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The Puppy

March 20, 2014



(Painting by Gianni Grassi)


When you retire, everyone has advice.  “Travel.” “Stay home and garden.”  “Spend time with your grandchildren.”  “Take time for you.”  “Start sleeping in.” “Get up early and stay fit.”  “Get a dog.” “Don’t get a dog.”

I had opinions of my own.  I was going to travel. A few days after I retired, chatting with my neighbor over organic, herbal tea and fair trade chocolate, I told her, “No way am I going to get a dog right away.  I want to see the world, footloose and fancy free.  When I am actually old, I will get some nice middle aged poodle who is already housetrained….” With that, I packed my bags and took off for a wonderful two weeks in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.

Then I came home.  The house was quiet and I was there all day.  It was cold so I didn’t feel like gardening.  Friends suggested I watch TV so I set it up for my Amazon Prime and watched their suggestions. I got as far as the bloody bathtub in Breaking Bad and maybe the fifth episode of Dr. Who, but after fifty years of not watching TV, I couldn’t stand to sit that long, except at the computer, of course, which I had done at work for almost as long.

As I stared out my window at a few goldfinches at the feeder, the middle-aged poodle I could cuddle began to sound good.  I contacted shelters and rescues, but it was still, “just looking.”   I had not planned any trips because my former college students had asked me to speak at their Catch the Wave to Success premedical conference and I had invited an old friend, Ed, a medical school admissions officer, to come early so we could visit the zoo the Friday before.

San Diego is in the middle of a serious drought; no rain had fallen for months so we were assured of a sunny day at the zoo.  Of course that Friday, it rained, and rained, and rained.  The zoo was out.  Ed was missing his Chihuahua, Stella, and I began to tell him about my plans for a nice small, adult poodle.  One thing led to another, and soon we were off to the shelters around San Diego, jumping over mud puddles and, in some cases, walking in the rain to visit cages.  How was this different from the zoo?

Instead of lions and tigers, we saw Pit bulls.  Rows of pit bulls in cages, sad eyed babies, wagging tails or snarling, pacing, barking wildly, looking up from torn blankets and cushions, but no poodles.  With a whole day to not go to the zoo, we headed an hour north to Rancho Santa Fe to the last shelter I knew of. There were still lots of Pit bulls, but there was a terrier or two, and one little puppy.  Why not just ask to play with the puppy?  Big mistake.

She was mostly black with perky ears, a white stripe down her nose, white feet, a white tip on the end of her tail and one brindle forepaw.  As I walked into the pen, she held my gaze with her melting brown eyes as the tail slowly thumped back and forth.  I hugged; she licked my face and ear, then turned on her back and wiggled those white feet in the air.  Love.

But I was tough.  She was not a middle aged small poodle.  A Border Collie-Australian Shepherd mix, she was already 15 pounds at twelve weeks of age. I girded up my loins and said, no.  My friend and the handler were shocked.  “But you bonded!”

I was not going to be a sucker.  Puppies always make you want to snuggle, but this one was going to be big and want to herd and would probably require me to be much more active than I envisioned for my retirement.

Actually, that was Ed’s argument for why she would be a good fit.  We left the shelter, had dinner, and I took him back to his hotel. I went home alone, and I cried.  Not just that little poor me type sniffling, I howled!  There was a hollow place in my chest, and my brain, the same brain that had told me to be tough, was now telling me I blew it.

The next day, I was supposed to give my presentation at Catch the Wave at 10 am –the same time the shelter opened.  Calling my grown up daughter, Melody, who has three dogs and is a sucker for puppies, I poured my heart out.  She took one look at the webpage picture from the shelter and pronounced she was in love and would be happy to puppy sit if I wanted to travel.  Ah, the final barrier crumbled.  I could do both!  That was it.  Joy filled my heart; happiness is a warm puppy.  Cliché after cliché sprang forth.  I wrote a three page email to the shelter telling them that I loved the puppy, would be happy to give them a check, credit card number, my first born child… no I had to strike that, she was the one who would puppy sit… and that my daughter would call them when they opened at ten to secure the deal.

When I got to the conference, I learned my presentation was at 10:30 instead of 10.  At 10:05, my daughter called to tell me the shelter wouldn’t hold dogs. She had bundled my grandson into the car, she still had on her jammy bottoms (well it was Saturday), and had started driving the hour up the coast to get my puppy.

I don’t remember how I did on the presentation.  But the rest of the day I kept myself busy talking to students since I needed to stay until after the closing ceremonies at three.  Melody sent pictures of the puppy with my grandson.  Toward early afternoon I started getting texts about the puppy being perhaps more than my ancient sixty-something self could handle.  More and more clichés about boundless energy filled the textways.  Maybe I was too old….?

By the time I arrived at Melody’s house with a car full of gift baskets and bouquets from my students, the puppy was asleep on my son-in-law’s lap.  She turned over, wiggled a little, and licked my face. This was the hyper dog I couldn’t handle?  But my contemplation was short-lived as I was greeted by two lists–one from my daughter for more food, pet treats, dog beds, enzyme spray for puppy mistakes, and crate liners, and another, waved frantically by my grandson, Nathan, as he pulled me back out into the pouring rain for absolutely-necessary–can’t-wait-until-tomorrow toys.  Leaving the warm house and warm puppy, we headed out to the mall, piled the shopping cart high, raced it back through the torrent to the car, and managed to drop the new dog bed in the parking lot that had become a lake.

I wrote my daughter a check for by new baby’s adoption fee, chip, spay, collar, leash, food, crate, and the toys she had purchased before the absolutely-necessary–can’t-wait-until-tomorrow toys, and bundled a sleepy puppy off to her new home.   In the garage I discovered the large spray bottle of enzyme cleaner had opened  providing equal opportunity soaking and de-scenting of gift baskets, bouquets, the already wet doggie bed, and many, many toys.

I haven’t left home much since.  We go out to “go potty” several times a night and then sleep in. Our nighttime forays into the back yard remind me of traveling by air.  You know how they tell you to put on your oxygen mask before assisting your child?  Well, with my “bladder of a certain age” and her puppy bladder, I have learned to remember to go potty first before venturing into the California cold (yes, laugh you Easterners) at 3 in the morning as she learns to eliminate while on leash, in the dark, as I exercise my memory to avoid stepping in the wrong place.

In the last few weeks she has learned sit, down, shake, stay, and other commands, but mostly we just cuddle. She goes crazy with my two daughters’ dogs, but with me she is gentle.  Will that last? Who knows?  My vet says there is a rancher in the San Diego suburbs who lets folks bring their border collies to herd his sheep.  I am looking forward to hiking and rattlesnake aversion training and dog beach.  Instead of flying this summer, we are traveling by car to my son’s in Wichita. (Add $95.00 on Amazon for a bunch of books on hotels and campgrounds that accept dogs.)  Oh, and I named her Tashi—“auspicious” in Tibetan. But perhaps it is me who should be Tashi—I am lucky that for once I let my heart rule my head—one more cliché for the road.

© Barbara Huntington  3/19/14

From → Prose, Uncategorized

  1. Sarah permalink

    Beautiful, Barb! When you meet the right one, you just know it. It’s how I wound up with four cats. Looking forward to reading more. Maybe you have a book in the making!

  2. Carrie permalink

    Great blog!!!!

  3. Liam permalink

    Well told!

  4. Interesting about the Pit Bulls. You help me understand why people get wrapped up in pets. Nicely written . Pet travel is difficult and can be isolating from non pet people

  5. Lovely post, Barb. So much insight into YOU. Love it.xoA

  6. I bet Tashi is a good meditator already! I hope to meet her some day

  7. Linda Neel permalink

    What a wonderful blog!

  8. What a wonderful story that you have shared with us about how you and Tashi came together. It’s as if we were there with you, Barbara..

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. March 1st –First Anniversary of that Rainy Trip to the Dog Shelter | The Poetry and Prose of Barbara Huntington
  2. The Puppy | Redlake

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