By Karen Kenyon
A little dog taught me to move forward, and to learn to let go, if necessary, in a more conscious way than I’d experienced before. Since my Sheltie, Katie, died after 11 years, I’d wanted another puppy –the companionship, the walks, the way the little creature could blend with my life, my life style.
On one Saturday before yoga class I decided to visit a well-respected private shelter near where I live. Here dogs are available for adoption, dogs that have previously been abandoned. Here in this shelter they are not put to sleep. But they didn’t have a real home. That’s where I figured I came in.
I parked and walked in the office area, then asked to look at some puppies. Before I knew it I was in the kennel area with a young woman guide, who led me to the few puppies available. One adorable cocker spaniel puppy was already chosen, it turned out. He was tiny, precious.
In the next kennel were two large puppies. They seemed too large for my small condo. Then I saw the two small white puppies, frolicking and rolling all over each other. One had curly hair and floppy ears. The other had straight hair and pointed ears.
“What are these puppies?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “They must have just been put out.”
By then I was hunching down, and the little curly haired one and I had connected, and made eye contact. The pup had stopped playing and was looking directly at me. “I’d like to see the curly one,” I said.
I couldn’t even see the other at this point. The curly white frisky one was the one for me, I was sure — yet I was hoping this puppy was female, my preference (possibly because my last dog was female and I loved her so much).
As the guide picked the puppy up I said, “Is it a girl?”
“I don’t want to tell you,” she said. “Just see how you feel about the puppy first.”
Well, the puppy was indeed a little guy, but what a little guy, all full round belly and full of licks as I held him. When I put him down his tail wagged like crazy, and he was immediately licking my ankles as I scooped him up again. “What kind of dog is he?” I asked — this question almost an after-thought, thinking that maybe I should find out.
She turned over a temporary card put up on the kennel bars. “Looks like Dachshund and Terrier.”
Sounded fine to me. I knew nothing really about either breed.
“If you want him, I’d suggest you not think it over,” she said. “he won’t be here by the end of the day”.
Well, who could resist? Better just jump ahead I thought — take action — not inaction, as I often did — passivity being one of my passions (an oxymoron!). Passionate inaction??
A friend and I had, often discussed moving past inertia. This was a perfect chance to move forward, and not be stuck. I was told to sit in the waiting area, inside, near the desk. They would feed him one last time, and get all the paperwork ready.
I sat there, imagining what kindred spirits we’d be — true companions. He’d fit right into my life. As a writer and part-time teacher I work at home — mostly sitting on the couch, surrounded by papers and laptop — perhaps some music playing.
I can focus in that setting, it is serene — and Katie, my previous dog, would happily reside in the kitchen, behind a baby gate, where she could see me. She would lounge, nap, walk around. Or she would be out on the fenced terrace — again napping, lounging, and drinking water. She never ran around my home, jumped on furniture, or chewed. And of course I’d take her for walks, where nice people would greet us happily!
Then, I broke from my reverie as one of the animal care attendants brought him to me. It was like he was bringing me my little baby. “He’s eating really well,” the attendant said, as he showed me the puppy’s rotund soft belly.
Then it was time to fill out the many forms — what other pets had I had? — For how long? — What happened to them? — How long had I lived in my present home? I also needed to put down references. This must be, I thought, a little like adopting a baby. You are screened (at least somewhat) — you pay a fee — you give personal information, and you are congratulated. Everyone smiles. Everyone is happy for you.
I wondered what his name was — knowing each dog is named at this shelter. Not that I’d keep it, but I was curious. He’s “Larry” the girl at the desk told me. “Three little white male puppies were in this litter, and we named them after the Three Stooges — Larry, Curly, and Moe.” It seems Curly was not yet on display, and it was Moe I’d seen frolicking with Larry.
It seemed a silly, happy name for a dog — “Larry” — and so, since I had no other names in mind, I decided to try out “Larry.” Before I left I bought all the supplies I thought we’d need — a multicolored collar, a blue leash, two crates (one for home, one for the car), food treats. As I left, carrying my prize, a few people coming in to perhaps “adopt” as well, stopped to ooh and ahh over “Larry.”
On the way home I stopped at my storage space to bring out the ceramic dog dishes, which Katie had used. Once home I emailed a few friends and family members to tell my happy, fun news. I took photos of Larry, set up his crate. I took him onto my small terrace area so that he could explore his new home.
And so we began our brief time together — Larry and I. But this fairy-dog-tail has a different kind of ending than you might expect. As each day passed I realized that perhaps going three years without a dog to care for, had somehow spoiled me. I was used to my quiet time, my reflective time — time to write or paint.
Larry seemed to have constant needs. If he was inside he’d wail until I put him out. Once out on the terrace he’d cry and scratch the screen to come in, and before that he’d chew on anything available, or dig handy little holes to put who knows what in. Oh, I’d sit outside with him, but my words were few and not far between. “No! Larry, No!”
If I let him roam around in the living room, he’d chew and pull on the drapes. If I took him out to potty on the front lawn he’d look adorable, sitting there, his chubby white body settled against the bright green grass as he observed the passing scene — each neighbor who walked by, each dog. I even observed him noting his first butterfly! He was so taken by the flying yellow leaf. The movement of his eyes and head seemed to mimic the delicate flight pattern.
But no — Larry seldom, almost never, did what I’d hoped he’d do outside. At night sometimes, around 11 pm, I’d take him out, hoping he’d do what god and I had intended him to do — outside! Then I could put him in the crate, padded with towels, of course, in preparation for a good night’s sleep for us both. But no luck.
I’d sit on the steps going upstairs to the condo unit above me, and watch him. He was now a spot of white on the black midnight grass, with the white moon above. He was a picture, for sure, and worthy of a Haiku or two.
But soon I grew weary of my night-time vigil, and I’d bring him in. I’d tuck Larry in his crate, go in my room, close the door, put on the fan to block his crying. And eventually, in a short while, he and I, in our separate spaces, fell asleep.
In the morning I’d be greeted by a pretty nasty towel in the crate, and an aroma that filled my small dwelling. So, the washing machine was in full use each day. During the daytime, because he was seldom just peaceful and hanging out, I’d often take my writing work, and go to a coffee shop. I began, more and more, to escape Larry. I even got a facial one day to give myself some relaxing experience.
This wasn’t turning out as I’d imagined. It wasn’t Larry’s fault. He was, after all, doing what puppies do. It had to be me. Maybe I’d changed, maybe I needed a more mature dog? It wasn’t that I didn’t care for him. I did. But I’d wake up in the morning and think, “What have I done?” as I pictured years of my life taken over by his demands.
At about that time the Fates seemed to come to my rescue. This is where it does start to seem like a fairy tale. A woman in a writing group I run listened to me whine one day about how tired I was. I’d be driving and almost fall asleep because I was exhausted by Larry’s constant needs, I told her.
She said, “Why don’t I come over on Wednesday, and just take Larry out for awhile, she said — “a couple of hours?” As the morning dawned for my day with a little respite I got up early, as usual, and headed for Larry’s crate. And greeting me was the smear and scent of his morning gift.
I carefully opened the little door to the crate and called him in my cheeriest manner. “Hi Larry — Come on — come out now, Larry” (voice a little higher than usual). But Larry stayed there, cheerfully, tail in motion. He was happy! But I wasn’t.
So I reached in to gently lift him out. It was then his razor-sharp baby dog teeth chomped into my wrist and hand, immediately drawing blood. It was obviously just a playful chomp — no meanness or spite, but the mess plus the blood dribbling down my hand now felt like too much.
Once he was out and I’d cleaned it all, and put the towel in the washer, I still felt overwhelmed. This wasn’t getting any better. When Pat arrived I couldn’t help but tell her how I felt. She sat down on the floor, and let Larry walk all around and sniff her, his tail in full wag now. She knew how to get to know a puppy.
“I’ll take him out for awhile,” she said, “and would you mind if I took him to my house too?” Well, of course not — any little trip for Larry with a nice person seemed fine for me. I looked forward to remembering my life, pre-puppy.
In an hour or so she called me. “I did bring Larry home — and I have to say I really love the little guy, and my husband does too. Even our dog Stella (a large black dog of 7 years of so) seems to like him. “I just want to say that if you can’t keep him, we will take him.”
Well, that was pretty good to know, but I wasn’t ready to relinquish my furry guest, just yet. When Pat came back to my place with Larry, in a short while, she and I sat down and talked over the situation, while Larry happily occupied himself near our feet.
I suggested we might co-own him, share the fun, share the frustration, the training, the care. She I were together on this plan. But after she checked it out with her husband, the idea which we thought of as a brilliant and workable, disappeared.
His response, in his wisdom, was “No way — the dog is either ours or yours.” So there would be no sharing. I said, “Well, no, then.” — because unhappy as I was I couldn’t let go. We had bonded, after all. But my truth revealed itself in the coming days.
One day I wrote an “unsent” email letter to the couple, trying on “letting go.” In the note I told them I thought giving Larry to them would be best for all –they both loved and wanted him. He’d have a bigger family — two nice loving adults to spend time with him. In fact they actually go to dog parks, something I’ve never done.
Their home suits animals better since they have a doggie door, and a fenced backyard. (Because I live in a condo I would not be able to offer Larry any kind of access to “outside” unless I was home). He’d have an older dog companion, too.
I was not happy, felt torn, unsettled, overwhelmed. I looked to family members for support, but basically was told to do what I needed to. That this was why they didn’t have a dog. So, still not understanding my extreme reaction, I called Pat one day and said they could take Larry.
So, it was settled. She would be coming over in a couple of hours to get him. I gathered his belongings, trying to be stoic, and then I sat outside and let him play in the grass. Tears started coming, but at this point I knew this was the best decision. I’d tried on various options, and nothing so far had felt right.
When Pat came she got out and we exchanged a few words. I gave her Larry’s belongings — amazing how much he’d accrued in his three weeks with me — leashes, bowls, crates, left-over dry food, chew toys, stuffed squeaky toys!
Larry was happy to see her, which made me feel positive. He always did seem happy to see her, so that eased my mind, but tugged at my heart. He sat down in the grass one last time, as if he wasn’t sure this show was over yet.
But then it was. As she put him in her car and began to drive off the tears really began. Pat rolled down the window and called out to me, “Try to be happy.” Well, I did have to straighten up in the next few hours because I had an evening class to teach, through a local college extension program.
Somehow I managed to make it through the class, with that little playacting that sometimes takes over when called for. For the next few days there were some tears, but fewer each day.
I still see Larry because Pat and I sometimes get together for coffee at a cafe where they allow dogs, and I always love to see him. And he always remembers me. I feel that somehow in the big picture this was all meant to be — not to make it too magical, but the right ingredients were there for a different kind of fairytale ending. Now I am Larry’s “aunt” or perhaps, as I like to say “I am his fairy dog-mother.”
Looking through my journals of the past year I recently came across a dream I’d written down, but completely forgotten. In it I dreamed of a white puppy. The white puppy seemed precious to me, vulnerable, sweet, was like new life. And I’d clustered words around the dream — words such as “visitation” and “temporary.”
Was it that this forgotten dream of the white dog was deep, though unremembered in my psyche — and so when I saw Larry that is why I connected so strongly with him? A friend, who’d encourage me to get a puppy seemed to sum up the whole experience best though. He said, “Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we want. But it’s still important that we tried.”
Larry was meant to pass through my life, I’m sure. He taught me that moving ahead is important in our lives. Things often don’t turn out as we hope and imagine, but they still change us and somehow a gift is exchanged.
Karen Kenyon has been published in The Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, British Heritage, Westways, and The Christian Science Monitor. She also has two books Sunshower (Putnam, NY) and The Bronte Family (Lerner Publications, Minnesota) She teaches at MiraCosta College and UCSD-X.
This originally appeared at San Diego Free Press.