Back in March, when we made the correct but heart-wrenching decision to have our dog Abbey put down, we swore with Scarlett O’Hara-like determination that we would never own another dog again. Abbey had been too good a dog, and losing her had been so heartbreaking, we felt quite sure we would never be ready to have another canine presence in the house. Abbey was, we were convinced, the toughest act for any dog to follow, and we thought it would be unfair to any dog to bring him or her into our house where — again, in our view — the prior dog had set the bar almost impossibly high. More than anything, we just felt the hole Abbey left in the family could never be filled by another dog — so we weren’t even going to try.
And yet, despite our tough talk, every time we passed anyone walking a dog, each of us would catch the other casting a long, lingering, and slightly jealous look at the dogwalker and his or her fuzzy companion. Eventually none of us tried to hide it; we would just watch longingly as the dog passed by. Almost always, one of us would make the Universal ‘Isn’t That Dog Cute?’ Sound: “Awwwwww…” Clearly, we were weakening.
Suddenly, and quite independently of each other, Barb, Madi and I began looking for dogs on websites for animal rescues in the Maryland and surrounding area. We started passing e-mails back and forth to each other with attachments we’d pulled off the web. “Isn’t this one GREAT?” Barb would enthuse. “Awwww, I want THIS one!” Madi would gush. Me, I wanted them all. We scrolled through what seemed hundreds of entries, each dog practically begging us to take him or her home. We made inquiries about a few; encouragingly, most of the dogs had been adopted. We were pleased for the rescued dogs, but that still left us dogless.
One night, it seemed our decision had been made for us. Barb and I were out for our evening walk, heading down the hill on a new road that’s being constructed near our neighborhood, when a black dog came wiggling out of the woods toward us. “Well, hello!” Barb said, and the dog came running right to her, then rolled over on its back , tongue lolling, tail wagging. The dog was in decent shape — a bit thin and covered with spots of what looked like paint or tar — but while it had a collar, it had no tags, just a shock-collar sensor. We thought perhaps it had escaped from a yard with an invisible fence, likely taking advantage of a drained battery or broken connection somewhere.
It was dark, so we took the dog home, fed it, and put it in a bath. That night, it started off sleeping on the floor of our upstairs bedroom — but the next morning, we found it curled up happily on the couch, its head resting on a throw pillow. I took it to the vet to see if perhaps it had an ID chip by which we might identify it, and to get a bit of an idea of how old it might be. After some poking and looking, our vet guessed the dog was about five — and while it had no ID chip, she did say it appeared to have been well cared for, as it was spayed and had no signs of illness, apart from a bit of an ear infection.
“Well, we’re sort of on the market for a new dog,” I told her, “but what do you normally do in a situation like this? I mean, this is a really sweet dog, and we want to be sure that there’s not some eight-year-old girl really missing her.” Our vet said she would call the other three animal hospitals in the area to see if anyone was looking for a dog, and would also check in with the humane society. In the meantime, she recommended we put up “DOG FOUND” posters to see if anyone would call to claim her. “If no one claims her,” the vet said, “I don’t see why you couldn’t hang on to her.” She sent us out the door with ear drops for the dog, and didn’t charge us a thing. I love our vet.
For the next day or so, we worked at getting used to this new dog, in the event we might be able to keep her. Madi was thrilled to have a dog in the house again, and purchased the leash and the multi-colored collar the dog now wore around its neck. We couldn’t agree on a name for her — Madi called her Lucy, while Barb was calling her Jenny. I just called her the generic “Here, girl!” — oddly, I was finding it hard to attach myself to this dog; it felt too much like someone else’s pet, and Barb pointed out that it always seemed to be looking for a way out, as if it were saying, “This has been great, and you’re really nice people — but I’m ready to go home now.”
Ultimately, we decided we owed it to both the dog and its owners to do some due diligence, beyond merely putting up posters. We put the dog in the back seat of the car and drove to the neighborhood that backed onto the construction area where we had found the dog. We waited to see if the dog would give some kind of sign that something, anything, looked familiar. Mostly it just looked out the window.
Finally, we turned down into a cul-de-sac with no signs of life except for an older gentleman on a riding mower. Barb pulled up in front of the house and waved him over. He steered toward us and killed the mower next to the car. “Excuse me,” Barb said, “but do you know whose dog this is?”
The man hauled himself up off the mower. “Yup,” he said casually. “It’s ours.”
His wife came out of the house and the dog — whose name, we learned, was Jada — sprinted for her. She was home.
As we drove away, Barb cried a little. When she heard the news, the corners of Madi’s mouth turned down. “She was so sweet!” she sighed. We were happy the dog was home, yeah . . . but we were, once again, dogless.
That afternoon, the phone rang. It was Mutts Matter Rescue calling to see if we still wanted one of the dogs that had been up on their website. This particular dog was part of a large litter in North Carolina, one of those Mistake Litters in which purebred dogs mate outside their breed and create those wondrous mixed mutts that lots of us find irresistible, but which many shady breeders find undesirable. The owner — so we were told — was simply going to shoot all nine of the mixed puppies — a practice that is legal in many states — until Mutts Matter stepped in.
The next morning, I picked up this so-called Mistake — a German Shepherd mix, 15 weeks old, and full of the business. (And pee. Lots and lots of pee.) We named him Grayson, due to the fact that with his markings he looks like he’s wearing Robin’s mask. (While technically that might make him Ace the Bat-Hound, Grayson is a much better name).
We’ve had him a little over a week now, and he’s already fully housebroken, uses the dog door, walks beautifully on a leash, chews his toys (not the furniture), and responds to his name. He’s also in the middle of everything, following everyone close at their heels and laying on the floor where he can overhear every conversation. He is, as far as we can tell, the perfect dog for us.
And somehow, I’m quite certain Abbey has given the fellow her nuzzle of approval. The circle of life just keeps going gloriously on.