Learning to live without "man's best friend"
Ten years ago, just before the 2000 election, we did something I never thought we would ever do...we became dog owners. My husband had dogs as a child and a cat when we were first married but never wanted to have a pet again--he didn't want to go through the heartbreak at the end of their short lives. I was not a dog person and had become allergic to cats, so pets were not on my bucket list either.
Our resolve quickly weakened, however, when our son started hinting he wanted a pet. (The popular TV show Wishbone and movie My Dog Skip, along with a field trip to the Wisconsin Humane Society added fuel to his pet passion fire.)
Maybe a dog would be a good companion for him, since he was an only child. We set aside all of our reasons for not wanting to own a dog, the nuisance, the expense, the work, and the heartbreak at the end, to give our child something he wanted so badly. We reluctantly agreed. And yes, we did get the usual promises that he would walk, feed, let the dog out, and clean up the yard, knowing full well they were just promises. (Just ask any mom who usually ends up doing all those tasks.)
The search was on.
Our son immediately started scouring the Internet for adoptable dogs. The price-tag for a purebred was out of the question; this dog would come from the humane society. Soon we were bombarded with an assortment of pooch profiles.
The first dog came from the Humane Animal Welfare Society in Waukesha. He was a 7 year old Silky/Yorkie mix charmer named Willie. We all fell in love immediately. Willie came home with us and seemed to fit right in. As time went on, however, our charming Dr. Jekyll turned into an evil, growling Mr. Hyde. We got pet counseling but it was too little too late; he bit my husband and drew blood. Hardly the pet you want for a young boy, and we knew we couldn't trust the dog again. Willie had to be returned and by law was destroyed. We were devastated. (We later found out H.A.W.S. didn't tell us of the problems at his former home that led to his surrender in the first place.)
Now we were approaching Chirstmas--not exactly the time to be getting a new dog. I kept assuring my son that God willing, we would find the right dog. Just pray and be patient.
Four days after Christmas, our son showed us a new dog profile. This one was at a rescue house in Aurora, Illinois. She was a 2 year old Westie we named Zoe, who also turned out to be a disaster. We soon found out she hated men. She hated boys. She only loved me! Hardly the right dog for our son. Two weeks later she went back to Aurora.
I still believed and assured my son that the right dog was out there, if we were patient. My son really didn't buy that but shortly after Zoe, the call came from the Wisconsin Humane Society. We have a Maltese mix young male dog here that meets your pet profile preferences. Since you are first on our list, when can you come in?
We had filled out a preference card with them back in November. Now they were calling because they had a dog who met our requirements: small and hypo-allergenic.
Come in? My son and I can be there now!
I still remember seeing "Walter" for the first time. (Walter was the name they assigned to him. We later found out he was a stray, so his real name was unknown.) He was in a small glass fronted room and ran up to the window to greet us. We could see he liked to play with stuffed animals. They let my son and I into the room and he promptly jumped up on us and wanted to play. He seemed very friendly. This one might be the one.
Unlike H.A.W.S., where you had to wait a day or two for adoption, the W.H.S. wanted you to make the adoption decision on the spot. We called up Dad and he came to meet Walter too. This one seemed right. Third time is a charm? And that is how we got Walter. Also unlike the other 2 adoption agencies, W.H.S. does extensive personality testing*. They don't adopt out problem dogs.
We brought him home trying to think of a better name for our new scruffy, white, dust mop of a dog than Walter! The first thing he did when he came in our home was mark the refrigerator 2 times. (We were told to expect that since he was 1 or 2 years old and was just neutered.) The next thing he did was run around the living room; he zipped around like he was running in the Kentucky Derby. So in a way, our dog named himself, with a little help from Dad, who suggested we call him Zipper because of it. His zippin' became his trademark.
Zipper was 13 pounds of friendly, and he loved everyone. He fit right in. His behavior in many ways was like that of our former 16 pound cat. In fact, we sometimes referred to him as a "dat", part dog and part cat. His size was perfect--small enough to pick up, large enough not to worry about. He was scruffy enough to not be considered a girly dog. Everyone he met loved him. Because of his size, people mistakenly thought he was a puppy. He was a hit when I would bring him to the Assisted Living home my dad stayed at. Walter certainly lived up to the Humane Society's personality assessment:* Life of the Party.
Our perennial puppy loved car rides, adored any drive through that gave treats, went camping with us, and sometimes went shopping with us. If you took a nap or were not feeling well, there he was at your side. Toast and pizza were 2 favorite foods, though he would eat most anything. We called him our omnivore. He sometimes got pesty when it was bedtime. It wasn't enough that we opened the door to our bedroom, no, he wanted company. Being part Maltese, he rarely barked. He did however sneeze when he wanted your attention. We think he had a touch of Terrier in him too as he was a terrorist when it came to destroying stuffed dog toys. He was smart too. Often he would pick up your gloves or socks and bring them to you, feigning he was going to chew them. That was his way of saying, give me my toy. He was loved.
About a year ago, we noticed he was having some stomach issues. Perhaps it was a bit too much turkey at Thanksgiving? I started him on some probiotics and that seemed to right the problem. Then at his annual checkup last February at our Holistic Vet, Silver Spring Animal Wellness Clinic, his blood work came back showing the dreaded news: he either had liver cancer or a hepatitis type infection. We started him on some herbs and supplements known to help enhance liver function.
He seemed to be doing pretty well with his supplements. His quality of life was good and he still acted like the eternal puppy when he wasn't napping. But as the summer drew to a close, we could see he was losing weight--three pounds is a lot to lose for a little 13 pound dog. He also seemed to get chilled easily, so we put his sweater on even in the house. One sure sign things weren't right was seeing him sit quietly next to a stuffed animal, like it was a friend, instead of shredding it.
Then he gave us a scare in late October with a G.I. crisis that fortunately passed fairly quickly, but we knew it was time. He rallied enough, thanks to Pepto-Bismol, to have a few okay days and one great last hurrah that included walking down our street on a glorious fall day, marking all his favorite places, rambling through the woods, and eating all the things he wasn't supposed to eat because of his liver problems.
It has been a little over 2 weeks since we had to say our final goodbyes to our pet pooch. We had him put down just before the 2010 mid term elections. So almost to the day, our 10 years of dog ownership came to an end. I am still not a dog person, but I loved our Zipper.
If you have had pets you understand how strange life is without them. Sometimes it is in a good way for our dog was not perfect. He had a bad habit of chewing on fleecy things like blankets and fleece throws. You could not leave a fleece jacket within his reach, for example, unless you wanted it to be customized with ventilation holes. Doors to rooms he might decide to mark can now be left open. Foods like pizza can be left unattended on the coffee table without fear of him helping himself.
But as I prepare dinner, I still find myself peeling an extra carrot for him. When we come home there is no one jumping up to greet us. At bedtime we find we miss that happy jingle of his dog tags as he ran up the stairs after us. We have his collar with tags hanging by our kitchen door. Sometimes it jingles from an air current; sometimes we give it a jingle for old time's sake. But whatever the reason, the tinkling sound evokes all the fond memories of life with Zip. He truly was the life of our party.
Past Post: My dog got mail!
*I was cleaning out our dog folder yesterday and came across Walter's original "Companion Profile" pet assessment from W.H.S. It gave specific instructions of how to deal with him. It stated he jumped up for attention but then settled down, liked to chew and play with toys, was a friendly happy little guy, was confident and outgoing, and marked. (He did improve on the marking problem.) All of those observations proved true, even to the end.
If you are thinking of adopting a dog, I recommend the Wisconsin Humane Society or any other group that screened their dogs for personality problems. That way, at least you have some idea of what you are in for. Not disclosing past problems proved to be a fatal mistake in Willie's case. He really needed a more experienced household.