He almost went back to the foster place.
In truth, he was a compromise. A new relationship with someone who was terrified of dogs, and he was who we picked. Or…I should say, who picked us with his soulful brown eyes and simply by ignoring us.
The deal was, “We can get a dog if we can have a fenced place in the yard just for him, and one who’s smart.” I was okay with both of those conditions. I began haunting pet stores on their adoption days, even though the “fenced place” wasn’t at all ready.
It was February of 2001, seven months before our entire world and worldview would change. The “La Niña” year. Rain. Lots and lots of rain. I went up to Petsmart because it was their adoption day. There were a few candidates there, one VERY old poodly thing, tottering on its last legs, a few bitsy dogs, and the soon-to-be-Charlie. I pointed out the poodly thing, thinking, “Compromise, Polly. It’s a dog, she needs a home, she fits the size criteria,” even though she didn’t tug at my heartstrings. I wouldn’t even let myself look at the adorable black and white fella who was studiously ignoring all of us.
She: “Well, she’s (the poodly thing) is okay. (pause) What about that one?” She points toward the black and white fella.
Me: (thinking, ‘That, right there, is trouble on four feet! He’s movie-dog cute, but I sense a handful of fun and trouble!’ Out loud, however, I said, “Sure! I mean, I guess we could give him a try.” (The other thought in my head was, SHE picked him out, I can NOT go wrong there!
In an oddity of scheduling, the woman who was fostering him was a location scout for the film industry and she had to be on the road for two weeks. He, known then as Rafael, was the last dog at her foster home. She asked if we’d agree to “try him out” for two weeks while she was gone. Since Sheryl was new to the whole dog thing, it seemed like a great chance for a trial run.
Sure, he’s housebroken! He’s a bit younger than the age we wanted, about 9-10 months, but, oh, with those four white paws, black body, white muzzle and depthless brown eyes, who could resist?
Of course, the first thing he did when we got him home was to look me right in the eye and lift a leg. Sneaky git.
Then I tossed him in the tub…he desperately needed it. And I, who was raised around dogs (show and muttly) all my life, found myself bent over a strange dog in our tub, my face close to his, scrubbing off mud. Just as I realized who dumb I was being…this dog didn’t know me at all, and most dogs will bite a stranger whose face is so close to theirs, he sighed, looked up at me, and gave me a tiny kiss on the cheek.
I fell hard. It took Sheryl a little longer.
Did I mention that is was a La Niña year? With rain? Lots of it?
And that I hadn’t even designed the “dog zone,” let alone built it. Nor was the fence around our fabulous rental house intact.
And there was still rain. And mud.
Lots and lots of mud.
Sheryl was a trouper, but this whole “dog thing” was messy and disorganized. She voted for returning him. Our scruffy foundling that Matt’s girlfriend rechristened “Charlie.”
The morning we were to give him back, Charlie and I were wrestling on the bedroom floor, just playing and talking to each other. He would growly-bark at me and I’d laugh and growl at him and then tumble around. After ten minutes Sheryl said, “I can’t separate you two.”
And just like that, he was ours.
Fourteen + years means a lot of good memories, some hilarious ones, and a few really odd ones. Like the time he got one of those nasty foxtail grass things in his eye.
Or when he was chewing on a steak bone and got it stuck in his back teeth.
Or the time he ate our hot tub. Or, at least, most of it.
Or, when I was working from home, how he’d come into my office every three hours or so, lay his head on my knee as if to say, “C’mon, mama. Break time. Let’s play.” And we would.
Or when Sheryl came out to check on him after the mean bird was doing strafing runs on him in the backyard. She said to him, “Charlie, has that bird stopped bothering you?” And Charlie turned to look at her, his mouth strangely full…and one feather dangled from his cheek. He’d captured the bandit from mid-air.
Or when he slipped out the back gate and up into the foothills, only to tangle his collar in a bush and get stuck. We searched the entire neighborhood for him, desperate to find him. Finally, Sheryl noticed that every time we’d call his name, the giant shrubbery 150-feet from our back fence would shake and shiver. So, up I go (forgetting to take along a leash). Sure enough, after arriving hot and supremely sweaty at the bush, there he is, entangled, but delighted to see me, his tail wagging like mad. “Can’t you bark like a normal dog? What are you going to do if Timmy falls in the well?”
No answer. Just a cheery brown-eyed grin and a raised eyebrow, as if asking when we were heading down. With no leash, and no desire to chase him again, off came the jog bra…instant leash.
Or the time, the first time, Sheryl and I were making home-made pasta. After an hour we looked around and Sheryl said, “Wow, I was sure we would have more to show than this.” And then we see a long string sliding off the back of the wooden chairs upon which we’d been hanging the pasta to dry. We peek around, and there he is, delicately pulling down pasta and munching away.
Charlie was not a “snack” dog, and couldn’t be bait-trained. But, oh, he loved his spaghetti sauce. I know raw tomatoes are bad for dogs, but I think he did okay in his 15 years with occasional sauce mixed in his food. And one jackpot of a saucepan incident. We’d made homemade sauce and after it cooled, put the pot in the fridge. He was trained to “go rug” (get out of the kitchen), but in this house we had rugs all over, *including* the kitchen. So, he was dutifully sitting on a rug when I opened the fridge to get something. The pasta sauce had been precariously balanced and…
Eight years of waiting had paid off!
I watched the pot tumble from the shelf in slow-motion, sauce lifting in a graceful arc as it descended. Charlie’s eyes lit up as the pan hit the floor on one edge, sending a veritable wave of the red stuff into the atmosphere. It. Was. Everywhere. And Charlie was in heaven.
It took two or three years with us before he stopped being glued to our sides. I remember one day looking up and saying, “Where’s Charlie?” Both of us looked around and he was nowhere to be seen. We jumped up and searched and found him sound asleep in another room. He’d finally learned to trust that we’d be there when he awoke.
Charlie was a well-traveled beastie. He’s been to Canada, including Vancouver Island, at least three times, if not four. He’s been to Tahoe and played in snow. He’s been all over the state of California, in and around Oregon, and, of course, Washington. He LOVED to travel and was an excellent car traveler and even better camping dog. Nothing made him happier than when he had a job, and he’d just prance around and be extra personable.
He got me through one of the worst years of my life, was my constant companion in and around town, and even to two of my campuses. He cuddled me through multiple surgeries, including two back surgeries and countless other procedures. When I came home after being gone more than a few hours, he’d give me “snorkies,” that schnuffling, gruffling sound, not quite a growl and not a whine. But only for when I came home.
When either of us was gone, he’d lay in front of the front door to be sure he didn’t miss us coming in.
I don’t know how he knew the difference between putting on shoes to do things and putting on shoes to go for a walk, but he did and would begin dancing immediately. He has taught this trick to Hopper.
Just as he has taught her the towel-schnuffle. I wonder if she’ll learn to steal washcloths as he did, just to arrange them just-so and roll on them.
He taught me so very many things. To slow down, take time out to enjoy life. Those of us who never had children tend to anthropomorphize our animals, and I certainly did, I know that. I firmly believe that he knew he was loved, he knew he had surely landed it it but good when he came home to us. He continued his “Mama, it’s time for a break” routine through my Master’s and my Doctorate. And even through my first book and a good portion of my second.
I have loved dogs throughout my life, but in my Beastie I found unconditional love and trust. And companionship. He’d cuddle when one of us were sad, dance with us when we were happy, and simply be with us to just…be.
And he taught Sheryl how to love dogs.
Charlie was a rescued dog, technically we saved his life. But I know, deep down inside, that it was he who saved my soul.
Rest in peace my buddy. I love you. You now have endless green fields, chewy bones, and worn out footballs at your feet.
It’s been far too long since I’ve blogged and I am going to try to be more diligent. I blame FaceBook. It’s far too easy to simply post a single-line blurb there. However, since I can post the same here and have it publish to FB, I shall try to do things that way…at least for this month. We’ll see how it goes.
So…for those of you who are NOT following me on FB, here’s what’s new. We have been discussing for ages the possibility of adding a puppy or younger dog to our household. Charlie is 13 and a half, and though spry and active (albeit with the hip problems we all face as we age), he’s not doing a lot of moving around when we’re not home. We wanted someone who might encourage him to do so without challenging his “*I’m* the man” status. Not that he’s a forceful beastie, but he’s been here, it’s his house, he shouldn’t have to prove that.
We investigate, asked the vet, sought more opinions than I did on my new car, and looked at endless photos of rescue dogs. We wanted to rescue again, as we had Charlie. I’m still not entirely certain as to who rescued whom with him. Anyway, we narrowed our choices and then found a likely candidate.
I called, was “pre-screened” by the friend of the rescuer lady (to whom we shall forever after refer to as “Old Wackadoodle Lady,” or OWL for short). After that phone screen, OWL phoned me and we went through yet another vetting. Then we (Sheryl, Charlie, and I) had to trek down to Beverly Hills to meet said OWL. I was expecting, based upon her address, her general overprotectiveness, and her exhausting phone calls and details on how to access her gate, a mansion with loads of “help” flittering around.
What we found was a well-beyond-prime ex-actress (no, I’ll not share her name, but really…she’s been in a LOT of things, including, to our delight, a Doris Day film) living in a 1920’s HOVEL with overgrown trees, and barred windows. The house was filled with…well, it wasn’t pretty. There were, however, original posters from films and actual photos (not reprints or cutouts) of Jack and Jackie Kennedy with OWL and OWL with lots (and lots) of famous faces.
It was actually kind of sad.
Anyway. She made it sound as if we were the #1 candidate for the puppy she called Bella, whom we were going to name Beckett. She was a lab/golden mix, chocolate with a golden undercoat. A true sweetie. We scheduled a “home visit” for her to come on Friday (the 8th). Her aide said she’s be bringing the puppy and it looked as if we were set to go. Thursday night, however, as I was teaching my last class of the week, OWL phoned to tell me that she was not coming up and would most likely (the aide later said “assuredly”) place Bella and her sister India with a young couple with two kids.
Well…crap! Based upon OWL and aide’s assurances, we’d gone ahead and used our fabulous Amazon Christmas money to outfit ourselves with all things puppy-related. Now…crap. But…well, at least Bella could stay with her sister and would be loved. Nobody loves dogs more than do kids.
So…I began again the search. This time I was determined to only go through an actual rescue agency. I searched, sent out queries, and on Friday morning had narrowed our choices to two. Luckily, both dogs were available to be seen. The first was completely unsuitable once we (Charlie and I) met her. She was 3, quite assertive, and actually nipped Charlie and drew blood. I was not happy about that.
After giving Charlie treats, cuddles and taking a nice walk in a local park, he and I headed off to Riverside. Riverside is, on a good day, an hour and a half drive away. I had already spoken to the rescue place, The Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center, where Jack (totally family, btw, and say that in a singsong way) assured me that “Calpurnia” was even cuter than her photos.
Two hours later, in the driving rain and thunder, we arrived. Charlie and I ran inside on what was apparently their monthly ‘free spay and neuter’ day, and it was madness. However. Hol-eeee cow. I walked in and all of the staff are in fun kitten or puppy scrubs. Not a single person was grumpy. The place was SHINEEEEEEE CLEAN and smelled fantastic (in contrast to the LA Animal Shelter which smelled of enough ammonia that I was afraid of someone lighting a match!).
Clean, well-lit, friendly staff, and oh, so, careful in their screening. As we waited we listened (or, I listened, Charlie wagged and grinned) as an intake person took info from a lady who’d found a dog on the streets. I was really, really impressed.
Jack and Jill (not kidding, the other “counselor” was named Jill) brought out our girl. Jill held her and the young vet tech came to me and said, “Here’s what we do. You will wait here, I will bring Charlie into the room where the puppy is. We will see how they do together. If he doesn’t react well to her, or she to him, there won’t be an adoption. It really doesn’t matter to us if you’re in love with her, it’s the dogs that matter.”
Freakin’ awesome! None of the other shelters would let Charlie anywhere near a potential buddy! This was great!
So, in went Calpurnia (I know, I know), then in went Charlie. I stealthily peeked in through the window, keeping out of Charlie’s sight, while he and the puppy sniffed each other. After ten (long) minutes, they finally let me in.
I sat on the floor and we all got to know each other. I won’t go into all of that, this is long enough. Suffice to say, it all went well. An hour and a half later, a little bit (but not much, really) poorer, Charlie, the puppy, and I headed home!
Through rain, sleet, hail, rain, brilliant sunshine, more rain, bigger hail and a little more sleet. Honestly, I thought I’d missed a turn and ended up back in Wisconsin! Finally, we were home. Charlie seemed pleased to be there and is getting used to our new pal.
After sorting through tons of name options and trying some on for size, we have settled on “Hopper.” We chose that for two reasons: 1) She hops. A lot; and 2) I am a huge admirer of Rear Adm. Grace Hopper (Ret.), the programmer of the Mark computers and the person who identified the first computer bug. Look it (and her) up.
Anyway, you can find photos of Hopper on my FB (Pol Robinson) page or enjoy this brief vid: