Sunday, November 1, 2009

Eight is Enough

So, I've written about my friends and my family, but I haven't really told the whole story of my family because I have not introduced you to the most plentiful members of it; my dogs. I know I have mentioned in passing that there are eight of them. Add to that the two cats and the Beta fish, and it's quite the zoo. Why do I have so many? Well, the answer sort of depends on how you mean the question. I can tell you how they all came to be here, but if you want to know why I ever wanted to gather that many around me, then that's a complicated answer dating all the way back to my childhood. Briefly, like just about every other kid, I liked animals as a young girl. Most of my peers eventually grew out of it, but I never really did. As with many things about my personality, I think it had a lot to do with being an only child in a small town. I just made friends with animals easily, and there were more of them around than there were eligible friends. I tried to be friends with a popular girl who lived behind us. She didn't like me, but her yellow lab did, so the dog joined a circle of four legged companions from the neighborhood who hung out at my house. And in addition to that core little group, I could just attract them. Having some dog or other follow me home was not that unusual, like a nerdy Piped Piper. My childhood friend Nikki was walking with me once and watched as a dog and I became very excited to meet one another. Completely straight faced, she said, "You must have been a dog in your past life." I didn't think that was a bad thing to say to me. Like every dog loving child, I dreamed of being a vet until one day I saw a girl in my class coming in from the playground with a pretty deep gash on her knee, bleeding profusely. As I recall, she was actually fairly calm about it, but I felt a little queasy, my stomach did a couple of flip flops, and I knew then and there my calling lay elsewhere. What I then dreamed of doing was making a successful living and just having as many dogs as I possibly could have. And for a while after we moved into this house and this property, it looked like that might actually come true.

When we moved here eleven years ago, I had four dogs. Three of them are still with us, and the remainder, with the exception of Chappy, joined us our first years here, before Kelsey and Marissa demanded the level of attention and funding that they did. And I accumulated them by reputation mostly. Word got out that I was a sucker for a lost or needy dog. All of the dogs came from either a shelter or were strays except for two, one who belonged to a policeman who had to give her up in advance of being assigned a police dog. One other was from a litter from a Dalmatian that belonged to a friend of my sister-in-law. My husband drove to Fort Worth and back to pick her up for a birthday surprise in 1995. Hence her name, Myrna, for the actress with whom I share that birthday. I got calls from people I knew and people I didn't telling me about a dog under a kill order at a shelter or a stray who needed a home, and I would think to myself, "What's one more? We can afford one more." But then one became two and so on. Who knows where I would have ended up if first Kelsey and then Marissa had not put a stop to it. I eventually learned to say no because I no longer could give them the attention and care they needed, and the money it takes to care for this many animals was competing with the money I needed to care for my human children. Only one dog has joined us since, and his is an interesting story all in and of itself. Actually, they all are. I could devote an entire blog to just these guys alone; they all have unique stories and personalities.

Once things began heating up with the humans, I did consider, I confess it, disbanding the pack and trying to place them in separate homes that weren't as dysfunctional as ours. I never got past considering that move though because I would look at all of their faces and imagine saying goodbye to any one of them, and what it would do to them to split them up, and that would be the end of that. But, in keeping them altogether, they have paid out in the kind of care they deserve. In a group of that many dogs, even in the best of times, some things fall by the wayside. I would try walking them back in the day in groups of twos and threes, but what working woman has time to consistently do that? So, I tried to make sure they at least got run-around time in a portion of our property in the far back, but it has been vandalized to where there are holes that they can slip through, and I've never had the time or funds to fix it, so only certain dogs can accompany me back there. I don't brush their teeth individually and Greenies for that many dogs is cost prohibitive. I don't bathe them as often as I should (that was the girls' job when they were younger). They get a mid grade food, but not the really good stuff. And, as the medical bills piled up, they got less trips to the vet. This year, I got their shots at a low cost clinic held at the nearby elementary school. There was no physical exam and all the expensive bells and whistles that a vet normally does.

For all of that, my husband tells me they are spoiled and very happy. Looking around me now, that seems to be true. They seem content and comfortable. As you may have already gathered, that means I am surrounded by a slumbering group of geriatric dogs. There will be more losses we have to endure over the next few years. We had been steeling ourselves for them. I have lost dogs before and it's painful. In some ways, it's more painful in the short run than losing a human friend or family member because they are so utterly dependent upon you, so the loss is so very personal. Of course, that is before you lose a child, and feel that kind of searing hole in your heart. Then, you tend to put the loss of a pet in a different perspective. Nonetheless, each of my pack holds a piece of me and that piece will be lost when they leave me, so I push those days as far into the future as I can. For at least two of the oldest, there my be very little push left. I take one to the vet tomorrow. Already diabetic and blind, she now has an enlarged mammary gland, and I expect the worst. So, I thought now, while we are still together, I should tell some of their story. Because they are a part of the family and endured what we went through too. They reacted to it like we did: at first, badly, then recouping somewhat and learning to function better with The Beast in the room. It has taken me this long to write about the dogs in particular because I could never quite decide how much they understood about what was happening, up to and including Kelsey's death, and how much they were just reacting to the emotions of their humans. I still am not totally sure. They feel loss, and they know when people they love are gone (I have a number of cute stories about our biggest dog, Chappy, who loves Marissa in particular and his reactions to me and her when she's left for any extended period of time). Kelsey was in and out of the house many times over the last few years, so I'm not sure if they really understand that she's permanently gone or if they just knew that something catastrophic had happened that caused us to be very sad. I believe very much in the intelligence of canines. They understand, I believe, certain things on a level that we do not. I believe they can sense a person's essence and know what is in their heart better than we can. That is why I trust my dogs' reaction to strangers. If they have a bad reaction, then I'm on guard. But, they have limits. Mainly it's a language barrier, if you will. They have to infer from a situation what is happening. When I took Marissa to Alldredge, I couldn't tell Chappy that she'd be home in three months, so he could just relax, for example. So, for that reason, I don't know what they all think. Nor do I know how long they think it. The school of thought is that dogs have short memories, so have they already forgotten who Kelsey is? I tend to dismiss that actually. If that was truly the case, then there would not be stories of dogs making their way across country to find their owners. Chappy after a few days would not have cared that Marissa was gone. Maybe they don't remember which of them left the puddle on my floor ten minutes after it happened, but I think the humans in their lives imprint on them permanently.

I will introduce you to them briefly, in no particular order, as the end of part one of my saga. There is Cheyenne, Mother's favorite and the Alpha dog. She is part Husky and part Coyote. She is a serious dog with occasionally fits of frivolity. She rules the house with a somewhat iron grip. She hates it when I leave, and will occasionally decide to try and stop me by getting in my way to try and block me, or pawing at my shoes so I can't put them on. She is highly intelligent and very intuitive. Noelle, the Dalmatian, is much her opposite - good natured and none too bright. She loves me most of all, and is rarely anywhere but by my side. When she is excited, which is often, she bangs her tale into anything close by and bares her teeth, which causes her to sneeze. People not familiar with the breed are scared of that look, but it's basically a wide grin, almost a laugh. Tawny, who is also known as Weiner Dog and Weinus, is an odd mix of breeds, but we think part dachshund, which gives her the tendency to dig. She is an escape artist, which is how she came to be with me. She was found wandering down the middle of the road in a property we manage. She is highly social, and loves it when we have company. Ashley is part bit bull. To try and calm the reaction that engenders, I call her a terrier mix officially. While her temper has gotten shorter with the other dogs as she's aged, she is a loving and gentle companion to us. She was Kelsey's favorite and Ashley loved her deeply in return. She lived upstairs with the girls during her first years here. Chappy, the class clown. The largest of the dogs at 85 pounds, is a total Gentle Ben. The only dog who likes to swim, he's the one who wants to play, romp and cheer you up. Mryna, a Lab/Dalmatian mix, is the nurturer of the group. Before she went completely blind she tended after the others, keeping them clean. She still will seek them out by smell to wash out ears and eyes when needed. Luke, a collie mix who hates being brushed, is usually a hot mess, but has spent most of his days happily being the only male until Chappy came along. He even pees like a girl. Think of him like the gay friend in the group of women. Then there is Precious (and no, I did not name her that). She is the oldest and is completely senile. She is Lab/Malamute. She loves Greg most of all the humans, having come from a policeman's family where the man ruled the roost. She suffered in my eyes from one cardinal sin, she wasn't my Daphne. She came to us too soon after I lost a dog of similar size and build, and I was still in deep, deep mourning. Until Cheyenne, I never thought I'd love anything the way I did Daphne, and poor Precious has suffered a bit of an attention deficit because of it. Even Mother once commented that she was the best of the dogs but got the least attention, but she has been a steadfast and obedient companion.

There is the cast of characters who were with us when the news hit that Kelsey had died. Next up, how they handled life with The Beast and now without it.


  1. I love this story of all 8 of your dogs! man you have the BIGGEST heart in the world :) I just love it!

  2. Cruella De Vil, Cruella De Vil, if she doesn't scare you no evil thing will...the curl of her lips, the ice of her stare...

    Just kiddin' boss.