The Defective Dog–A Love Story Part II

Rory Arrives In Prince Edward Island

Rory newly-arrived September 2014

I had believed that when we made the two-hour trip to the tiny village in New Brunswick to meet Rory, that we would be bringing him home with us. Not so. Jean, the breeder, would deliver him at her convenience. As it turned out, her convenience was ten weeks later.

In mid-September, 2014, Jean and her friend pulled into our driveway. When Jean released Rory from his travelling cage, he danced in circles, thrilled to be free. An hour later, our property having passed inspection, I handed a cheque to Jean to seal the transaction. The friend took the steering wheel. Jean wept in the passenger’s seat. After the death of her daughter, Rory had became the focus of her life and of her love. Parting with him renewed her terrible loss. I promised to keep in touch with photos and updates—a small consolation in the face of such emotional devastation.

The first item on my agenda was a new name for Rory. In the eleven years we had Sophie, Gilles consistently called her Pitou. In Quebec, Pitou means “little one” or “puppy.” Calling a dog “Pitou” is the equivalent of naming a cat “Kitty.” However, to avoid confusing our new family member, he would have to be Pitou. Within days, Rory answered to his new name, especially if food were involved.

I signed us up for obedience lessons and bought the necessary paraphernalia—clicker, waist pouch, treats, and a special chest harness. For six weeks Pitou and I learned the basics of good behaviour. Pitou soon knew how to “Lie down”, “Stay”, “Heel”, and go “On-by.” But “Sit?” Never! When I communicated the problem to Jean, she said, “Of course he won’t sit. Show dogs are punished if they sit.” So, Pitou lies down when asked. He never learned to shake a paw—too difficult from a prone position.

The Graduate Doesn’t Look Impressed

The training was food-oriented: click—treat, click—treat, click—treat. About half-way through the sessions, Pitou developed itchy black scabs on his torso. Trial and error determined that one-ingredient treats produced the fewest symptoms.

Over the next five years, the scabs worsened. On a veterinarian’s advice, we experimented with various foods, shampoos, creams and ointments. Changes in diet produced bowel irritations. On many winter nights I stood under the cold stars waiting for Pitou to expel pudding-like poo.

Meditation time with Pitou

By January 2019, the problem had become extreme. Most of Pitou’s skin had turned black. Further, this non-shedding dog lost most of his hair. His ears were often infected. I was frustrated, angry and exhausted from worry and lack of sleep. The constant scratching made me cry. I was a bad dog owner. I couldn’t alleviate Pitou’s suffering. I requested that my vet refer Pitou to the dermatologist at the Atlantic Veterinary College. There, three biopsies uncovered an auto-immune disorder. Pitou’s immune system attacks his sebaceous glands. The doctor prescribed a medication to suppress, but not cure, the disease.

Throughout the years of his ordeal, Pitou never ceased to be my “best friend.” In spite of his discomfort, he cheerfully accompanied me on walks, shadowed me from room to room in the house, and snuggled against my side while I read or watched a favourite NetFlix program—lowering my blood pressure, softening my heart.

Each month I pay almost $400 for Pitou’s medications and special food. Grooming, vet visits, annual shots, and dental care are extra. How grateful I am that I can afford these expenses. As I said earlier, unconditional love has no price tag.

The spring after Pitou’s arrival, I emailed Jean her regular update. Her husband responded. Jean had passed away suddenly. I don’t believe in coincidence. I do believe in synchronicity—”events that appear meaningfully related but do not seem to be causally connected.” Pitou and I were meant to find each other so that Jean could rest undisturbed knowing that her favourite terrier was well-cared for and deeply, deeply loved.

Pitou, October 2021

Postscript

If you type “scientific benefits of dogs” into a search engine, a thousand or more lists pop up, each with five to one hundred and two entries. Below are the ten advantages of dog ownership that Kaitlyn Arford compiled for the American Kennel Club in October of 2020. For the full version go to

10 Science-Based Benefits of Having a Dog

1. Dogs make us feel less alone.

2. Dogs are good for your heart.

3. Dogs help you stop stressing out.

4. Dogs help us cope with crisis

5. Dogs encourage you to move.

6. Dogs make you more attractive—even virtually.

7. Dogs make us more social.

8. Dogs are so adorable they make us love them

9. Dogs make us happier

10. Dogs help seniors with cognitive function and social interaction

The Defective Dog–A Love Story

Part I

Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love, they depart to teach us about loss. A new dog never replaces an old dog. It merely expands the heart……… Author Unknown

Rory–newly arrived, September 2014

I became suspicious when the breeder delivered Rory to us accompanied by a bottle of medicine. “He has an eye infection,” Jean said. “Just put in a couple drops twice a day for a while.” Seven years, and many thousands of dollars later, the pooch still gets eye medication every day, as well as another more costly preparation for a different incurable health problem. Nonetheless, I have no regrets. The unimagined joy of the little dog’s affection has no price tag.

Let me back up to 2002—the year I retired. Less than a month after being home alone, I decided I wanted a live-in friend—a furry, four-legged one. My husband, who never grew up with pets, vetoed the idea. However, I won the argument by reminding him of my age seniority and the fact that he would be employed for at least another ten years. He would have little contact with whatever creature I acquired.

I already had Alexia-the-Siamese-cat. However, she refused to accompany me on walks, play fetch, or cuddle with me on the couch. A dog would be more compliant. But, not a puppy! Over the past twenty years, I had trained three puppies. This time, the goal was an older dog, well-acquainted with the basics of polite behaviour. The search produced Sophie, a three-year old Australian Terrier—gentle, intelligent, loving and always ready for an hour of exercise. For eleven years, walks with Sophie provided some of the happiest moments of my day. Then, a fall down a flight of stairs resulted in brain damage and partial paralysis. The vet offered no option except euthanasia.

In the aftermath of Sophie’s death, my husband said, “No more dogs!” I said, “I’ll wait one year.”

Before I met my husband, I made a list of the characteristics I desired in an “ideal” mate. With one failed marriage and a few disastrous liaisons to my dis-credit, I thought I would take a more rational approach this time. Gilles met most of the criteria I’d enumerated. After twenty-two years together, I have discovered a few more assets that I hadn’t anticipated as well as a few flaws. I am certain the same discoveries apply to his assessment of me. This month I turn seventy-four. I am unlikely to need another, “Potential Partner” list. However, if I did, the topmost entry would be, “Must love having a dog!” It sounds simple; but, there is so much more to the statement than its simplicity suggests. A person who loves dogs must be patient, kind, compassionate, spontaneous, sociable, financially stable, fond of exercise, love the outdoors, and live in the moment. Perhaps just that one entry would suffice.

Ten months passed. I wanted a dog. Gilles had retired by this time but we spent little time together. Although we both take daily walks, Gilles’ is a race to the finish line, out and back at a startled-gazelle pace. As for me, I meander, stop to chat with neighbours or strangers, cloud-gaze, echo the chatter of birds, breathe in the scent of ocean air, veer off the road onto red clay lanes or grassy paths. I walk not to reach a destination, but to savour the adventure. Walking with a dog often brings me closer to the moment. Dogs sniff every enticing doggy or dead-animal smell. They stop to pee a dozen times. Once, because of such behaviour, I spotted three partridges roosting on a low tree branch. Another time the pause allowed me a glimpse of a brood of bright pheasants.

Oh, but Gilles and my approach to walking is not our only difference. In separate rooms, we each have our own television because we enjoy different programs. I garden; he plays computer games. I enjoy eating out; he prefers his own cooking. We both read. Once again, different genres in our separate rooms. I prefer a certain amount of socialization; Gilles prefers his own company.

I needed a dog. I needed a dog for all the same reasons I got Sophie—a companion—to walk with, play with, cuddle with.

Without success, I tried the rescue route. I read dog magazines, talked to dog owners, and went to a local dog show. It was the last that brought success. There I found the perfect breed. A Wizard of Oz Toto dog! A Cairn Terrier. The dog show breeder had no “older” dogs for adoption. She referred me to a breeder in Nova Scotia. He put me in touch with a breeder in New Brunswick. Six months later, Rory arrived.

To be continued…

Why Wait for the 0’s and 5’s to Celebrate? Every Birthday Can Be a Festival

Today is my 74th birthday. Upon rising, one of my first thoughts was, “Next year I’ll turn 75. I will have to plan something special.” The next thought was, “Why?” Children’s birthdays are celebrated every year. Just look at the card racks. “Happy Birthday One Year Old,” Two, Three, Four, Five and all the way up to Ten. Albeit, the higher you go, the fewer cards there are. What happens then? Well, there are 20’s 30’s 40’s 50’s and 60’s greeting cards. More after that, the 5’s get included…65, 75, 85 and then 90. I can’t recall seeing a 95 one—perhaps not enough are sold to make their manufacture worthwhile.

For my Mom’s 95th my sister hosted a family gathering. A smaller group met for her 96th. The following year, because most of our small family was widely dispersed, there was no celebration at all. I know Mom was disappointed. She died two weeks before her 98th birthday. I suspect her passing then was intentional. Impossible to be disappointed if you’re not here.

Mom’s 95th Birthday

As for me, on my 65th, I invited five women friends, including my daughter, to my house for brunch and a session with a spiritual healer. Kerrilynn is a gifted intuitive. She “saw” deceased loved ones and communicated with them to bring comfort to those left behind. I have no memory of my “reading”, but I do recall that Kerrilynn had a great deal to say to the others present.

My 65th Birthday

That was the last time I honoured a birthday with a group of friends.

Here’s what I have done today:

a) Luxuriated in a hot Epsom salts bath perfumed with jasmine essential oil. I always let the fragrance choose me. Without looking at the labels of my identical blue bottles, I uncap and sniff each one, accepting or rejecting the scent. Sometimes only one says, “Yes!” If there are two of three contenders, I repeat the sniffing exercise until the best one emerges. Then, I look up the qualities of the oil in my aromatherapy handbook.

A few of my aromatherapy oils

Here’s a small part of what I read about jasmine:

In India the jasmine plant is called “queen of the night” or “moonshine in the garden.”

The fragrance penetrates and diminishes fear. No other essential oil is quite as capable of changing our mood so intensely. Jasmine oil does not simply lighten our mood, it brings euphoria to darkness. Jasmine is helpful for recapturing self-confidence and defeating pessimism.

No matter how often I allow an oil to choose me, I am amazed by the appropriateness of the fragrance. I had been feeling low for a while. Little energy to do anything but necessary tasks. Creative projects held no appeal. During my twenty-minute soak, ideas tumbled out. I’m not a fan of stream-of-consciousness writing. It confuses me. However, a form of that technique seemed appropriate here. I wanted to put down, (mostly) unedited, thoughts about my birthday. The task is proving difficult. Most of my writing is edited at least half a dozen times. I don’t know how much of this will stay when I’m done…but the doing is fun.

Speaking of blogs, according to Wikipedia,

A blog is a discussion or informational website published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete, often informal diary-style text entries. Posts are typically displayed in reverse chronological order, so that the most recent post appears first, at the top of the web page.

Only one or two of my thirty or so posts have been diary-like. I guess I will have to add this one to that list.

b) Walked with my dog in warm October sunshine.

I love having been born in the fall. As Anne Shirley said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Of course, there are Octobers everywhere. But I know what Lucy Maude Montgomery meant—a land rife with sugar maples that exchange their summer-green gowns for vibrant orange and red and yellow canopies that dance in the autumn sun.

Strathgartney Provincial Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

My walking companion
Pitou

c) Vacuumed the whole house.

d) Stripped my bed and remade it with freshly laundered, line-dried linens.

e) Manicured my fingernails.

f) Written this blog.

All this before noon! Furthermore, all were activities that I enjoy. Well, vacuuming is not that great. But, I do have an amazing stick vac that does a thorough and time-efficient job.

I realize that I have already celebrated my birthday in hundreds of happy moments. And just think, there are many hours left in this day to fill with joy. Why does anyone need a “big” event for a birthday to be special?

Me on my 75th birthday enjoying snow crab for lunch

PS I may still plan something “big” for my 75th. Or, I may not.

Alexia the Tortie Point Siamese

Alexia

When Rowan and I entered the house, the look on my husband’s face said it all, “What have you done? No Cats!”

The look on my young daughter’s face said more, “I love her. I love her. I love her.”

So, it was settled. The cat stayed.

Over the twenty years of our marriage Carl and I had nurtured two dogs, three children, a few guinea pigs, three or more rabbits, lots of gerbils and hamsters, one canary and several fish. What was one small feline?

I had wanted a cat for some time. Kevin, the owner of our favourite pet store, knew this. However, the right one proved illusive. Then, one day when Rowan and I entered his shop to buy cedar chips for a rodent cage, Kevin announced, “I have your cat.” I hurried to the enclosure he indicated. Then, stopped short. In it were five Siamese kittens. “But I don’t want a Siamese. They’re noisy and needy and devious. Nasty little beasts.” Why I thought that, I don’t know. Hearsay, I suppose. I’d never actually met a Siamese cat.

Kevin said, “It’s the large one.”

The large one was perhaps four months old. Kevin had kept her for a personal pet but his circumstances changed and he had to let her go. He believed that our family would be her perfect new home. “Pick her up,” he said.

I reached inside the large wire pen and retrieved the kitten from the shelf on which she sat. She lay on her back in my arms. Her intense blue stare met mine. To my surprise, she stayed like that—cradled, contented. When she began to purr, I was sold. Or rather, the cat was sold. To me.

Algie and Cher, the two miniature Schnauzers that had been in the family for a decade, paid no heed to this newest addition. Alexia, however, attempted to intimidate the canine pair. She sprawled along back of the sofa, then waited for one of the dogs to pass beneath her. Swoop! Down went a long foreleg to swipe at the head of the trespasser. Back then, it was usual for domestic cats to have their front paws declawed. So, Alexia’s flared talon-less toes held no threat. The dog paused only long enough to look up in disgust.

On warm days, our new neighbour, an elegant spinster, strolled down the sidewalk in front of our house. On a bejewelled leash, her Siamese cat sauntered beside her. Rowan, inspired by the spectacle, requested a harness for Alexia. She wanted to enter her into the children’s pets category at the county fair. We duly purchased the apparatus; but, as soon as the contraption was attached to the cat, she lay down, belly to floor, legs splayed and refused to budge. “The indignity! Never will I behave like that pampered furball!” Rowan had to carry Alexia to the judges’ table where the recalcitrant cat, much to her disdain, was thoroughly examined, then later declared, “Best in Show.” The golden trophy was bigger than the animal. Rowan’s pride outshone both pet and prize.

Along the windowless wall in our sunroom, stretched eight feet of conjoined white cabinets. Cupboards and drawers lined the bottom half, open glass shelves the upper part. The unit rose to more than six feet in height. Alexia’s favourite sofa, the one where she ambushed the schnauzers, sat at right angles to the display unit. Alexia sometimes rested in one of the empty glass compartments. More often, with one powerful leap she would soar from sofa back to cabinet top. There she would roost, mistress of all she surveyed.

Alexia in Display Unit

A cat can navigate the length of a mantle cluttered with candle sticks, Christmas cards, pine cones, and innumerable miniature relics, without displacing a single thing. In spite of this particular ability of felines, the top of our white cabinet was usually unadorned. One Christmas however, as a precaution against active dogs and children, I decided to place the nativity creche high, high, high. The top of the display case felt ideal. The creche was a rustic affair that consisted of a star-topped wooden stable with crudely carved people and animals. To supplement the latter, the children recruited some creatures from their Fisher-Price Farm. Alexia soon noticed the encroachment into her space, performed her flying cat feat and landed on all fours beside the intruders. Her investigation was brief. Swat! Joseph flew to the floor. Swat! Mary met the same demise. Swat! Swat! Swat! Swat! Swat! Out went the three wise men, shepherds, sheep, dogs and pigs, yes, we included pigs. One final “Swat!” and down came baby Jesus manger and all. Alexia slid inside the now vacated stable, lay down on the few remaining pieces of straw and peered out over her realm. Her imperious expression declared that I need not replace the former Yuletide inhabitants.

Alexia lived a glorious eighteen years. She survived the acquisition of other dogs and rabbits, a divorce, seven moves, short periods of temporary residences, and in her very old age, Sophie.

One month after I retired, I adopted Sophie, a three-year-old Australian terrier. In spite of her grand age, Alexia still presided over the castle. She lay at the top of the stairs that led to the upper bedrooms and guarded the landing. Sophie refused to pass her. Perhaps the dog didn’t realize that the cat’s paws were harmless or maybe she chose to defer to the matriarch. Whatever the reason, for the next few years, whenever I climbed the stairs, I had to pick Sophie up and carry her past the smug sentinel.

Alexia died quietly—lying on her back, cradled in my arms, purring softly.

A teen-aged Rowan with Sophie and Alexia

A note to my readers:

As I did last year, I won’t be posting over the summer. I will still be reading and writing though. Until September, savour the moments and be kind to each other.

Love,

Prairie

Alexia and a younger me

Algernon and Cherish Me

The Miniature Schnauzers

Algernon and Cherish Me

There is comfort for dogs in small spaces. Yet, there are other reasons for this behavior. The most common reason is fear. Your dog may be fearful of the area they are in because of loud noises, thunderstorms, strangers, abuse, or experiences in the past that bring about fear.

Erika Seidel

The two small dogs cowered in the far corner of the large kennel. I knelt down and cooed gentle words of encouragement. “Come little ones. Would you like to have your ears scratched? Or maybe your chest rubbed? It’s okay. No one is going to hurt you.” The girl shifted a little away from her brother. She trembled forward, belly to floor. Even so, her tail wagged a few tentative times. She stopped opposite me, behind the barrier, still quivering but willing to risk whatever fate awaited her.

The breeder, Beth, was devastated. For the first time in her career, a dog that she had placed with a family had been returned. And not just one dog. Two. A couple bought the pair as showpieces. Purebred miniature schnauzers. One salt and pepper. One black and silver. But, they didn’t have time for pets, especially eight week old puppies. Both worked. Both had busy social lives. All day, and often in the evenings, Sonny and Cher were kept separated in two small kennels. Later they were punished for behaving as all young dogs do.

It was the black and silver dog, Cherish Me, that approached us. We had no intention of owning two dogs. We had spent a long time researching dog breeds, had decided on size, weight, and personality. We calculated the costs: food, grooming, medications, veterinarian visits, unexpected emergencies. Our decision: one dog, twenty pounds or less, non-shedding, always ready for a walk. We attended a dog show to check out the three breeds that we had settled on. We met Beth there and learned that she had puppies that would soon be old enough to be adopted. Thus, Algernon joined our family.

A month or so after the adoption, we stopped to visit Beth on our way north for a vacation. It was during that visit that we met the mistreated puppies. Before we left, we had agreed to retrieve Cherish Me on our return trip.

We had changed Algernon’s kennel name because we liked the fact that Algernon means a “moustached man.” Further, the dandy by that name in The Importance of Being Earnest always makes me smile. We never re-named Cherish Me. The moniker suited her perfectly. Cher asked for nothing except to be loved.

When we brought our first child home from the hospital, I laid the infant on a receiving blanket in the middle of the living room rug. Then, my husband and I invited Algie and Cher to come and meet their new brother. They sniffed and licked and wagged their approval. Over the next eight years, two more babies arrived and were introduced in the same way. The canine brother and sister took equal pleasure in welcoming these new additions to the pack.

Brothers and Cherish Me

In one of our longest-lived-in houses, a short passageway lead from a ground floor bedroom into a bathroom. A small closet punctuated the right hand wall. Thunderstorms, firecrackers, construction trucks, and sirens terrified Cherish Me. We piled cushions and blankets on the floor in the small closet. Cher created a nest in the deepest corner. I closed the doors on each side of the little hallway and, in almost total darkness petted and whispered reasurances to the frightened pup. For some of us, people and pets alike, a dark small world soft with love and comfort is our safe place.

When Algie grew old and unwell, Cher lay beside him and licked away his pain. Given the opportunity, she would have been a wonderful mother. With the vet’s help, we allowed Algie a dignified death at the age of thirteen.

After a time of grieving, I suggested we get a puppy for Cher to “look after.” Along came Quinley, a salt and pepper male miniature schnauzer—just like Algie. Cher’s spirits lifted and, although she couldn’t keep up with her new charge, for two years, she tenderly mothered her little companion.

Cher had a fatty tumour on her chest. By the time she was fifteen, it had grown to the size of a grapefruit. When it started to shrink, we learned that her failing body was feeding off its fat. In time, her back legs refused to negotiate stairs. We picked her up to convey her outside.

Why was it so much harder to allow Cher to die? Perhaps because she needed us more than Algie. She seemed to know that we had “saved” her. That we were the right people to take her into our lives and into our hearts. When her quality of life deteriorated further, we had to let her go.

In spite of the few harsh weeks near the beginning of her life, Cherish Me died a happy, fulfilled and much treasured little dog.

Big hug for a little dog
Alger and son growing up