Rainy Day Helicopter Parenting

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We’ve had an extraordinarily warm, sunny fall; so much so that it’s October 24th and I have not yet turned on the furnace. But the clouds rolled in last night, and when I flipped on the outdoor lights and opened the door to let the dogs out early this morning, our back porch was a puddle.  And the big drops were still dripping.

Scooter, our terrier mix, zipped out to run the perimeter. Millie, our big purebred, took one look at the wet and instantly decided Continue reading

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Why Dogs are Better Than Kids

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It’s been a rough week at our house. For one thing, the schedule is nuts. The end of the school year is approaching, with all its attendant final projects, concerts, field trips, and parties.  It’s also baseball season; the Little League schedulers clearly delight in making it impossible to give your kid a decent meal at a reasonable time. Meanwhile, the daily grind continues; my children still expect to be fed three times a day and have clean underwear available on a moment’s notice.

To top it all off, Continue reading

Put Through the Mill

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A year ago today, the home of one of my oldest friends, Miller, was filled with mess and confusion. Already sleep-deprived from over a week of waiting for the chaos to begin, Miller watched as her living room was overtaken by a rush of bodily fluids, squirming neediness, and unknown challenges ahead.

Eight weeks later, she sent one of those puppies to live at my house.

It was the culmination of over two years of me trying to add a second dog to my pack horde. I believe in adopting rescue dogs, and the six dogs I’d had in my life up to this point had all been rescues of some kind. During these years, I spent way more time on Petfinder than on Facebook. Seldom did a week go by without me shoving my phone in my husband’s face and shamelessly pleading, “How about THIS one?!?!?”

I cannot say no to a rescue dog. Rich, however, is really, really good at it.

Four times during those years (are you paying attention? Two years! Four lousy times!) Rich agreed that the dog should be ours, and I filled out the adoption paperwork. The first, a floppy little black mutt named Marie, had lots of people clamoring to adopt her, and the rescue organization gave her to someone else. The second, a chocolate lab mix reminiscent of my old dog Ted (the greatest dog ever), turned out to not like little dogs, and since we already had our terrier mix, Scooter, we could not adopt her. I can’t even remember what the third dog was; my poor, tender, doggie-obsessed heart was beginning to harden.

The fourth – the heartbreaker – was a big, black, beautiful mastiff mix who was found roaming the streets of Harrisburg. You know my chocolate lab, Ted, the best dog ever? That’s where he was found: roaming the streets of Harrisburg. That day in 1994, I left work early, took him home, and began looking for his owner. He spent the next 11 years loving my family.

Long story short, we didn’t get the Mastiff mix, either. After a lengthy application process and many, many calls and texts between me and the rescue, I showed up at my appointment time with my husband and children to meet the dog we were all aflutter over…and was informed that they had sent him home with another family a few hours earlier.

I stayed off Petfinder for a while after that.

A few months later, I got a call from my old friend Miller (I say “old friend” both because it’s been almost 25 years and because she has quite a few years on me, and we have the kind of loving, soul-deep, take-no-prisoners relationship that requires me to point that out as often as possible). She was in a whirlwind of excitement (she has a lot of those; it’s one of the reasons I adore her) because she had bred her Greater Swiss Mountain Dog and soon there would be puppies!

Rich didn’t need a lot of convincing. We’d spent time with Miller’s Swissies (as GSMD’s are often called) and loved them. His research into the breed didn’t reveal a single reason to refuse; in fact, it convinced him that a Swissy would be a great family pet who would most likely add joy and love to our family life.

And she has. We named her Millie – after Miller, of course – and she’s now a fixture in our house. A big fixture. When we brought her home as a tiny puppy, the first thing she did was walk right underneath Scooter. Now he fits in her mouth. Last night, she walked underneath the dinner table as we were finishing up and while her head was in my lap, her tail was curled up onto Jillian’s plate at the far corner of the table.

Still growing into her body, she is goofy, awkward, and always in the way. Every morning, the dogs prance and beg for me to put them out, but then as soon as we start walking downstairs to the back yard, Millie stops in the middle of the staircase to stretch. Every. Single. Morning. She sprawls herself diagonally, blocking my way, with her front paws three steps down from her back paws, opening her mouth to yawn loudly, and bringing the whole production to a screeching halt. When she’s done, she prances to the bottom of the staircase, turns, and looks back up at me like, “Woman! What are you waiting for?!?”

She has a hunger for No. 2 pencils that rivals my own for Nutella.

And the socks. Oh, the socks! Worn or clean, big or small, cotton or wool…she cannot resist their siren call. She finds them wherever they are. Sniffs them out from under a child’s bed. Digs for them tangled amongst a throw on the couch. Steals them from a neat stack inside a basket of clean laundry.  They are scrumptious. And once she’s eaten and “processed” them, I get to clean them up from the back yard.

She’s also not-so-quietly trashing our floors. At almost 100 pounds, she and her claws have done quite a job of “antiquing” the hardwoods. The scratches and divots are something of a memory book for our family: “These are the marks from when she saw the rabbit. There are the scratches from when Uncle Buzz came over and she freaked with joy.”

And she leaks. Yes, that kind of leak. Mostly in her sleep, but also when she gets really excited. We’ve had her checked by the vet multiple times, and there’s no infection; it’s just the way she is. (Hormone replacement therapy may be the solution…who’d have thought she’d get there before I do?) I’m often spot-cleaning floors and gnashing my teeth at the destruction she is raining down on our house (yes, literally).

But…

I love her. I adore her. We all do. Her beautiful face, her gorgeous coloring, the way she “talks” to us when she wants something. I delight in listening to her sleep; she breathes so deeply through her long snout and big chest. Her calm, rumbling exhales are the closest I’ll ever get to sleeping beside a lion. Or a T-Rex.

I have a thousand pet names for her, but when she’s in trouble (same as the kids), she is called by her full, given name: Miller. Rich cracks up every time he hears me, having discovered yet another puddle or stolen, chewed-up sock, exclaim, “Dammit, Miller!” To him, it sounds the same as when the original Miller would shoot me with her dish sprayer, soaking me in the middle of her own kitchen, and I’d yell the same thing: “Dammit, Miller!”

(The human Miller has since remarried and changed her last name to something long and Italian-sounding. But to me, she’ll always be Miller. Sorry, new husband.)

Best of all is how Millie loves the kids. The day we first met her, at three weeks old, she stumble-crawled right into Jillian’s lap. She’s owned Jillian’s heart ever since. Even Richie, who was never all that interested in Scooter, is constantly stopping to pet, snuggle, or consult with Millie.

A few weeks ago, Rich bought Richie a coloring book. Because of the fine motor skill challenges that are part of his Autism, Richie has never been big on coloring. But this was a “Day of the Dead” coloring book, filled with dancing, fun-loving skeletons, and Richie thought it was awesome. He took it downstairs to color, and to my absolute surprise and delight, we didn’t see him again for 30 minutes. Richie coloring for that long was absolutely unprecedented, and I couldn’t wait to see the results. When he finally came back upstairs, I asked if he would show me his work. He led me back downstairs, and showed me this:

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I couldn’t help it; I burst out laughing. “Richie,” I asked, “this is what you spent half an hour on?”

“I tried to, Mom,” he replied, “but I got distracted into petting Millie. She’s just SO CUTE!”

Happy Birthday, Millie. Here’s to many more years together! And don’t worry; we can replace the floors.

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More Than One

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A year ago, we had one dog: Scooter. He’s a brindle-coated, 20-pound terrier/poodle rescue. A big dog in a little body. I’ve often (kind of) joked that he is our old dog, Mr. Bear, reincarnated. But that’s a story for another time.

Life with Scooter was easy. After years of having large, hairy dogs in the house, dealing with the little bit of shedding from his tiny body was a piece of cake. I could bathe him in 10 minutes and his coat would pretty much towel-dry. He was a great walker, and we both got a decent amount of exercise from a fast-paced three miles every day.

But I really, really wanted a second dog. Partly because leaving well enough alone has never been my strong suit. And partly because with dogs, as with children, the real fun begins when there’s more than one.

Sixteen years ago, my husband and I had been back from our honeymoon for only a few days when I used my lunch break to visit the Seattle Humane Society and found Little Bear, a Newfoundland/Gordon Setter mix puppy who had been adopted, named, and returned to the shelter after just a few weeks. We brought him home two days later.

We shortened his name to Mr. Bear; as he approached 120 pounds, the irony of “Little Bear” seemed a bit heavy-handed. Also, my parents already owned a female dog named Bear, so to simplify things, they became Mr. & Mrs (although they lived on opposite coasts). Mr. Bear was short on brains but loooooong on personality. On every walk, he had to find something to carry along: a pinecone, a rock,  a ten-foot-long pine branch that stuck out into traffic. We called him the Re-Arranger (a la Lone Ranger) because he was constantly moving our shoes around the house. (He never chewed them, he just wanted them somewhere else.) He ran away every chance he got. He stole my mom’s purse.

Rich and I got a second dog two years later. Here’s how it happened: I floated the idea of another dog. Rich said no. I brought it up again. He said one dog was enough. I steered us to visit the Humane Society on several Saturday afternoons, but every time we left, I was in tears and he was unimpressed.

Looking back, I see what I was doing. We had decided to start a family, but nothing was happening. Six or seven months had gone by and I still wasn’t pregnant. And to me, there is no consolation prize better than a new dog. (Also, Mr. Bear was very lonely; he would frequently dump out his bowl of kibble and use the pieces to spell out “need buddy.” But only when Rich wasn’t around.)

Finally, a few months later, I discovered that I was pregnant. Almost immediately, however, things went sideways. I began to miscarry. After a few days, when the pain continued to worsen, an ER doctor diagnosed an ectopic pregnancy. Not only was the pregnancy not viable, but I’d need a surgery to safely end it. Surgery over, I returned home to recuperate but failed to do so. Further complications (infection, pneumonia, and an ileus) landed me back in the hospital for several more days.

I was traumatized. I was exhausted. I was childless. And I was low.

The next few months were miserable. To give my body time to heal, the doctors insisted I not get pregnant for at least three months. And since these months were October, November, and December, I endured that specific sadness reserved for women suffering from infertility at Christmastime.

And there was no puppy under the tree.

By February, I was taking my temperature every morning as soon as I woke up. I’d read a book about natural family planning, and as long as my temperature didn’t drop, there was a chance I was pregnant. The long months of waiting were over, and I was desperately hoping that this month would be the month. But one Friday morning, my temperature fell  half a degree. I was not pregnant. Again.

Infertility affects men and women differently. It’s really hard for men, even the best ones (like my husband), to understand just how fundamentally devastated a woman feels. At the time, I was consumed with my own grief. Now, I can imagine how lost Rich felt, how powerless in the face of his wife’s heartbreak. So he did something that was in his control.

He got me a dog. Well, “got me” isn’t really accurate.  He did better: he took me back to Seattle Humane, and let me pick one out for myself. The first dog we met was a lab mix puppy. There’s nothing not to love about a lab mix puppy. Then they brought in the 3-year-old collie/shepherd mix who had been surrendered because her family moved and their new landlord didn’t allow dogs. Her name was Destiny, and she needed to be rescued. Just like me.

Her coloring was similar to Mr. Bear’s, but she had none of his beauty. Next to him, she was short, squat, and scraggly. But she came right to where I was sitting and put her head gently into my lap. Done. I could tell Rich preferred the lab puppy, but this dog needed me. Lots of people want to adopt puppies. An adult dog is harder to rehome. Powerless in the face of infertility, here was something I could do to put a little “fairness” back in my world. I wanted the underdog.

We changed her name to Dusty. I just couldn’t – wouldn’t – stand at the dog park trilling out “Destiny!” like a Rockefeller with a toy poodle, only to have this fluffy oaf of a dog come blundering up. And since the two names sounded so similar, Destiny/Dusty was none the wiser.

The joy came as Bear and Dusty got to know each other. He dwarfed her, but she was the boss. She was indifferent to all the toys we bought them, with the exception of whichever one Mr. Bear was most interested in. That one she’d steal, and then lie down with her front paws on top of it. He would pace and moan and play bow, begging to have the toy back, but she’d just look at him indifferently and ignore his pleas. Once, we rearranged our furniture, and the couch ended up parallel to a wall but about 3 feet away from it. Dusty quickly began moving all Bear’s toys back there so he “couldn’t” get them. Mr. Bear was tall and skinny; he easily could have walked back there and reclaimed them. But in his mind, Mr. Bear was wider than he was tall, and he thought he wouldn’t fit. So Dusty would lie back there with his toys and he would cry helplessly while watching her. It was hilarious to us. We were charmed. We laughed and assured him he would fit, but he never believed us.

They entertained us with their wrestling. They loved to walk and hike together. They were our surrogate children for the three years it took us to have a baby. Two babies, actually. Twins: a boy and a girl. Just like the dogs.

While our twins grew up, Bear and Dusty grew old. We lost them, one at a time, to spine problems and old age. When we met Scooter at a local rescue, Rich suggested that maybe a dog with some poodle in him might aggravate his allergies less than Dusty had. So we brought him home.

He was supposed to be a family pet, but Scooter quickly proved himself to be a one-man dog. One woman, actually. Me. He was mine, and mine alone. And that, too, is a story for another time.