Thursday, April 28, 2011

And Then There Were Four

Kelsey Veldman, 1986-2009.  Noelle Veldman, 1996-2011.
About a lifetime ago, not long before Valentine's Day, my husband stopped by my work unannounced one day and dropped a little ball of white and black energy onto the lobby carpet, and she ran straight over to me (or, that's how I remember it anyway), and an adventure/challenge was about to begin.  He had gotten this sweet little Dalmatian puppy from a co-worker who had, in turn, gotten the then six-week old puppy for her two children for Christmas.  Less than two months later, they could no longer handle her, and the co-worker, on the verge of a divorce to boot, somehow finagled my husband into taking her as a surprise for me.  Of course, I didn't hesitate; I wanted her immediately.  As much time as I had spent with dogs, and as many different types of dogs as I had before didn't really prepare me for what I was about to experience.

My mother suspected.  She was aghast when I told her I had a Dalmatian puppy.  She immediately sent me this packet of articles about the breed, which was a current trend because of the live action 101 Dalmatians movie with Glenn Close that had come out the year before.  Sadly, there were scenarios like this puppy's playing out all over the country, some of them with much sadder endings.  As a result, there was a plethora of information about them, cautioning people both on behalf of the breed, but also on behalf of human sanity, not to run out and buy one without understanding what they are like.  Which, in a word, is challenging.  Her first family named this little bundle of holiday joy Noel (which I changed to the more sophisticated - or so I thought anyway - Noelle), but Greg at some point adopted the moniker, lovingly, "Spotted Idiot", and that would be what he often referred to her all her life.

I am not sure that Dalmatians are necessarily stupid animals, but they are not good students.  One article in particular that my mother sent, and kept referring to whenever she called, told the story of this poor, harried woman and her Dalmatian mis-adventures, including finding her dog up, all fours, on the kitchen table.  I, too, found my dog standing unabashedly on the table a time or two.  Jumping up on the counter and trying to take whatever she could reach with her long neck was another favorite activity.  She was not a bad dog.  She just never seemed to get it.  She had this look on her face always of "Wha - ?  Did I do something?"  Like the lights were on, but no one was home.  I sometimes wondered if she was actually the most clever of all the dogs, because that complete innocence was hard to be mad at.  Cheyenne can aggravate me entirely, on the other hand, because I know she is intelligent enough to understand what I am saying and just chooses not to.  Eventually, we broke her of standing on the table and jumping on the counter.  From what I've read, that's actually a high achievement among the breed.  But, admittedly, she was never the most receptive of all my dogs to commands, and in her younger days she could be quite the handful.

Because the other thing about the breed is their energy.  They want activity.  I've never been a routine dog walker until I moved here and circumstances forced me to.  I simply worked too much.  So, that energy had to have an outlet somehow, and it was to irritate the dickens out of her family, including the four legged ones.  Our oldest dog Precious would get so annoyed with her she would take her entire snout in her mouth and clamp down, much like you take an unruly child by the shoulders and squeeze.  Occasionally she would clamp a little hard and leave marks.  I once had someone ask me if Noelle had been in a car accident.

Noelle was not fond of other dogs.  She accepted the dogs that came before her into our fold, Precious among them, and she did well enough with puppies, but she had a territorial jealous streak with other adult dogs, notably the females.  And she was unpredictable.  She started a few fights in her day.  She rarely had the chops to end them ending up with a bleeding ear or a cut above the eye.  If I dog-sat for a friend, I had to segregate her.  And as tensions grew when Kelsey became ill, the skirmishes increased until our vet suggested a behavior specialist.  I considered it too.  I actually also considered trying to find a new home for her at one point, it had gotten so bad, but when Kelsey went off to treatment, the fights magically tapered off, and it was rare after that.  It's amazing how much dogs feed off our energy.  When I was calmer, so was she.  When the household had a better karma, so did she.

And, of course, there was the Dalmatian smile.  I knew nothing about it before she came into our life.  Many people don't, and they mis-interpret it as a snarl.  It's not.  It's literally a toothy grin.  In Noelle's case, she grinned so fiercely, she would make herself sneeze.  My daughter's friends were often amused by it.  Strangers were afraid of it.  If I was leery of them, I wouldn't hip them to the secret that she wasn't snarling, she was laughing.  Worked wonders.

Ultimately, the thing most notable about Noelle is how much she loved me.  God knows why.  I worked so much, I was a horrible dog owner.  But, she was devoted to me.  Completely.  She wanted to always be by my side.  Which is why it was hard to leave her behind when I came here in advance of everyone.  But, by this time, she was older, in bad health, incontinent, and an all around handful once more.  It wasn't best for her or for me to travel with her, try to unpack a house with her, and deal with her in the dead of winter.  I left her with Greg, knowing she would hate the time away from me.  I would never, as it turns out, see her again.

She is the second of my dogs to die since I've been here.  I've said it before, all my dogs were young together, now they are old together.  But, I never really thought we wouldn't get her here to be with me at least for a time so I could be with her at her end.

My husband is on his way as I write this to bring the remaining dogs to me.  As he prepared yesterday to pack up to leave, he noticed she had lost control of her back legs.  He called me, and I told him where to take her.  A few hours later, he called to say she was gone.  She had a seizure in the vet's office as they were discussing the options, and he made the call to end her suffering.  Now I have to live with leaving her behind.  He did the right thing, but did I?  What will be the ultimate cost of my search for peace of mind after losing my daughter?  Is it so high.  So high.

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