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…

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