Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dog days: Help wanted

We got the dog at 11 months old. He was so weak: dehydrated, malnourished, defeated.

Despite having been a papered purebred with a price tag higher than that of my first car, he had been neglected and abused, tied up for probably two August weeks with a short length of speaker wire and no access to water under a leafless tree in the middle of a fenced yard in a very, very upscale neighborhood.

An acquaintance (our Realtor at the time) snatched him from the yard of her former clients and brought him to dogless me. I took one look at him, lifted him into my minivan first and called my husband for permission second.

Even though he was a puppy, he was too weak to climb down from the van at the vet's office. My two daughters were shocked at this procession. Madeleine was 3 and Sarah not quite 2. Neither one of them, obviously, had any concept of what he could bring to our family. Their paradigm for dogs included Grandpa's enormous German Shepherd pair who knock toddlers down and never look back. And weeks before the Golden rescue we'd kept for honeymooning friends an energetic Rhodesian Ridgeback mix who'd knocked over Sarah's oak high chair and broken her baby nose, ending the dog-sitting stint and our dog-owning thoughts in one fell swoop.

(This is how Jake has been since Day 2 of joining our family. A snugglebug to the furthest extreme. Our little friend Hannah and her sister were scared of dogs. But he's not just any dog.)

Regardless of my mixed-up feelings for dogs at the point of loading him into my van, the emaciated one in front of me clearly needed rescue. Our vet suggested we leave him there for hydration, further evaluation and a flea bath, so even though the girls by this time were crying at the thought of leaving "our" dog behind, we did leave for frozen yogurt.

By the time we picked up a cleaner albeit weak puppy, having called Daddy for permission/forgiveness, the dog was ours. I was prepared to move should his former owners seek his return. Picture me running out of country like a bad custody dispute movie on the Lifetime movie network.

At home in our two-story house, we tucked him in the first night in a makeshift bed at the bottom of the stairs. But lo and behold sometime in the night he had decided he could manage the stairs, retrieving stacks of folded laundry from the family room coffee table no less. He delivered all the (now slobbery) baby clothes and socks to the stair landing and spent the rest of the night at the foot of our bed. (On the floor. I'd decided to love a dog, not lost my mind.)

We re-named him Jake because (1) when my husband and I were first married we used to foster a dog named Jake whom we had considered snatching and (2) his registered name is biblical and official-sounding. I generally think people names ought to be for people and dogs should have names like "Bullet" or "King." My silly opinion has proven to have its points as one of the girls' best friends in our country neighborhood is named Jacob and he tends to come running when I call the dog.
(That's our sweet neighbor Jacob. (Even more eager to please than the Golden Retriever who bears his name.) Try not to think about the way he looks at Madeleine, wouldja?)

For a decade Jake has been such an integral part of our family that I barely noticed his aging. Sure, I had a few moments of breakthrough panic when I realized he probably wouldn't still be with us when Madeleine and Sarah leave for college. And, yes, when a friend's dog locked into him with savage teeth for no apparent reason I cried over Jake's newly scarred face and continued trusting demeanor.

A little over a year ago, when President Obama was new to his office and seeking the presidential family canine, Sarah took it upon herself to sit down at our favorite cafe and write a letter:

It says:
Dear President Obama,
Congratulations on being President! I think you should get a Golden Retriever like our dog. His name is Jake. I also have a friend named Jake. I have three sisters too. I have lots of friends.
I live in Oregon. A small town. I have three horse and three cats. One dog, one fish, snail, frog.

And we used to have a bunny but he died a couple weeks ago.
Your friend,
age 8
Please write back.

I know I should but I'm not sure I can forgive the President for failing to write back. At least have an aide send a postcard for crying out loud.
Despite his failing to inspire the White House, I know we lucked out, rescuing Jake.
I had a firm talk with him about the laundry that second day and he has ignored that instruction ever since. (The dog loves to pack around socks and underwear, and clean or dirty, deliver them to their rightful owners. Ew.) However, he has never (knock wood) broken my other cardinal dog rules: dug up a plant, chased our cats, growled or even looked sideways at a child. He has perfect manners in the jumping-up department and my husband has taught him never to lick, beg or sniff inappropriately. Jake makes sure to find a way to make even the most dog-resistant love him. He likes to listen to new readers. He waits his turn to go through doorways. He politely asks for treats at the bank and coffee drive-through. Sometimes more politely than my children. Who could ask for a better four-legged companion?

Don't get me wrong. He's still a dog, with all the disgusting dogginess that goes with it. Think trash gourmand. Chicken manure aficionado. And the fur. We could build a new dog each month with all the dog hair we sweep up.

Anyway. Jake is nearly 11 years old now. He's a little gray around the temples. I'm worried. We'll never find another dog like Jake. I'm not sure whether we should consider a puppy (yikes) to help keep Jake young and to ease the blow that's likely coming in the next three or four years.
Any thoughts on this? Is it a good idea to bring another dog into our family when we're expecting baby number 5? Or will we (I) just be disappointed by the reality of doggyness in comparison to the Golden one?


franticallysimple said...

Tough question but I think I'd go with getting another just to ease the blow when... I can't write it.
Instead of a puppy, might I suggest an adoptee from the humane society? My daughter's girl scout troop took a field trip to the one in Salem today and I was surprised at the number of high quality breeds (not that there is anything wrong with a good, old-fashioned mutt). I think it may have to do with the economy - people downsizing or moving to rentals where dogs are not an option. The shelter has taken in more than 800 pets since the first of the year (six weeks ago).
It almost made me want to take one home myself. Almost.

swallowtail said...

Awww. Big hugs to you, and Jake! My granddog, Tahoe, is a Golden Spoiled Retriever ;-) Yes, I am responsible for some of the spoiling. I love your post. I am sending this to my daughter, and hope that she checks in! Personally, I like having 2 dogs, but it does change the dynamics of the household. Your heart does a good job of leading you... just follow! xoxo

Janne said...

I don't know what is best, your heart will tell you. I lost my little dog of 15 years almost two years ago. My daughter found her running in traffic when she was 9 months old and brought her home. She moved into our hearts from the first moment she stepped out of the car. She was the best dog you could have, and it broke my heart to lose her. I have adopted another "lost" dog, this one a hound left in the woods to starve, until some kind ladies found him and nursed him back to health. They are foster parents to dogs who need homes. They gave me a great gift, he is a sweet dog, who cannot tell me what he suffered before being rescued by these wonderful ladies. I love him and cannot imagine what our home would be like without him. He reminds me every day how big a heart can be.

Anonymous said...

oh, there's my mom about my dog, Tahoe! ha ha. He's the best and I could go on and on... I feel a little tempted to somehow send you pictures of the oldest kid reading books to him (while he sits obediently listening) or the youngest curled up in his bed with him or Tahoe sitting on the couch with necklaces and jewelry on... anyway, with two little kids I think a golden is the best darn thing in the whole wide world and while I'm really not a dog person, I can't even imagine life without our absurdly lovable dog. Don't be crazy and get another while you have a baby coming... I got our puppy when my baby was 6 months and I think the two babies and one puppy year almost killed me. When the time comes there are also groups of Golden Rescue people... xoxo! I think our dogs are carbon copies of each other! Sarah P

Barb said...

We got Scout to keep Sydney young. I'm now a firm believer in letting the old dog train the new one. Of course, now Scout is the old one and he's something of a trial. But we have the puppy!

I am all for more animals. I know all the reasons not to... that's why I have four pets. In New York.