– By Sara Lingafelter
This morning, Ryan snuggled in with Gibson while I got up to take a quick shower. After I got dressed and headed into the living room to put my shoes on, Gibson toddled out of the bedroom still warm from sleep, lit up when she saw me, and wiggled over to me then leaned her full weight against my leg, and tilted her head against me, in a full-on puppy-hug. If you own a labrador retriever, you’re thinking, “So? And then what?” But, if you’ve raised a rescue dog, you may relate to the feeling of the first time your puppy sought you out for a snuggle, just because. Not because you just arrived home and she’s happy to see you; not because you’re on a scary bus ride and she’s seeking your comfort; just because she wanted a snuggle, and you were there to give it. It felt like a big deal. And I obliged, and we had a nice, warm, good morning snuggle, just because.
And the day went on, and we’re working out our system that mixes walking and playing and working (for us) and sleeping (for her), and I’m thankful for our puppy school that is a shining beacon of hope and help on the hard days, since we have a one-on-one set up with an instructor that Gibson and I have enjoyed learning from, so that I can learn how to help Gibson relax and calm down, in stressful settings (and not particularly stressful settings, like when I have a conference call and she needs to chill out for an hour). There are ups and downs. She’s a puppy. And right now, she’s an adolescent puppy.
She fixates on specific naughty behaviors: (1) trying to eat the ridiculous Jody Bergsma fleece blanket known affectionately as “horsey blanket;” (2) stealing the orange pieces of temporary fencing meant to keep squirrels out, off the tops of my seedling starts; (3) tugging on tufts of the thick pile wool rug, in the living room; (4) plucking my beloved succulent plants out of the front yard and running around the yard, shaking them like they’re prey; and (5) sneaking into my nascent vegetable garden and wreaking havoc… those are the biggies, right now. The “switch flips, devil puppy takes over” habits that test my patience and my dog mama training. And then there’s the barking: she’s found her voice, and she likes the way it sounds. Loudly, usually. Like for nearly a solid day, spent in the typically silent-but-for-the-crackle-of-the-fireplace family cabin we spent a night in with my parents last weekend: and somehow, my parents still raved about what a good puppy she was, after we left.
People talk frequently about what a good puppy she is. “She’s a puppy!” they say, excusing her digressions. Maybe I’m negative scanning. But lordy. I feel like the people in our life are being incredibly generous with those exclamations, right now.
We had a good day, today. And then Ryan came home, and we both greeted him happily, and then the three of us set about to spend the evening in the backyard, enjoying the non-rain after what feels like an entire week solid of downpour. And before I could even don my garden gloves, and before Ryan even turned one shovel full of dirt, Gibson found a huge chicken drumstick bone — visibly dry, and splintery, like it had been gnawed clean by a particularly strong seagull who’d hit the Kentucky Fried Chicken jackpot then dropped the useless bone in a corner of our yard. There’s a Formosan Dog Owner’s Group on Facebook that I subscribe to (and adore — those mamas and papas were helpful in our decision to adopt from Taiwan; and they just continue to be a source of support and inspiration as we get to know our furry kid better) … there’s a recurring photo theme: Run like you stole it. The photos are of Taiwanese rescues gleefully running at full bore. And that’s what Gibson did with that chicken bone: ran like she stole it. Our training failed — she’d neither “drop it” nor “sit” nor “find it” for a substitute treat and why even bother trying “come” — and down the hatch the entire bone went, in little splintery pieces, like you hear about in the dog-and-chicken-bone horror stories. Damage done, we scooted her into the house and fed her a sizable dinner along with some bread (gluten-free — it was all I had in the house) to help cushion the blow to her system.
“I wonder what it would be like to have a week without one of these emergency scenarios,” I said, thinking back on last week’s reverse sneezing sleepless night after Gibson either (1) had a sudden environmental allergy attack, or (2) her e-collar, which she was wearing because of her recurring skin allergies, was too tight and causes irritation to her throat. And the week before that, when she trotted out of the bedroom all pleased with herself, and voluntarily spit an inch-across piece of jagged glass out in my hand; not knowing if she’d consumed any of it, or where it came from, she got the big-dinner-and-Ryan’s-pizza-crust treatment that time, too.
And then, we returned to the yard, inspected to ensure there were no more hazards, Gibson happily playing with her ball and the sticks in the yard, and Ryan reinforced the vegetable garden temporary fencing and I headed out to check on my kale, chard and beet seedlings, carefully and lovingly started two weeks ago. I could see something was amiss before I even crouched down to inspect: a small slug was munching away on the 3/4 of an inch high kale seedlings in one of the pots, and had already mowed down half of the pot’s contents. He (or his brethren) had already finished off one entire other pot of seedlings — all that’s left are little half-inch stubs of stems, no leaves.
I mourned, and poured a line of DE around my remaining seedlings, and pulled out some fresh pots to start again. I scooped out the soil, laid down beet and kale seeds, covered with a half inch of compost and then watered them. I headed into the basement for a mere moment to put the seed packets away, and heard the easily identifiable sound of dog teeth on planting pots and hoped my ears deceived me and they didn’t.
So I swept the soil and seeds and compost off the sidewalk messily, and started again, settling for one pot of kale. I’ll direct sow the beets later on, when the bed is ready. Sigh.
“I know it would be like four-hundred-million times harder if we ever have kids,” I said, as I poured a glass of non-alcoholic wine and Ryan leaned against the kitchen sink.
“Only it would be different… it would be ‘she’s squirming, is that good? Is that bad? I just don’t know!’ ‘His face is red. Is that bad? Should we worry?’ not ‘where did you find that chicken bone,'” and Ryan pantomimed the anxious parental expression to a T, and I laughed, because he’s right.
And the evening wasn’t all bad, and we’re all still in relatively good spirits, all things considered… Ryan is playing his guitar and whistling and made me laugh by mimicking what Dave Matthews would sound like as a Muppet, and I’m typing away, and Gibson is snoozing happily, exhibiting no ill effects so far, next to me.
I wanted to write today down, because I wanted to remember this morning, when she walked out and loved on me; not just that today’s the day she ate a chicken bone and overturned my beet and kale pots.
Some days, the dog eats a chicken bone, and I accidentally break the E-Camper, and the car that we picked up from the shop after a four-digit repair bill still doesn’t have all of its brake lights, and the slugs win, and the puppy disagrees with my gardening decisions. And I remind myself (because it’s what everyone says) that puppyhood doesn’t last forever and I ought to enjoy it; I remind myself of the delightful walk we had this afternoon, when Gibson beelined excitedly for a neighbor she’d met once, and then played like a doll with her seven year old pit-mix, and we cemented another neighbor friendship: it’s one thing to learn the neighbor dog’s name, it’s a friendship when you learn the neighbor person‘s name, as well. And I remind myself of the kisses that Ryan and I stole while we were in the yard, and of the snuggle that Gibson gave me unexpectedly this morning. And there will be more seedlings — which, if they manage to survive the squirrels, the raccoons, the puppy, and the slugs, will grow up to be my little miracle plants.
I grow attached to each little seed that sprouts. I hate thinning seedlings, and prefer transplanting, farming out little tiny starts of plants to girlfriends who are doing the same. I worry about Gibson, her judgment so far less developed than her enthusiasm and sense of smell and curiosity. And I guess tonight I’m reminding myself that it’s a hard world. Not every seedling is going to make it, although I’m quite confident that Gibson will pull through tonight’s culinary experiment unscathed, and we’re all doing the best we can, and this is life, and it is, what it is, tonight.