at the beach, renting a house where we could bring her with us.
This isn't the kind of vacation we would choose for ourselves.
Somehow a different choice was made for us now, for the three of us,
one that's too big and dark for me to understand.
I'm fighting, trying to find logic where logic can't be found.
I feel only like a theft has invaded my heart, my home,
leaving no tracks.
Only indelible markings of sadness and grief lay like debris
scattered all around me.
Sammie lies on the bottom of her grave now, wrapped in her blanket,
a grave I dug together with my husband,
shoveling deep into the hard red clay of this southern land,
a grave we topped with a white quartz border
and propped a bluebird house in its corner to call company to her side.
Now it's me who sits at her grave, waiting.
Small Favors: A Little Dog Takes on a Big Job
"Haven't I seen you somewhere before?"
She isn't talking to me, but I smile anyway.
"Yes! Yes! I have!"
His head cocks as if he might be trying to think of where his high profile life may have collided with hers.
"You're on TV! Yes! Oh, I can't remember the name of your show, but yes! That's you!"
Revco probably doesn't understand what she's saying, but his little tail wags enthusiastically anyway, happy to have the attention of his favorite resident at the dementia ward. He puts his paws up on the side of her chair and enjoys a gentle scratch behind the ears and for a minute, I think he really should have his own TV show.
She's one of the happy ones, one that almost convinces you that losing touch with reality isn't so bad. She is still the teacher she was in her youth. When her students don't show up for their lessons, she's happy to follow the activities coordinator to watch classic movies instead. Maybe they'll show tomorrow. Today is a stolen day off.
But not everyone is so lucky. One woman is crying every time we visit. She stops for a brief moment when she sees Revco standing in her doorway, but it's only for a moment. When we ask if she'd like to say hello to my little dog, she can't even answer, she's too busy sobbing. Still, for a brief moment, she was distracted from whatever nightmare she's living in. The nurse tells us that we have to understand that sometimes the breakthroughs are small, but they still mean something. It's hard to feel anything but sad, though.
Revco, however, remains positive and hops toward a man I think is sleeping, leaned back in his chair. Revco hops into the man's lap and the tiniest change happens. We're all silent, holding our breath as his hand moves ever so slightly to stroke the soft fur. The little dog's eyes close, and I wonder if he knows the soft touch is so much more than a comfy snuggle, if he knows he's providing loving contact this man may not have had in years. My awe is broken when I see Rev's little nose wiggle, his eyes get wider, and before I know it I'm lifting his face out of the man's cold breakfast. Yeah, he's a sweetheart, but a dog's still a dog. Chuckles come from behind us and I feel myself blush a little, but I smile too when a woman sitting nearby offers him a bit of peanut butter from her private stash and he takes it happily. I guess no one can resist a terrier's impish nature.
We move down the hall. Revco enjoys a ride on one woman's rolling walker, hides under the coffee table when a large man with the energy of a child chases him (we distract the man by singing "Happy Trails" together, his favorite song), sits nicely in the lap of a woman who's never participated in therapy dog visits before because she's always been afraid on the larger dogs.
"I like puppies." She'd say, "This is a puppy!" Never mind his age.
I'm informed that this is the first time she has come out of her room in weeks.
As our time is ending, we move toward the front door, which is near the social room. Revco is immediately the center of attention.
"Oh he's so regal!"
My dog? The one who always poops somewhere terribly embarrassing on his walks?
"He's gorgeous, majestic."
Majestic? Are they looking at the twelve pounds of hyperactivity I am?
"He's dignified. So beautiful!"
They've obviously never seen him dry himself of on the first person he finds after jumping out of the tub."
Well, that, we can agree on. Of course, Revco can't leave until he finds his personal favorite, a thin woman who always has special dog treats purchased for his monthly visit. Each time she tells us the same story about the door-to-door poodle salesman who made regular rounds in her neighborhood.
"You didn't have one come by yours? Huh." and always saw us off with the words, "dog's are your best friend next to God."
I know what she meant, but I like to think of dogs working next to a deity. It kind of makes sense when you think about it.
Aromas of grilled chicken waft across the grassy midway. Loud speakers squawk to hawk raffle tickets and tee shirts. It's an old-fashioned country fair, with dunking booth, antique tractor pulls and candy apples.
The first time I see him, he's lying under a red pick-up truck, Animal Control printed on the doors. As we walk by, he barely lifts his head, eying the endless parade of legs.
I want another dog as company for our golden retriever. This one appears to be about the same size. "We don't need another dog" my husband says, as if that should settle the matter.
I approach the dog warden. She gently calls, "Bubba" and he lifts his head. A quick tug on his leash brings him wriggling out from his lair under the truck.
Body by Dr. Seuss and hair by Phyllis Diller greet us; a large black spot adorns his tongue. His hairless tail whips us.
The warden tells us she discovered him tied to the door of the animal shelter three months ago. "We're supposed to put them down after five days. I just couldn't do it. I wanted to save him. He was all covered with sores and had no hair, but he was just so sweet."
Now his sores are healed and new hair is sprouting. He's healthy enough for adoption.
We guide him prancing and pulling toward home, tugging on the borrowed leash. My husband just shakes his head in defeat. How did we end up with such an ugly dog?
Our golden retriever greets Bubba with a touch to the nose and a sniff of the rear, in the obligatory dance of dominance.
At feeding time, our golden retriever waits patiently while I dole out his food. Not so Bubba. He lunges for it before it's put down, and wolfs down the contents.
The following day, we take Bubba for a check-up. The veterinarian says, "With the shape of his head, he may have some retriever in him. He'll probably have a sweet disposition, even if he doesn't look like much." He gives us pills to correct the thyroid deficiency he had detected through the blood test.
As the weeks pass, we notice that Bubba's hair is gradually growing longer, and his tail bushier. Soon, he looks more like a golden retriever than his AKC-registered companion. The veterinarian says, "I never would've believed it. I think he's a full-blooded golden retriever. I wonder why he was out on his own so long."
If Bubba could talk, he might tell us he was supposed to become a hunter but ran away. He cowers at the sound of loud engines or thunder, burrowing under our bed covers for protection.
The following summer, we take Bubba back to the fair, to see the dog warden. "That's not Bubba"; she says as she pats the silky head of a light-colored golden retriever. Only the black spot on his tongue confirms this is the dog she saved.
My Neighbor's Dog--A Love Story
You know, I've never been a dog lover. Never disliked them, mind you, just never had any kind of real connection with them. My house was overrun with cats, rabbits, rodents (not in the same room with the cats!) and all sorts of other critters. Then I moved to North Carolina, aka Dog Country, five years ago, determined to fit in, put down roots and be part of the community. I determine to become a dog-lover. The only neighbor that I share a fence with has a dog. When I first moved in, she barked incessantly every time she saw me. I let her exhaust herself, or get bored, and when she stayed quiet for a few minutes, I pulled out some doggie treats and petted her. Every day, the same routine, with me training her to expect doggie treats when she didn't bark. After only a week, she stood quietly waiting as I stepped out of my car and I walked over to the fence, telling her what a wonderful, smart doggie she was as I postponed my after-work rest to do my doggie time. I always thought dogs were dumb compared to cats and people, but she is one sharp canine. When she barks at passing whatevers, all I have to do is poke my head out the window and warn "Amanda!" and she shuts up. I throw a doggie treat over the fence and the alliance remains secure.
Now, two years later, I realize that she has wrought a permanent change in me. On my goals for 2007, I have a new item: I want a miniature dog (small living space) to live with my cats and me, to burrow herself or himself into my heart as Amanda has. I thought I was training her, and I was. What I didn't realize was how she was training me. The final stage of my transformation from Californian to Carolinian is upon me: I am embracing the Land of the Dog.
Walking the Dogs
Among our 20 animals, mostly rescues, are four dogs: Chief, an 11-year-old lab mix; Star, a 6-year-old shepherd mix; and two 1 1/2-year-old border collies, Bo and Little Bear. Border collies are high-energy working dogs, bred to herd. A bored border collie is a dangerous dog, sure to chew up your favorite things! Thus, two long woods walks daily.
One morning, talking to myself, I uttered the word "walk" under my breath. I swear it was barely audible. The here-to-for sleeping pack sprang to their feet and were instantly at the door, alert and eager! I, however, still needed to feed the cow, pig, and goats.
All four dogs shot out the door the moment it was opened, disappearing into the forest. Realizing I wasn't there, they doubled back, finding me in the pasture. They lay down and waited, not moving an inch except for their eyes, which followed my every move with the intensity of laser beams.
At last, I was ready and they knew it! They took off like bullets, plowing through the garden path with no regard for the blue asters that had fallen in the way. My next glimpse of them came as I was descending the long slope to the creek. They were already ascending on the other side, quickly disappearing into the woods at the top. I continued my slow amble along the cool waters of Big Branch, knowing they would find me later.
Sooner than expected, five 4-leggeds came running down the hill toward the branch. I froze and watched this most unusual scene. Bo led the procession, then a large doe, then Little Bear, then Star, Chief in the rear. All ran down the hill and splashed across the branch--the doe leapt, of course. The doe ran a zigzag pattern, then all re-crossed the branch, headed back up the hill and disappeared. Bo had assumed his position in front, then the doe, then Little Bear, then Star, Chief bringing up the rear--just like before. The barking and bleating faded from earshot. In the silence that followed, I had a moment to think. Bo and Little Bear were obviously herding, not chasing. None of them, including the doe, was running at breakneck speed. Should I call them back knowing they were acting on generations of breeding, an urge to herd buried deep in their bones? I called them half-heartedly. No matter, they returned in minutes, looking fulfilled. I rewarded each one for their quick return with generous praises and treats. We resumed our walk, but my mind lingered with the experience a while longer. A normal deer sighting around here consists of seeing that while tail disappear, usually in 2-3 seconds. This one had gone on for nearly a minute!
We resumed our walk and had just passed the foot log when suddenly, the doe sprang out right in front of me! The dogs were off again! This time I got it instantly--BABE IN THE WOODS, BABE IN THE WOODS!!! I would bet all I own that we had been within 20 feet of a newborn fawn! I called the dogs and they were back with me in seconds. We left the woods quickly, giving the doe an opportunity to reunite with her young. As I have said before, every time I walk this path, it is new. Sometimes, it is full of surprises!
"Make sure you tell them about Lucy," I always remind my husband if he's inviting someone to the house.
If a person hasn't been over before or hasn't been warned, then I have to quickly blurt out the story while they're on the front porch.
I say: "Don't freak out when you see our dog Lucy. She's paralyzed from the waist down and she's incontinent, so she'll probably pee or poo or both when you walk in the door. And don't worry about her. She's not in pain. She's fine."
Even when I come up for air, I still don't mention that Lucy will quite possibly do the pee and poo part at their feet.
I usually get one of two reactions.
One is "Ohhhh," said with a sour look that translates to a more polite form of "Ewwww." These people I imagine are thinking, "why would anyone keep an incontinent dog?" My answer is: because she's my dog.
And then there's the "Awwww," the reaction from most women. They think Lucy is brave and a little pitiful, and that I am angel to tend to her needs. I swear I am not.
"What happened?" everyone wants to know.
What happened was when Lucy was 2 and just a regular cute little red-haired wiener dog, she "went down." In dachshund-speak that means she couldn't walk because something went bad in her long back, which is supported only by those short legs. I was given two choices: spinal disc surgery or euthanasia. I chose surgery, which is usually successful.
"Everything went well and Lucy should be walking within a couple days, but she'll probably be a little wobbly at first," the surgeon reported just after the operation. Lucy never made it to the wobbly stage.
What if the surgeon had said: "I'm sorry, but your dog will never walk again and will have no bladder control, so what would you like to do?" I think I would have had Lucy euthanized. Mostly I'm glad I didn't have the choice.
So for a decade now, I've lived with an incontinent dog. Friends put up with it. My husband, who came on the scene after Lucy, even helps clean up. He's the angel.
We have waterproof bedding, waterproof pads, boxes of rags. I tried using diapers and she chewed them off. I do Lucy-related laundry every other day. My close friends know to tell me if my house smells bad.
I am not taking care of Lucy out of kindness, but out of a commitment I made when I adopted her. I hate having poop and pee in my house. I am fond of Lucy, but sometimes I wish she would die. Peacefully, of course. Sometimes I want to hurl her across the room.
The smaller the dog, the longer they live. Lucy weighs 9 pounds. My joke is that she'll become the oldest dachshund ever, living to at least 30. And until that time comes, I'll be there, trailing her with a plastic bag and a damp rag.
My husband and I know what it's like to travel with a celebrity, to see heads turn, to hear people exclaim, "Is that a...?" It's happened on all points from Durham to Cape Cod for our summer vacation, and locally from Duke Gardens to our branch bank drive-through for a biscuit.
When we welcomed Pearl Buttons into our home in September 1999, we should have known we would soon become members of her entourage. An exquisite 6-year-old tan grizzle Border terrier, Pearl arrived with an Eddie Bauer duffle bag 10 times her size, full of clothes, natural dog food, grooming tools, accessories, two monogrammed dog beds, winter jackets, vet records, her pedigree chart, an extensive photo album, show ribbons and awards.
Although Pearl stopped traffic in our neighborhood, her stardom truly came to light when she went on the road. As soon as Bill brought out his suitcase and started arranging his clothes on the bed, Pearl knew we were going somewhere.
Travel was in her blood; after all she and her pal Henry Huggins once flew to Bermuda for a dog show. Usually crated for car trips, Pearl did not allow herself to doze. Her brown-whiskered head hovered just above her front paws. Being an Alpha, she knew it was her duty to oversee the driving, navigating, scouting, number of tollbooth visits, and gas stops--all the while contemplating what size bed she would sleep in that night.
One spring we decided to take Pearl with us to a family wedding in New Jersey. My sister-in-law and her British husband flew to RDU to drive up the coast with us. Pearl, delighted with the seating arrangements, wedged herself between Rose and Ian in the back seat of my Honda Accord. On the return trip we wanted to show Ian some points of interest. Pearl approved of our itinerary.
Ms. Buttons entertained people and socialized with other dogs on the Cape May ferry. She confidently pranced the dirt streets of Colonial Williamsburg. We took turns waiting with Pearl outside the period buildings. She and I sat on a bench outside the Print Shop. Shortly a group of 5th graders from the Maryland public schools thronged us. "What kind of dog is that? What's his name? Does she bite (with an emphasis on the "i")?" So much for any 1770s lessons to be learned ... Here was Pearl Buttons!
The next day Pearl led us up the Wright Brothers Memorial to survey the view. She posed for pictures on one of first flight markers. She raced on the beach at Ocracoke. Pearl had to sleep in the car there, but in the morning we found a retired couple looking through the car windows, excitedly wondering what kind of dog she was.
Somehow Pearl could always sense when we were turned for home. About an hour from home, she'd finally put her head down. Home again, with sweet dreams until the next trip.