Beth Deitchman

Reader, Writer, Knitter, Slayer

Category: Dogs

Puppies Make Everything Better

Because I’ve been working on a fantasy trilogy, I haven’t written many posts recently. But if you scroll down my blog page, you’ll see a clear shift in my focus over the past year. Before the 2016 election I wrote mostly about my life as a writer, with the occasional essay about something deeply personal. And then came November 8th. Since then my mind has been occupied more than I would like by the mishegoss in Washington. But sometimes I have to look away. Sometimes I have to focus on something else. So that’s what I’m doing now.

About a year ago I started volunteering as a dog walker at the Oregon Humane Society. It’s the oldest animal shelter on the west coast, with a beautiful facility and an amazing adoption rate. At OHS no animal is euthanized to make space for others. In fact, we take animals from other shelters that don’t have room. We have a behavior department and a medical facility on site where veterinary students do a shelter medicine rotation. There’s almost always a line at the door well before we open—often because people want to get first dibs on the kittens and puppies. Sometimes people just wander through the kennels to look at dogs, people who have recently lost pets or who just want to say hi to the puppies. At any given time you’re likely to find a volunteer or Animal Care Technician sitting in a kennel with a dog.

Over the past year I have fallen in love with several dogs—there were Harvey and Jupiter, long-term residents who finally went home around Christmas last year. Then there was Kobe, a pit bull with a skin condition, and Buddy, a black lab who lost a leg because of a tumor. And of course, sweet little Fox, a Chihuahua who loved belly rubs, cuddling, and cheese. If Ralphie would have been cool with having a little brother, Fox would be curled in my lap right now.

Who doesn’t love a belly rub?

I loved that little dude. He spent more than a month at OHS, so I signed up to be his Pet Pal and worked with him on basic commands in between belly rubs.By the time a family came to take him home, he had learned sit and stay (more or less). Luckily I was at the shelter that day, so I got to tell the family what a sweet little dog he is. And I got to say goodbye. I think about him every day and hope that he is happy. He’s an easy-going sort of guy, so he probably is.

Now I’m spending extra time with a labrador mix named Jackson Brown.

Look at those beautiful eyes!

Jackson and I have a bit of a history. The second time I walked him, he accidentally bit me. I can’t stress that enough: he didn’t mean to get me. He was just trying to bite his leash and my finger got in the way. Because the bite drew blood, I had to report it and then JB went into BQ (bite quarantine). I felt wretched. If I had moved him past the other dog’s kennel faster or more effectively, he wouldn’t have gotten over-excited and then redirected his focus on the leash. But Jackson got plenty of attention from the staff during his quarantine, and now he’s back on the floor, playing with his buddy Margaret every day and his other Pet Pals several times a week. Jackson will play fetch with his toy pigs forever if you let him. Luckily he loves food, so I can bribe him when it’s time to get them away from him and take him back to his kennel. Every day I check the OHS website to see if Jackson has gone home. One of these days, the right family for Jackson will find him.

In the midst of our POTUS inspired insanity, OHS is an oasis of calm. Yes, there are dogs barking, and kittens playing, and staff members delivering food, and people milling about in the lobby. Every day we deal with animals who may have been abused, who are terrified, who need extra help in one way or another. Sometimes the cacophony in the kennels is deafening. And sometimes the smells are overwhelming (puppies poop a lot, but they’re PUPPIES!).

Cuteness overload.

But when I’m working with a dog, the rest of the world fades away. I don’t think about the insanity and the tweets and the fear. I think about the dog, about how to help him learn more so that he can go home, how to make sure to keep her safe because she has a vision problem, how to manage dogs who don’t like each other. I think about my little man Fox’s cuteness and about Jackson Brown’s exuberance. I also think about how to get Jackson to surrender his pigs and let me put on his gentle leader. And I make mistakes that I have to learn from right away. It’s also time away from my writing, time where my mind can work on some narrative problem without my knowing what it’s doing. It’s time spent doing something that has meaning to me. That gives me a little light and makes me feel like I’m doing something right.

And puppies make everything better.

Best volunteer gig in the world.

Ralphie

I fell in love last Sunday afternoon.  Truly, madly, deeply, head over heels, and at first sight.  His name is Ralphie and he is a boxer mix about a year old.

Dave and I started talking about getting a dog about a year ago–probably around the same time that Ralphie was born.  I spend a lot of time home alone during the day and I thought it would be nice to have a companion.  But our conversations about dogs usually went like this:

Beth: let’s get a dog!

Dave: You know you’d have to pick up his poop, right?

Beth: Oh. Right.  Never mind.

Then this fall I spent some time at my sister Stephanie’s house just after her son Brayden was born and I grew extremely attached to her dog, Joey.  Joey and I spent a lot of time just sitting together, me reading or doing my Rosetta Stone exercises while Joey curled up next to me.  I loved having that warm little body pressing against mine and his big wet eyes looking up at me when I spoke to him.  Since I had never really warmed to him before that visit, I was just as surprised as Stephanie by my budding relationship with Joey.

Those quiet moments with Joey showed me why I really wanted a dog: he was so happy just to sit with me and I was so comforted by his presence.  No, I think it goes even deeper than comfort; I felt pure love for him and from him.  When I came home I missed him and our companionship.  Joey also showed me that I am up to the ickier parts of dog ownership.  While I was there Joey was even more anxious than usual because of the change in his house, change that naturally accompanies the arrival of a new baby.  Unfortunately for my sister, Joey’s anxiety makes him throw up a lot.  One evening while I was there, Joey threw up while my sister and the rest of her family were too busy to deal with it.  To save Stephanie from insanity, I mopped up Joey’s barf.  And it didn’t gross me out, which, simple though it may sound, was a big deal.  It was the moment that changed everything.

That night while we were Skyping, Dave and I decided to get a dog.  We spent several weeks talking about what kind of dog we wanted and where would we get it.  We even had a name picked out: Douglas.  Last Sunday afternoon we finally had a chance to go to the Milo Foundation in San Rafael to have a look at the dogs available for adoption not actually thinking that we would be taking a dog home with us that day.  The first dog we saw was a sweet basset hound and both of us thought that she might be nice.  But then we saw Ralphie and that was it.  He was sitting at the front of his cage looking so handsome but very sad.  My heart opened all the way and I was a goner.  We only needed a quick walk down the block to know for sure that we wanted Ralphie, so we returned to Milo, adopted him, and took him home.

Ralphie, who is definitely not a Douglas, is adapting quickly to life outside the shelter, and we are learning more about him–and about dog ownership–every day.  He loves to go for walks because he is so interested in the world, and while he is learning not to pull on the leash, he gets stubborn when he’s picked up a particularly compelling scent.  We’ve taken him for a drive a few times and he seems to enjoy it, standing at attention with his front paws on the arm rest between my seat and the passenger seat and leaning his body against mine for balance, which I love.  We’re still figuring out what he wants to eat and when he wants to poop.  And because we are probably over-protective, we’re reluctant to leave him alone in the house for fear of traumatizing him.  But we will get over that.  For now we want him to be as comfortable and happy as possible.

For years I believed that I was not really a pet person.  I didn’t understand why people would allow animals indoors.  They pee, the poop, they shed, they drool, and they chew on things.  In fact, when we brought Ralphie home last Sunday afternoon, Dave and I both felt a little strange when we saw a dog walking around in our house.  But now I understand.  In the week that we have lived with Ralphie, Dave and I have fallen deeper in love with him every day.  When he wags not just his tail but also his whole body because he is so excited to see Dave or me, my heart melts and I don’t care about the dog hair on the couch or the time he pooped in the house.  I don’t even mind picking up his poop outside.  Although it’s been just a week, I already can’t imagine life without Ralphie any more than I can imagine life without Dave.  There may be only three of us, but our pack is complete.

© 2017 Beth Deitchman

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