This is my favorite picture of Caliban and Sleekit. They liked to sleep curled up together. At the end of the day, if you're a couple of dumped puppies, all you've got is each other.
One recent morning I was scrolling furtively through Facebook, as opposed to doing my work, and came across a meme that said something like: Having a dog is like having a best friend, only you can never ever talk to each other. Just as I read it, Rosie, my elderly black German Shepherd (more or less), shambled into the room and said: "Woof!"
"Oh, all right," I said. "But let me have breakfast first."
So much for the meme. That sounded like a complete conversation to me!
But in case you don't happen to speak Dog, what Her Nibs meant by Woof! was: "Can you get your cyber-addicted butt out of that chair and let's take the morning walk already? The reason my eyes are brown is my poop has backed up that far. But if you don't come with me I can't even get out the door without getting mugged by those damn bull pups!"
This is an editorial about animal control. Dade County needs an animal shelter. Southern states need to pass spay/neuter laws. And we all need to thank the valiant volunteers who struggle daily against the overwhelming misery caused by these big bleeding gaps in our civilization. We do not need to heap yet more responsibility on their overburdened shoulders, or, as I've seen recently, virtually blame them for the gaps mentioned above. I intend to argue those points.
But Rosie and I and our man and our cats have just finished a long and bittersweet adventure caused by the animal control problem, and I thought I'd write that chapter of our lives at the same time as my editorial in this weird little personal narrative, throwing in quite a few pictures as we go. I hope you like dogs.
(Photo: Her Nibs, Rosie. That's short for Roosevelt because when she showed up she looked like a little black bear, and we thought "Teddy" was un peu banale. Now, almost 14 years later, she looks more like a bear rug.)
This fall has been traumatic for everybody at my house--the cats have grown wary and haunted, the man has hinted darkly about consulting a lawyer, and I have once or twice considered taking up drinking during the day. But nobody has been a bigger casualty than Rosie! We fostered roughly 100 pounds of leapin', snortin' pit bull puppyhood for about seven weeks and all of us have white hairs to show for it; but nobody except Her Nibs routinely went sailing down the porch steps backwards. Poor old girl! The puppies never meant her any harm but leapin' and snortin' puppyhood doesn't mix that well with geriatric German Shepherd hips.
(Photo: Pups play-fighting in the pasture. The earth would shake.)
It all started Thursday, Sept. 19. Well, I guess it really started when we bought this house on a dirt road right outside Trenton 18 years ago. Dade County has no animal shelter, so people who want rid of surplus animals use our dirt road instead. All our animals for all those years--and these have been legion--have been dumpees.
But this time it started that Thursday. My default Stoutness Exercise is a ponderous, Russian-Army-speed trot down the dirt road, the mile from our house until it hits pavement and then back again. Her Nibs used to go with me but she quit this summer when she got so old and it got so hot. On the way back that morning, I spotted a fleeting black puppy-shaped shadow in the road ahead of me, that skittered off into the pastures when it saw me. Oh no! Then my husband, Jerry, driving out later, said he'd spotted the black puppy, too, and that it had a brown puppy with it. He said they looked part pit bull.
There ensued a weekend full of the usual denial (I didn't see them this time! or They must belong to somebody!) and false hope (Maybe one of the neighbors...). It is always possible to ignore somebody else's misery in favor of your own happiness. We did not want any more animals!
(Photo: Our dirt road. Mountain on one side, pasures on the other--the perfect place to dump McDonald's lunch garbage and puppies.
We've adopted our share over the years. I've had a dog continuously since I was 18, and since we've moved to the country more like two to four at a time. And as for the cats! Usually we don't even resist the cats, just find another bowl and somewhere private to put it. (Cats like their space.) (So do we but do cats care?) What we figured was we were getting off easy--most people have children, we have "faminals." Nobody would take care of us when we were old but we didn't have to put anybody through college, right?
Lately, though, I had started noticing an intrinsic unfairness: Friends' children grew up and left home. We, meanwhile, just kept getting fresh crops of faminals. Would there ever be a time we were free to travel (insofar as we could afford it)? Would we ever be responsible for only ourselves?
(Image: A Christmas card portrait Jerry sketched sometime in the '90s of us and our then-faminals. We've got a whole new crop now, of course.)
Finally it looked as if that time was in sight. Our dog Nali died last Christmas at close to 15. Rosie was only two years younger. We were down to two cats and one was about the same vintage as Her Nibs. I got this idea I wanted to explore French Canada. We'd taken a road trip meant to culminate there in our 20s, run out of time at Maine, and never gotten around to trying again. I figured we'd spend our geezerdom doing the tramp-steamer thing, going the places we'd never been when we were young because we were tied down with work or with faminals.
Enter two pit bull pups.
Pit bulls! Eek! I'm a Woman Who Loves (Dogs) Too Much, but I don't love all breeds equally. After 17 years of my first personal dog, Rumdog, an evil genius, I decided that German Shepherds were all nuts and I'd never have another one. Enter Her Nibs, dumped in March 2006. She has not been sociopathic but what we call kwazy, jumpy and so fearful I got in the habit of talking babytalk to her, in falsetto, so I usually seem a little kwazy myself. I have loved both my shepherds very much indeed but in the fretful way mamas love their boys in prison. What I prefer is big friendly retrievery dogs who play with frisbees.
Now here were two specimens of another breed that meant trouble! I knew that pit bulls didn't deserve the rep they got as crazed killers, but I didn't find them attractive and I didn't want to spend my geezerdom raising them!
On the other hand, it wasn't the puppies' fault they were homely and it wasn't their fault some heartless bastard had dumped them to starve, and by Sunday night I was unable to stop thinking about them. If you'll recall, this summer didn't end until midway through October. In September it was still in the high 90s every day. There's a creek on the pasture side of our dirt road but it had dried up in the drought. Not only would the puppies be hungry, they could die of thirst. So when nobody was looking I snuck
down the long, steep driveway and shiftily put a bowl of water and a bowl of Her Nibs's dry food out by the dirt road.
In the morning, the food and water were untouched when I went out for my Stoutness Exercises and I didn't know whether to be disappointed or relieved. I didn't get to be either that long, though, because I hadn't Russian-Army-trotted half a mile before I encountered the puppies in person.
Were they ever glad to see me! They jumped (me!) for joy. That very first meeting dispelled any notion I might have of them being vicious fighter dogs. They weren't thirsty for blood or even water so much as for the milk of human kindness.
But I'm afraid it also strengthened my notion they were just too much dog for me. St. Paul was knocked down on the road to Damascus by the love of God. I was knocked down on the road to Trenton by the love of dogs. They were as sweet as they could be but full of puppyish exuberance, and the male in particular was built like a brick s__thouse. He weighed 51 pounds when he got here and walked like a prizefighter, bowlegged and barrel-chested.
(Photo: Look at my nose!)
The male was kind of cute, if you like that kind of thing. He was brown with arresting light-colored eyes and a pink nose. I had a thing about the pink nose from day 1.
The black one was a female and frankly ugly. If you were determined to be kind about it, you could say she looked like a blob of mercury, all lithe and elastic. But in most lights she looked like she should be guarding a junkyard, muscly, bulletheaded and tough-faced. (Though eventually I got to thinking she was pretty, too.)
But let's not jump ahead. That first morning, there was no question of pressing on with my run. The puppies would have impeded my forward progress even if I really had been the Russian Army. We never did break them of jumping up on people, and later I could measure Caliban's growth by the height of his paw prints on my nightie when I fed him each morning. They were half-grown, the same adolescent kind of age as most of the pups who get dumped here. I figure that's because they're past the cute stage, have started to eat more, and have begun what we call the Cherrible Chews phase.
Anyway, I took them home with me and my spouse was not happy but also not surprised. He tries to play the heavy but he'd been tortured watching the puppies wander the dirt road, too. He was, on the other hand, quite definite we couldn't keep them. He pointed out that if they lived as long as most of our dogs, he'd be pushing 80 by the time our commitment was fulfilled. But when I said all right, take them to the pound, he said, "Not unless you come, too."
(Photo: The heavy.)
Here I should explain something about our odd geopolitical position. I'm all about Dade County. Trenton is my town. I chronicle the city and county governments in The Planet, we spend all our money (and more, as witnessed by our credit card statements) eating in Trenton restaurants and shopping in Trenton grocery stores. We're intimately affected by Dade's SPLOST decisions, economic development and blue laws. I love the place, it's my life.
But when we were ready to buy a house here, we got outbid for the one we wanted in Rising Fawn and bought this one on the rebound. It's just around the corner from house #1 but technically it's in Alabama.
This complicated life more than I ever would have figured, and sometimes, particularly when some local gummint official tells me I've got no business sticking my beak in, that I don't belong here, I wish we hadn't done it. But in general I like living out here and I sort of love the dirt road. I love Russian-Armying up it in the morning, mountain on one side, pastures on the other, no houses or cars or people, just me and the dappled autumn sunshine.
(Photo: Our house in one of its more idyllic moments.)
But here's the reason I'm telling you all this: Out here we have no paving and no public water and I've seen a cop car on the dirt road twice in 18 years. But unlike richer, more progressive Dade, we do have an animal shelter. And we had the right to take the puppies there.
We didn't. I called the place and the lady there said sure, bring 'em in, but be aware they were a high-kill shelter. There you go. It's so unfair! We didn't want to spend the rest of our lives taking care of somebody else's discarded pit bulls, but we also didn't want them to (a) starve on the dirt road or (b) be euthanized at the shelter. As we progressed on this journey, I learned that the DeKalb shelter is run by loving and compassionate people who do their best to save animals, too. So maybe they would have saved the pups. But they are simply deluged in unwanted animals so maybe not. Anyway, we opted not to go.
I joined all the local lost-and-found animal groups on Facebook and put the puppies' pictures on them. I didn't expect much from that and I didn't get it. But from covering local government, I had one great hope. I had learned from Dade's animal welfare volunteers about pet transports to the North. I began contacting those volunteers.
This is where I'm going to shut up about my life and editorialize a minute. Animal control in Dade is handled almost entirely by volunteers. Trenton has a tiny city pound, and a couple of hardworking employees who man it, but it's volunteers--mostly Ann Brown--who get the animals out of the city pound and on their way to forever homes. And when Dade County has an animal problem, it "coordinates with the city." What that boils down is: "Call Ann."
Other volunteers--notably Monda Wooten, Barbara Havlin and especially Dorenda Ledbetter, who is the heroine and tutelary deity of this story--also devote huge chunks of their lives, or all of them, to taking care of the county's discarded animals.
Why am I telling you this? Because lately I have been appalled at the combined arrogance and ignorance about the animal control problem on the part of (a) county officials and (b) random members of the Facebook-pontificatin' public.
One Dade official told me proudly that the county only spends $2400 a year on animal control, a fraction of what similar-sized counties do. Another reportedly told one of the volunteers he didn't think Dade County even had an animal control problem. A know-it-all on FB opined that the county had no business spending any taxpayer money for animal control, that if these animal lovers thought there was a problem they could get together and do do-gooder stuff on a volunteer basis.
The fact is, the animal control problem here is overwhelming. It is endless. It is heartbreaking. If you doubt me, join all the lost-and-found pages on FB. There are a few HAVE YOU SEEN MY DOG? posts but the vast majority are I FOUND THESE DUMPED SCARED PUPPIES or ARE THESE YOUR DOGS? or CAN YOU TAKE A KITTEN? I was about to post a picture of a pit bull pup I saw on there who looked just like Caliban, except you could see the white of his rib bones through his skin because he'd almost starved before someone took him in. Then I thought no, you don't want to see it.
Nobody wants to see it! But the volunteers can't help seeing it. They remind me of that Mother Teresa meme you see on FB, the one where she says you can't help them all but you can start by helping the ones next to you.
As for Mr. Smart Facebook Person who said the county should let those concerned take care of the problem as volunteers, what does he think is happening now? If it weren't for the volunteers the tri-state area would be subsumed in hungry, desperate animals. It isn't just a public safety issue and it's not only about basic humanity. It's quality of life, optics, everything. Who wants to go, or live, somewhere the roads are clogged with dead dogs and there's a pack of live ones begging for food, or taking it by force, outside stores and restaurants? No, I think the county had better get involved, especially if it wants more tourism.
Monda Wooten told me she thinks the county manages to stay so smug and clueless because the volunteers have done too good a job. What I have noticed, too, is that officials don't even seem grateful for what the volunteers do but always expect more of them. Like when I asked why Dade hadn't built the shelter taxpayers approved by two SPLOST votes, an official answered that volunteer Barbara Havelin had attended one county commission meeting about building a shelter but, mysteriously, had never come back.
(Photo: Barbara Havelin at a commission meeting. They told her to get up a petition and Try Again Later.)
What he didn't say is that she'd been sent away by the commission to gather signatures on a petition. Why should volunteers have to reaffirm approval given by two SPLOST votes? And why is it the volunteers' job to get that shelter built anyway? Did volunteers build the new courts facility? Did the commission ask for signatures before it built SPLOST-project picnic pavilions at the Four Fields? Isn't it the county that's mandated to get R done? And hasn't it occurred to the county that, between collecting strays, housing them, scrounging for foster homes, organizing low-cost neuters and spays, fundraising, staging adoption opportunities and transporting vanloads of animals to more civilized parts of the country, animal rescuers don't have a lot of spare time on their hands?
But before I start spitting when I talk, why don't we return to the story of Caliban and Sleekit?
(That's what I named 'em. I wasn't supposed to--"They're not our dogs"--but DON'T NAME THEM was only one of the spousal commandments that either I broke or the puppies broke unilaterally, beginning with DON'T FEED THEM, weakening to DON'T LET THEM IN THE HOUSE, then to NOT ON THE SOFA, ultimately fizzling out at ONLY ONE AT A TIME. Eventually Caliban even violated the NOT ON OUR BED one but I really am skipping ahead now. See how big he'd gotten?)
We brought the puppies up to the porch and set out bowls of water and food for them. Rosie hated every minute! But the puppies just loved Rosie. They swarmed over her like baby possums on a mama possum, which would have been sweet except remember the part about Caliban weighing 51 pounds? They brought her down like a wolf pack. Her Nibs got to where she hated going outside, and had accidents on the carpet. To say nothing of the cats!
The reason we knew that Caliban weighed 51 pounds is: Dorenda Ledbetter. She asked us their weights so that she could bring them shots and flea medications. We took the scales out to the porch and managed to weigh them in a clumsy two-person operation that involved the one of us willing to let their weight be known holding the dog while the one who was better at math looked at the scales and did the subtraction. Sleekit weighed 39 pounds.
Here is Dorenda sitting on our porch. She came out to have a look at the pups a day or two after they got here. I had asked help from more than one of the local dog rescuers but Dorenda was the one who came through. Dorenda always comes through. We began thinking of her as "St. Dorenda, Goddess of the Dogs."
Dorenda said the pups were the picture of health, and from their friendliness thought somebody had played with them before dumping them on our road. She said she couldn't take them herself because right now she had, brace yourself, 30 dogs and puppies she was sheltering. Later on I caught her laughing at my calling what we had "puppies." What she had at her house were discarded litters of puppies, some newborn, and often with their mamas who'd been discarded, too. To her, 50 pounds was a monster of a puppy.
(Actually I called Caliban Caliban after a monster, the weird little one in Shakespeare's The Tempest. To me, he just looked like a Caliban.)
Anyway, Dorenda discussed several possibilities for our monsters, including the one that panned out in the end: She coordinated with a group called Frosty's Fosters Animal Rescue out of Wisconsin (note her T-shirt). Frosty's sent a van down here once a month to pick up animals and take them to the Frozen North, where there are more spay/neuter laws and fewer unwanted pets. She said Frosty's always managed to find good homes for dogs and she was pretty sure she could get our two places on the transport. The one downside was that that wouldn't happen until November.
"November!" I said. "You said once a month! We're in September now."
Dorenda explained that the October van was fully booked and anyway, before animals got on it they had to be "fully vetted." That meant heartworm-tested, given shots, neutered or spayed and given a health certificate by a local veterinarian. All that took time to arrange.
Sigh. Here are Caliban and Sleekit sitting on our porch. They might as well get comfortable because it seemed they were going to be here for a while!
Note the sorry state of the chairs. The chairs looked fine before the puppies arrived. OMG, did they have a case of the Cherrible Chews!
They chewed the chairs. They found every single solar light in the yard and chewed it to jagged shards. Once when Caliban couldn't find anything else to chew, he bent over and absentmindedly started chewing the floorboards of the porch. I went out there carrying my slippers one morning and do I have to finish this sentence? I read on one of the lost-and-found pet pages a post that said rawhide could kill dogs. Me, I don't think we'd have survived that period without it. I don't think the house would have stood. My memory of the last days of Fred's Dollar Store will always be the bagfuls of rawhide chewbones I bought cheap at Fred's going-out-of-business sale.
The puppies also enjoyed pulling the tablecloth off the porch table and playing tug of war with it. It was still warm enough for us to take our meals out there, so instead of removing it we got in the habit of weighing the tablecloth down with pieces of heavy metal fencing so the pups couldn't get at it. Then, when we'd carry plates of food out there, we'd set them down on the porch railings, lift the fencing off the table, and more often than not bump the plates with the fencing and send our lunch flying off into the impatiens bed below.
(Photo: Chewing our rawhide peacefully)
The puppies were well-fed and had generally good manners about people food. They wouldn't steal it as long as you were sitting there eating it, but could not be trusted if you wandered away. One moment is frozen in my memory: Me out in the driveway, fetching the newspaper from the car to read with lunch, realizing that Jerry must have gone to the kitchen for a spoon because Caliban was sitting in Jerry's chair about to dip his pink nose into Jerry's white-pepper-laced hot-and-sour soup. I wasn't close enough to stop him but I knew he wasn't going to like it. He didn't. (Jerry wasn't happy about it, either.)
Liberty! Equality! Woof!
We routinely give our own pets table scraps but decided not to do so with the bull pups after a rather harrowing incident involving a baked potato. But what we learned with the pups is something that has been demonstrated eloquently time and again with humans in our great American democratic experiment: underclasses don't want to stay under. It was no time before the bull pups noticed there was one set of rules for Her Nibs and the cats and another for them, and then it was Vive La Revolution! The movement toward equality had begun.
It was easy enough not to feed anybody people food in front of the pups but the porch-v.-house issue was more problematic. Our animals go in and out as they please. But considering what the bull pups were doing to our porch and yard, and considering that the house was the only refuge for Rosie and the cats from the puppies' overexuberant demonstrations of affection, we thought it best the bull pups should remain outside dogs as long as the weather remained warm. They thought otherwise. From day one, they carried on a concentrated campaign toward inside doghood.
There is a pet flap in our back door and in front a screen door that opens out if you push it with your nose. The cats use the flap in back. Her Nibs mostly uses the front. She has gotten a little stiff for the flap and the back steps (except if we turn on the vacuum cleaner, when she can run like a gazelle). We live in an unfenced wilderness with a wooded mountainside in back and miles of pastures in the front. You'd have thought it would be a puppy paradise. But whenever Rosie nosed the screen door open, the puppies were not roaming in nature but lurking just outside, either to jump poor Nibs and send her tumbling back-asswards down the steps or to push beyond her and maraud through the house like Vikings.
We tried to keep the puppies from figuring out about the back door pet flap, diverting their attention (SQUIRREL! STICK!) whenever they noticed a cat head sticking out of it. It's complicated, with one flap in the screen door and another in the main door. But they had the inevitable Aha Moment one rainy Saturday when we had gone out to meet Dorenda on her way back from an adoption event in Chattanooga. She was coordinating with us to get the pups "vetted," and this time she had brought us some flea meds and wormer. We had taken Rosie with us even though it was too rainy for a walk. She liked to ride along to show the pups she was better than them, and anyhow to get shed of them for a few hours. When we got home, the pups did not as usual assault us joyously in the driveway, and we knew.
It was World War III inside! The puppies had not destroyed anything electronic or expensive, really. What they had done was penetrate the depths forbidden to them and laid it waste. They got my comfy easy chair in the living room where, from the porch, they would watch me reading at night, and chewed that up impressively; and they made a pretty good splash with a roll of paper towels. But where they really outdid themselves was the deepest inner sanctum itself, the bedroom.
They'd attacked the box springs of our bed and done some cosmetic damage there but poor Rosie's little bed they had torn into bits. Also note the empty dog and cat food cans they'd brought from the kitchen recycling bin. The puppies subsisted entirely on dry food. I think a point had been made here.
I wasn't really mad at them. It's not as if we have a houseful of precious antiques. We've always had dogs and we've usually raised them from puppies so we knew about the Cherrible Chews. When Her Nibs was a puppy she chewed every bead off a cherished pair of pink moccasins I was never able to replace. When you have a dog you love, that kind of incident becomes a fond puppyhood memory sooner or later. It made me sad these puppies weren't going to have that, anymore than they had an inside bed.
I knew they wanted beds because on the porch they took turns sleeping on an old nightgown I'd given them to chew on. (It was ripped beyond repair and I was low on rawhide that day.) But when I took a blanket to the porch for bedding, they locked their jaws around it and it would have gone the way of the tablecloth if I'd left it. So the pups slept instead on the rockers or wicker patio chairs we keep out there, meditatively stripping rattan strands off the armrests as they drifted into dreamland.
That was another angle of the situation that made me sad, their instinct to act directly against their own interests. Why destroy the chairs they slept in? And if they wanted to be inside dogs, why act in such a way as to make sure we'd move the freezer in front of the pet flap to keep them out? We were the givers of food and shelter. Why antagonize us by destroying our home?
But they weren't logical thinkers, they were just puppies being puppies and it was cute in a horrifying way. When Caliban got inside, what he'd do first is grab something and wave it triumphantly as he leapt around the living room. This would all happen very quickly but our reactions got fast enough to where we'd lay bets what it would be, like: "Purple towel!" "No, the blanket!"
And when Sleekit got in she'd streak around so fast she was almost invisible, vacuuming out Rosie's bowl, reaching up to polish off the cats' dinner, racing down the hall to check out the back rooms. I'd given her that name from the Robert Burns poem about the mouse--"Wee sleekit, cowerin', tim'rous beastie," because it was the nicest thing I could think of to say about her. She had looks that inspired more pity than admiration. But when she was zooming around with her ears pinned back and her eyes shining, I thought she was kind of beautiful.
The first time we put the pups in the car was to get their heartworm test. Dorenda had made them an appointment at the DeKalb shelter. We had no idea how they'd behave. This is the message I sent Dorenda about that day:
Everybody threw up in the car. They were good in transit but there was a terrible moment when spouse got out of car to go into building for an urgent urination, left driver's window all the way down, took keys from ignition (you have to have ignish on to roll up windows). I was out of car but dived for driver's seat; purse was on passenger side floor with my set of keys; couldn't reach. Caliban meanwhile is diving from rear to front to escape. It all worked out but I'm still jittering and mainlining caffeine.
Dorenda wrote back:
Been there, got the tshirt.
I bet she had!
This time of year we were still spending a lot of time outdoors--harvesting jalapenos in the garden, cutting them up on the porch table, walking in the pastures--and the pups spent it with us. They complicated everything! There were these million things we were in the comfortable old habit of doing that we couldn't do anymore: Leave tennis shoes (with puppy poop on soles) on porch railings until morning; place groceries on porch floor while going back to car to fetch remainder; plant flowers; bury compost; or even sit on the porch steps to put shoes on as I had done these 18 years. They eviscerated the sneakers--I never did find the right shoelace--carried off the groceries, dug up the flowers, ate the compost, and when I sat on the porch steps Caliban would sit beside me and lean in while Sleekit sniff-sniff-sniffed at my ear.
Which of course I couldn't resist. I liked them. I enjoyed their company.
Rosie did not, and the hardest thing about the situation was protecting her from the puppies. We would hold their collars (we'd found them some hand-me-downs) while Her Nibs crossed the porch coming in or going out, and we tried to imprison them on the porch with the baby gate while she went out in the yard and did her business. Sleekit was Houdini and could squeeze herself out between the porch railings, though, so we had to keep rescuing Nibs all day long.
Spouse Accuses Me of Adultery
Ironically, though, the puppies did revitalize Rosie's interest in life, or at least in morning Stoutness Exercises. The pups had boundless energy but unless we took them on a walk, they were content to expend it driving us all mad thundering around the porch rather than exploring the fields or mountainside. But my philosphy is that a tired dog is a well-behaved dog, so I made it a point to take them with me when I went for my Russian Army runs. At midmorning, we seldom saw a car on the dirt road, so the pups could run free, streaking into the pastures or vertically up the mountainside like bugs. Sleekit even climbed into a tree once after a squirrel. I'd never seen such a thing.
Rosie had given up SEs early in the summer, so I thought she'd be pleased if I ran off with the pups and gave her some alone-time in the yard. But by the second or third morning, Her Nibs managed to convey that I'd made the same mistake as the husband who gives his middle-aged wife a break by spending weekends playing naked volleyball with college girls. She was having none of it!
"You've betrayed her for those puppies," said my spouse. "She can't stand you going off with them."
He was right, but this development meant he had to join the Russian Army himself. Come with us, I mean. Rosie insisted on coming, but jealous as she was, she couldn't make it all the way down the road. So we would all set out together, Jerry would go as far as Her Nibs decreed, then he'd escort her home while the pups and I rolled on into Berlin.
This weird matutinal ritual became everybody's favorite part of the day (except possibly Jerry's). Rosie would remind me if I was late. The pups swamped her going down the driveway and we had to beat them off, but they subsided as they got interested in scents and then suddenly we were a real harmonious little family of faminals. Everybody was interested in the neighbors' driveway, and everybody had to stop and sniff and register their contempt for the neighbors' dogs, against or near the mailbox. Sometimes the neighbors' dogs came out to comment. Friends were eventually made and butts sniffed, but not before we'd had the pleasure of seeing Sleekit in battle mode. She was so slick, when she raised her hackles it looked like somebody had drawn a line down her back with a no. 2 pencil.
Photo: Everybody got along better when the pups were tired, but this is the only time THIS happened. It was after an especially long hike and all three dogs seemed drunk on the golden autumn sunshine.
Two important things happened on Oct. 16: The pups had their spay/neuter surgery, and the weather changed. We met Dorenda at 8 a.m. at the Trenton Wendy's. Other people did, too, with both cats and dogs, and Dorenda had loaded up some she was fostering herself. She was making her monthly run to Dixie Day Spay in Cleveland, Tenn. Dixie is currently the nearest low-cost neuter/spay clinic--Wally's Friends in Chattanooga had closed since we'd neutered our newest animal there, the youngest cat. Dixie Day neuters cats for $40, dogs, $60. Dorenda said Caliban and Sleekit's ops would be covered by Frosty's adoption fees.
We thought the pups were a bit young for it but Dorenda told us these days even small puppies are neutered as a pediatric operation--especially shelter and rescue animals. All the rescuers are passionate about the need for spay and neuter. "We're never going to rescue our way out of this mess," said Dorenda.
I asked Dorenda if she didn't want somebody to ride shotgun. She showed me that the passenger seat was occupied by two cat cages complete with two cats. "I don't have room for anybody to ride shotgun," she said.
The pups go off with Dorenda for their ops. They were frightened but we promised them they were coming back.
The pups wouldn't be back until evening and I had meant to snatch a moment to get some perennials planted while they were gone. (They loved to help me garden, and Caliban was especially cute with dirt all over his pink nose and mouth, but it didn't do that much for the flowerbeds.) It was rainy and cold, though, so instead of gardening i fretted about how we would keep the puppies warm after their surgery. It was going down to 30 that night. I took a stand about bringing them inside for the night at least. I hoped they would be dopey from the anesthesia and not bring down the ceiling.
It was Dorenda, again, who saved the day: Did we want to borrow the kennels she'd used to transport the pups, she asked when we met her that night at Wendy's to pick them up. We did, thank you, and we kept them the rest of the time we had the pups. They were a godsend (dog goddess-send?). We set them up in the living room and they allowed us to spend the rest of the time we had with the pups in some semblance of peace and order.
The pups did not precisely like getting into the kennels, but the crates were a step in the right direction as far as they were concerned, their anchor to indoor doghood. Dorenda said being "crate-trained" would make them more adoptable, too. We had no trouble in that department. Sleekit peed herself the night of her op and Caliban the next night, but after that we never had a wet blanket.
We didn't precisely like having dogs behind bars, either. It felt creepy to eat in front of them, for one thing, the nights we opted for Netflix over dinner conversation. And the first couple of nights I'd lie awake imagining the house catching fire and me unable to get into the living room to save the trapped puppies.
But they had this quirk: When night came, if you left them on the porch they'd ball up on the porch chairs and go deeply to sleep. When night came and we brought them into the house and put them in their kennels, they'd ball up and go deeply to sleep. But if we brought them in the house and didn't put them in the kennels, it didn't matter whether night had come or not, it was berserkin' time! They'd race and leap and play, chasing the cats, knocking over the garbage, scattering cat food around the kitchen. The only way to get the supper cooked and the dishes washed was to put them in jail.
We did get them out and pat them and play with them. Caliban was enough of a love sponge that he'd lie peacefully on the couch with Jerry while we read. But Sleekit would get impatient after a few minutes and start to wiggle. And as for letting them both out at the same time, that was tantamount to saying, "Let the looting begin!"
In the mornings I made sure not to sleep late because I thought they'd be rarin' to get out and pee. We're at the stage of life ourselves where we get up and go several times at night. But the pups were adolescents and they slept like lazy teenagers--we had to pull them out of bed! They didn't want to go outside, either. The only form of aggression they exhibited was the passive kind, but they were geniuses at that. They could go limp like Gandhi while you dragged them to the door.
The days got shorter. The nights got colder. We all fell into a workable routine: Pull the pups out of their beds in the morning, then the Russian Army run, then the puppies raised hell on the porch all day while we worked. The days were getting shorter but sometimes there was time for a brief pasture walk before it got dark. Then they'd claw at the screen door as night fell--we are really going to have to get a new screen door--and we'd let them in and bribe them into their kennels with treats. Before we went to bed ourselves we'd toss them out to pee again. They seemed bewildered at first but I sent Jerry out with them to demonstrate what was required.
Often fostering the pups was hard. Like coming in from buying groceries, especially if we'd taken Rosie along, it would be a struggle to get her from the car to the house unmolested. Then we had to navigate the sea of pups with the groceries--somebody's nose always got thrust into the bag you were carrying to see what you'd brought--and get through the front door and screen door without letting anybody in; or chase them down if they did manage to get past you. Sometimes when we finally managed all this we would just lean against the kitchen island and pant for a while.
But other times, especially when I was running along the dirt road with the pups in the morning sunshine, I would think what a good place this is for a dog and what interesting little personalities they had. If you haven't figured it out yet, I'd stopped thinking of pit bulls as ugly a long time ago. I started falling in love with Caliban when I noticed the pink nose. It took me longer with Sleekit. But we had put her kennel right next to my reading chair, and I noticed when she slept she looked like a baby seal. I started to think we could work something out...
"No!" said my spouse. And I suppose he was right. But as Wisconsin Day--Nov. 8--approached I got sadder and sadder.
That was a Friday afternoon. We met the Frosty's Fosters van outside the DeKalb animal shelter in Fort Payne. Dorenda was there, too, with a litter of abandoned puppies and two abandoned mama dogs who were also catching the bus. For convenience, a couple who'd found another litter of abandoned puppies met her in the parking lot. She had agreed to take them home and foster them. In this picture, the bigger puppies on the right are the ones Dorenda had finished "vetting" and was sending on to Wisconsin. The ones on the left are the new lot she was taking home. "It never ends," said Dorenda.
But our pit bull chapter, anyway, was ending. The Frosty Fosters van pulled in and a couple of beautiful Yankee women with ponytails and unearthly accents hopped out and began unpacking and reorganizing it with uncanny efficiency. They had brought blankets and other supplies to the shelter and to Dorenda. We and the shelter people helped them stack those on the sidewalk.
Then they began loading animals into the crates. They packed them in pretty tightly--they were taking some from the shelter, as well--and asked us if Caliban and Sleekit could share a big one. We said yes, they loved each other and often slept curled together on the porch. I used to sing I Got You Babe to them in fact. One of the worst things about the process for me was that they would almost certainly be separated. Jerry said they would be more manageable separated, and I expect he was right about that as well. But he cried too when they put them in the crate. I saw him.
We had had them just shy of two months. Caliban was up to 60 pounds when he left and Sleekit to 50. She had almost stopped fitting into the kennel Dorenda lent us. They had spent part of their growing-up time with us and we had gotten attached to them. Jerry pointed out that all the dogs we met that day were nice dogs, and if we'd kept them for seven weeks we'd have gotten attached to them, too--but we couldn't keep them all.
The Underground Railroad
The whole experience shook me and saddened me and I guess that's why I felt the need to tell you all about it. The Frosty's Fosters rescue transport--and there are several like it that operate out of other states up North--reminded me of the Underground Railroad, which used to rescue black people out of slavery in the South. Doesn't anybody else down here get sick of this being the place to get rescued from?
Dorenda comes from Illinois. (She came here to live with her grown son, but he got fed up with her bringing animals home so she had to get her own place.) She says the South is now in the stage of animal control Illinois was while she was growing up. I know we're behind the times. My joke is that if you die down here it takes 50 years to go into effect. But I think it's time to catch up! I don't want to go through this again.
We need spay/neuter laws. I looked it up and no state has passed comprehensive spay/neuter requirements for the general public, though several have made sterilization a requirement for shelter and rescue animals. Where it's being done is at the local government level, usually city but why not county? The fact that the unwanted-animal population is lower in other parts of the country (where Frosty's and other rescue groups can find homes for dumpees) would seem to prove the laws work.
If anybody wants to argue that laws like that would inhibit people's freedom I would argue, their freedom to do what? To cause endless misery and suffering, not just for abandoned dogs, cats, puppies and kittens but for schmucks like me who hate to see them suffer? Not to mention for the real heroes like Dorenda who devote their lives to rescuing the victims.
As for the Dade animal shelter: Now that the county has finally gotten to work on fulfilling its SPLOST shelter promise, the Facebook pundits may start screaming that animal control is not a problem the county should spend taxpayer money on. As a person who's spent money, time and tears absorbing dirt-road dumpees because Dade doesn't have a shelter, I beg to differ. I expect DeKalb County would too, considering how many Dade animals probably end up in its shelter after having been dumped on roads like mine. I wonder if DeKalb could actually sue.
And as for letting volunteers continue to shoulder the whole animal control problem, I think that's simply unrealistic. Though undoubtedly volunteers will play a huge role in Dade's finished shelter, as they do at others, volunteers quit. They burn out. They die. The county needs to assume a little responsibility for its own problem. And a good start might be admitting there is one.
Finally, before I (at last!) shut up, I wish that Dade would stop mistreating its animal volunteers ("Get up a petition" my big white ass!) and show a little appreciation for a change. If you only spend $2400 a year on animal control, consider how much money, anyway, the volunteers have saved you. Perhaps some commemorative plaques are in order, or maybe a few small, tasteful statues in the town square?
Make Dorenda's biggest!
I've been following the Frosty's Fosters Facebook page and Caliban has been adopted. His foster family in the Frozen North decided they couldn't bear to part with him and elected to make it official.
Apparently his new family named him "Huck" and I think that's appropriate, too. I named him from Shakespeare and they named him from Mark Twain, another of my favorite writers.
I hope one day soon to hear similar glad tidings about his sister. Her charms were subtler, perhaps, but she had some. Wait until those Yankees see her little hackles!
I guess I'll end this with a hope readers will help the rescuers. Dorenda always needs blankets and bleach, things like that, and cash for gas, dog food and surgery is never unwelcome. Here's a link to her rescue FB page--there's a Paypal button there: https://www.facebook.com/sandmtnmuttsnpups/
And here's a link to Frosty's FB page. They always need help, too, and they deserve it:
Now I'll shut the computer and get back to my suddenly calmer life. Sometimes it's hard to believe we have our old reality back, that no one will jump us on the porch or steal our shoes when we take them off. We wonder sometimes if we even deserve the peace and quiet we have regained.
But there's one member of our household who has no angst about the situation at all, but is simply content to bask in the glorious silence: