In early December of last year, a little peaches and cream ball of fluff entered my lonely life at just the “write time”. The following appeared in Ruff Drafts, the official newsletter of the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) an organization on which I serve as a Board Member. It’s a longer read than my usual posts, but thought it was suitable for the season and a testament to the Power of the Paw. The DWAA has served dogs, dog-writers and readers since 1935!
It’s a drizzly morning in Georgia, 3:00am to be precise, and I’m standing in my driveway enduring yet another attack on my ankles by my recently acquired eight-week old puppy. Instead of heeding my command to “Make Potty Quick”, however, his tiny shark-like teeth latch on to my big toe (of course I’m barefoot) and then play tug of war with the hem of my sweatpants. Finally he “makes” and we return inside to sleep.
But I can’t expect much from this little ball of fluff I’ve named Quint. We’ve only known each other for a few days and I’m jet lagged and catatonic as just hours before, we’d returned from our Rescue Journey that took me from Jacksonville Florida to San Diego, and back in less than three days.
Despite the fact that my late-husband, Rich and I had taken that unbreakable oath of “No More Dogs” (let alone a puppy) after the loss of our adorable rescue dog, Teddy just months before, here I am beginning a new chapter with this rambunctious yet adorable puppy who’d begun his life in a loving foster home, born to a stray who’d been pulled from a shelter just days before giving birth.
It was only two months earlier that my husband, Richard, had been admitted to the ICU at our local hospital in Southeast Georgia when Quint and his littermates had entered the world. Needless to say, it had been an extremely traumatic time. Watching my husband begin his battle for life that he’d eventually lose, I grasped at any glimmer of hope and happiness. With the birth of the “Fab Five” as I called them, I found it.
The litter was being sponsored by R & R Sanctuary, in Wisconsin, a rescue group helping dogs with special needs and circumstances throughout the nation. I’d come to know its founder Joy Manley, through my dog-writing. I informed Joy of how momma Destiny and her pups had been helping me at a difficult time. All of the puppies were nearly all white, except for one that reminded me of the color of toast. I began to refer to him as “Toasty”.
In the beginning of Rich’s illness, when he was still able to speak, I liked to share the news and images of this beautiful white fluffy momma dog and her tiny puppies with Rich. This mother had been surrendered at a shelter just a days before she was due; fortunately Joy and her network were able to have her pulled and she delivered her pups in the safety of a foster home.
But apparently my hope and happiness was not shared by Rich. He reacted to those photos and videos by nodding and frowning. “No more dogs,” he’d whisper. I know he was still grieving for Teddy. Privately, however, I’d keep tabs on the Fab Five, pretending that little “Toasty” was my pup and all would be well in the world.
As the weeks went by, Rich’s health worsened. On what would be his last communicative day, I sat with him and watched television. We made small talk, but when I left he whispered, “Get a dog.” That day, I made up my mind to to honor what would be his last words to me. I let Joy know that I wanted Toasty and I’d be renaming him Quint in Rich’s honor and to homage to Rich’s favorite character, Quint, from his favorite movie JAWS (we’d already had a Hooper). Oh, and yes, I was willing to fly out to San Diego.
On December 8, my little bundle of hope was handed to me on a sunny warm day at Seaport Village in San Diego by his foster parents, Roberta and Ola. It will be a day I will always remember. A new life path was being made for dog and human.
Now 12 weeks old, I am teaching Quint basic commands, or at least trying. Armed with vague memories from over 20 years ago since my last pup, videos, books and advice from my dog-training friends, I must muster all the patience I can. After all, persistence and patience are the keystones of obedience training, and I must admit, as one gets older, they are harder to muster.
These days I find myself reading books written decades ago by DWAA co-founder, William Lewis Judy. The ultimate dog-enthusiast, Judy started his life trained in the ministry of his rural Pennsylvania town, and although his life would take him far from home, and to a legendary career as Publisher of Dog World Magazine, his minister-like appeal to kindness and sensibility in the training of dogs would always remain evident.
In the Foreword of his sixth edition of Training the Dog (1941) Judy wrote, …”it is for man, the allegedly superior animal, to show this superiority in kindness rather than force in sympathetic understanding rather than brutal disregard.”
I am fortunate that Quint is a happy and bright puppy. He is social and curious and with time and gentle direction will most likely become a wonderful Therapy Dog. He starting his new life visiting his “Grandpa” in a pet-friendly assisted living facility and loves to go for car rides and join me at eateries already.
So on those late night and early morning trips to the yard to accommodate his tiny bladder, and enduring his continued fascination with my feet and ankles, I have begun to choreograph “dance” moves as he weaves between my calves and jumps and twirls in the air with his frenetic puppy energy. Then, I pretend we are starring in a show I call Dancing with the Scars.
In the moonlight, I know Rich is looking down at us and smiling, happy that I got “that dog” and that every once in a while, I actually did listen to his advice.