Monday, September 19, 2016

The Year Of The Dog

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 20, 2016] © 2016
When we’ll look back on 2016, I’m pretty sure we’ll refer to it as The Year of the Dog.
The first two months of the year were spent in a constant battle to solve the ever-more-severe allergy and ear infection issues of our beloved English bulldog, Winston. Just when it looked like we were making headway, he died of a heart attack unrelated to any medical problems we actually knew about.
We were truly flattened, Olof even more than I. Although we knew in our heads how blessed we were on so many levels, there was no joy in our hearts for months. Even my usual hard-times mantra (“At least I’m not a Syrian refugee!”) wasn’t working.
We really debated if we wanted another dog. Too depressing when they die. Maybe we were too old. Insanely expensive when they get sick.
But slowly we came to the realization that Winston had turned us into a dog household. We were better as a dynamic of three than two. I deeply missed Olof’s constant conversations with Winston.
Some weeks ago, I wrote about our first foster dog, Percy, an abandoned Shih Tzu that we were asked to take as an emergency foster. Total mushballs that we are, we fell madly in love with Percy, but ultimately realized we were a bad fit for him. The dog had three near drownings in our pool. He couldn’t be made pool safe.
Percy is now the darling of a pool-less senior citizen complex, and gives a 75-year-old widow a reason to get up in the morning.
We were still mourning Percy when the same shelter asked us if we could take another emergency foster, a 6-year-old 15-pound bichon-poodle mix (biche-poo?) named Lily.
We swim-tested her immediately. She paddled like an Olympic champ. We dubbed her Lily Ledecky. 
But just when you solve one problem, another rears its head. It quickly became clear this dog had been mistreated by men in her life. She charged at them biting their pant legs. The recently departed Percy, on the other hand, may have been a professional drowner, but he loved everyone, people and other dogs included.
I also couldn’t help noticing almost immediately that Lily was itching like crazy, obviously reacting to our grass just as Winston did. We were quickly back to the pricey prescription Apoquel.
“Sorry,” I said to Olof, “but I just can’t do another allergic dog. We’ll foster her until she’s adopted by someone with less itchy grass than we have.”
Olof showered the wary Lily with love. The fifth day she was here, he woke up abruptly from a nap to find a tongue in his ear. (“And it’s not even Wednesday!” he recalls thinking.) It was Lily, ready to make friends.
Meanwhile, I persuaded some of the neighbor guys to come over and feed her treats and play with her, hoping to reduce what was probably a justifiable antagonism toward men. I was actually astonished how quickly it worked.
Lily had already been in the shelter/foster system for four months.  Her previous owner had surrendered her and another dog to the County saying she couldn’t afford their medical care and wanting them put down. Fortunately, a small private shelter adopted them from the County and treated their medical issues. But the two dogs languished on the shelter’s website because they were listed as a bonded pair who needed to be adopted together. Finally, the shelter decided that their best bet was to split them up. Meanwhile, both lived in a multitude of foster homes awaiting adoption.
Like Percy before her, Lily had the abandonment issues common to shelter dogs. She was sure we were never coming back, camping just on the other side of the front door when we went out. She’d literally do cartwheels of joy when we walked in.
When I took Lily to the groomer two weeks into her stay with us, I think she thought this was going to be goodbye to yet another foster home. She went berserk, refusing to be handed over.  I could feel her saying, “But I’ve done everything in my power to make you love me. My best faces! My total adoration! I’ve followed you everywhere! What does a dog have to do to get a permanent home these days?”
My husband is the most easy-going guy you’ll ever meet. He never makes pronouncements, or unilateral decisions. So it was somewhat astonishing when, three weeks into Lily’s foster stay with us, I wandered into our bedroom to find him watching TV in bed with Lily sound asleep on his chest, his arms wrapped protectively around her. I hadn’t seen him looking so happy in months.  “Just so we’re clear,” he said quietly, “this dog is not going back.” (This from the man who only months ago said “no ‘foo foo’ dogs.”) 
And that’s when I decided that maybe I could live with another allergic dog after all. 
Lily, snuggling up with Olof
Lily becomes the new best friend of our currently-front-teeth-challenged
six-year-old granddaughter

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