1. Getting a dog.
We picked up a rescue dog on Saturday and I feel as though I have not touched my computer since. This of course is an exaggeration, but Howie has completely changed my outlook on many things that I was overthinking, worrying about and spending too much time doing. The only thing I can compare it to are times when I have been overextended and too busy, and my body has shut me down with a bad cold. When I finally came out of the fog of being sick, things that seemed so important suddenly weren’t anymore, and I was more laid back.
The same is true with getting our dog.
Howie was, when I saw him via a Craigslist ad that led me to a Petfinder site, named (rather improbably and unsuitably, I thought) Doug. He was in rural Modesto, in the Central Valley. The ad said he was good with kids and other dogs, very friendly, about a year old. I was sold by his scruffy chin. I emailed about him, filled out a long adoption application (What will you feed your dog? Where will your dog stay when you go on vacation? Do you have a fenced yard? Who is your employer? How much do you think it will cost to take care of your dog for a year? and on and on), and made an appointment to go see him.
We drove the two hours out to Modesto and found “Doug” in a pen with several puppies. “We don’t just put any dog in with small puppies,” the woman who ran the rescue said. Doug seemed to love us, jumping up and licking our hands, our faces, our ears. We met him in the woman’s driveway.
The place felt desolate, a cottage among a ramshackle assortment of pens and fences. The owner of the place had saved “Doug” from euthanasia at a shelter in Bakersfield. He came to her scrawny and battling kennel cough. He wouldn’t walk on a leash, she said, he would only roll like a crocodile snared by hunters. He had some kind of allergy, she thought, which made the hair fall out on his legs. We looked at his pink feet, the thinning hair around his eyes.
We took him for a walk in a nearby pasture. He was great on the leash and had a happy look on his face the whole time. We were nervous about getting a dog, since we are used to living without many restrictions on our free time. I had thought we might meet him, and then think about it for a week. (In retrospect, I should have known myself better than that.) But “Doug” was so sweet. And the rescue woman told us story after story of dogs coming out of bad shelters or worse, emaciated dogs, matted dogs, aggressive dogs, dogs who couldn’t stand to be alone, dogs who had been alone too long. We saw some of these other dogs– a poodle shaved to remove matted hair, whose body underneath was thin and fragile. A big rottweiler mix who was really old and who had lived in a house for three weeks with his owner’s dead body and had come to the rescue starving. (He was happily wagging his tail, his body now filled out, his coat now shiny, his gray muzzle sniffing over the fence at us.)
The rescue was chaotic…dogs seemed to be everywhere. The woman who ran the place had been in the process of shaving a small matted poodle mix when we arrived, and for most of the time we were there the poor animal sat on a workbench in the garage waiting to have the job completed. A teenager and an older man who were supposed to be helping out kept bringing the dogs treats and interrupting our conversations about Doug. Under the wide sky of the valley, the sun beat down on everything. I wondered what the place would be like in the summer. There was a set of vertabrae on the ground next to the driveway, from the slaughterhouse nearby, we heard. “The dogs are always digging up steer skulls and bringing home femurs,” the rescue owner said.
We looked at each other and knew we couldn’t leave Doug there. We were so unprepared to bring a dog home — we’d assumed the rescue would have the strict rules of city shelters and ask us to return for a second visit before we adopted — that we didn’t even have a collar or leash. I think the woman who ran the rescue was happy to have one less dog to worry about. She gave us a green collar that someone had donated to her operation, and we coaxed our now-nervous dog into the car. I rode in the backseat with him to calm him down. He fell asleep on my leg, and by the time we got back to the city his name was Howie and he had a new life. And now so do we.