Sunday, May 20, 2012

namin' nuts

Even before we left the Stoltzfus' driveway (for that is where we were) we began trying to come up with a name for our new puppy.  I had wanted a dog named "Daisy" for a long time.  I thought it would be clever to give her the name "Daisy Mei" spelled like that after one of the characters in Totoro, one of our family's favorite movies.  Ben thought that was okay, but suggested "Susie" as another option.  I like for my dogs to have middle names, or at least initials, so added "Susie Q".  "We just have to wait until we get her home, then we'll decide," we kept telling ourselves, but I love to name things, and couldn't wait. The puppy was born on St. Patrick's Day, so I thought it might be fun to give her an Irish name.  Andrew's newest niece was just named "Molly Malone", and that appealed to me greatly, but clearly was out of the question.

Almost as soon as we got home, I was sitting at my computer, looking up baby girl names.  I looked at un-prounceable and un-spellable Irish names, and ruled those out pretty quickly.  I started making a list of possible names, with our two favorites at the top.  What were some of the other contenders?  Gracie and Rosie and Cissy  made the list, as did Gigi and Maggie and Josie.  It seemed like our puppy would have the "ee" sound at the end of her name.  Julie and Andrew thought perhaps we could just keep the name she already had, but Ben thought that "Lilly Stoltzfus" was quite a mouthful for such a little girl (!)

After we had our new puppy at home with us, we tried out different names on her.  We tried "Daisy" first since that was my favorite, but we already knew a dog with that name who was docile and gentle.  Our puppy was not.  Once she got used to us all, she tore around the back yard, a ball of pure energy.  For lack of another name, I called her "Lilly Stoltzfus" until Ben was sorry he ever mentioned calling her that.

Ben does not take the same pleasure I do from making up names, but he dutifully looked over my list.  "What about 'Katie'?" he asked.  "You don't have 'Katie' on here."  I hadn't thought about that name, but then I did.  She could be a "Katie", I thought, but "Katie" what?  Then I knew.  Katie Scarlett. Just like Scarlett O'Hara, in Gone With the Wind.  I thought of Scarlett's father in the movie, saying her name with his Irish brogue.  I thought of Scarlett's personality - her stubborness, her single-mindedness, her relentlessness.Yes, our little girl is "Katie Scarlett".   We can agree on that.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

a puppy tale

When Bobo died, we couldn't cope with it.  Not any of us. We didn't know what to do.  We waited six months to get another dog, and  that was too long.  It was too long for poor, lonely Lucie, hiding under the kitchen table, and it was too long for us. This time we didn't wait so long.  In fact, we didn't wait hardly any time at all.

We have always strongly believed that releasing our dogs from suffering is the final act of love we can show them.  Accordingly, when it was obvious that Lucie's failing kidneys were shutting down, we watched her even more closely.  When the morning came that she could barely stand or walk in the grass to relieve herself, we knew the day had come.  We took Lucie to the vet for the last time.  It was a very sad day for all of us.  Here's the thing that was sad - and I want to be very clear about this - it was that Lucie had gotten so very sick, not that she was put down.  That was a blessing.  And I don't use that word lightly.

Ben and I had already been exploring the internet to see what it would take to get a new puppy.  I thought to get a bichon, like Bobo, but Ben was sure another cockapoo would be best for us.  Why waste all the research he had done before we got Rufus, he reasoned, and I had to agree.  We knew things would be different here on the east coast, but even at that, I was not prepared for the prices breeders were asking for cockapoo puppies. The breed is not recognized by the AKC yet, so, of course, the dogs are not considered purebreds.  In spite of that, breeders were asking upwards of a thousand dollars for a puppy (!)  When I asked one breeder with whom I was corresponding if that price was the norm, she never even deigned to reply.  Many breeders have months-long waiting lists, as well, with non-refundable deposits expected just to have one's name added to the list.

All this is to explain how I ended up at the Greenfield Puppies website.  Greenfield Puppies serves as a brokerage for Amish dog breeders in Pennsylvania.  Yes, that raised all kinds of red flags for me.  I have read about the Amish puppy mills and wanted to avoid them at all costs.  Still, this seemed like an outlet that needed to be further explored.  I found a photo of an adorable female cockapoo puppy and called the phone number for her breeder.  I found myself talking to what sounded like a very young man, who assured me that, yes, that very puppy was still available.  Yes, we could come out and see her over the weekend.  So I made an appointment, assuring Ben and myself that it was an exploratory mission, and that we probably would not buy a puppy.  We were just looking.

That was how Ben and Julie and I found ourselves driving through the rolling hills of southeast Pennsylvania on a beautiful spring morning, through the heart of Amish farming country.  Once we got off the highway, it was pretty clear we were not in Kansas anymore.  Or perhaps we were.  The large farms on either side of the narrow roads had horses in the barns and laundry hanging on the lines.  A farmer tilled a field with a tiller pulled by three large work horses.  Cows grazed near a small stream that ran through a pasture.  It could not have been more bucolic.  I have never seen the like.

We turned into the driveway of one of the farms, and drove slowly up a hill to a huge barn, with outbuildings and a farmhouse beyond.  A dog barked, and a teenage boy emerged from the house, followed by a beautiful little Yorkshire terrier.  From his thick, bowl-cut hair to his huge, bare feet, Jonas was the very picture of an Amish youth.  We explained that we were there to see the puppies, and he led us to two large elevated cages (rabbit hutches perhaps?) right next to each other that held a barking mama dog (Darla) in one, and six roly-poly puppies in the other.  The Yorkie and two other dogs followed along, all of them seeming happy and well-fed.  One of them was Danny, the puppy daddy, who looked like he was wearing dark brown socks, but Jonas opined it was from getting in the manure behind the barn again.  We were absolutely certain that this was not a place where animals were misused or mistreated in any way.

Then we saw the puppies.  Who doesn't love puppies?  There were two females in the litter, one of them clearly the puppy whose photo I had fallen in love with.  Jonas got the girls out for us to look at, and we took them to a little grassy rise behind the cages so that we could see them romp around and interact with each other and the other dogs.  All three of us pretty quickly zeroed in on "Lilly", the puppy I saw initially.  I looked up at Ben from where I squatted next to the puppies and asked him, "What do you think?"  "I think we should get her", was his reply.  And so we did.

Ben handed Jonas a hundred dollars in twenty-dollar bills as a deposit, and we arranged to pick Lilly up the following Saturday when she would be eight weeks old.  We did not receive a receipt nor give Jonas our full names, although he did have our phone number.  We drove back down the rutted driveway, surprised and excited at having just purchased a puppy.  And realizing we had a week to prepare for her.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

closure, of a sort

A few years ago, Ben and Julie and I spent the day in Oberlin. While Julie and I shopped for yarn at Smith's Furnishings & Floor Coverings on College Street,  Ben left us to take some photos - or so he said. He actually circled back to a shop we had visited earlier that day to buy a beautiful handmade box I had admired. I thought it matched my dresser exactly, with its quilted maple sides and rounded edges. I was surprised and delighted when it appeared under the Christmas tree for me later that year. I put it on my dresser, and there it sat, looking lovely, but now it has a different use. It holds Lucie's cremated remains.

The animal hospital called me last week to tell me that Lucie was back and ready to come home. I know that sounds strange, but I knew exactly what they meant, and drove over to pick up her ashes. They were in a small sealed box with the inscription I had requested on it: "Lucie NoĆ«lle, October 21, 1998 to May 1, 2012, She loved to smell the flowers." The only problem was that the box was plastic, made to look like wood. That bothered me. A lot. Lucie was a classy little lady.  No faux wood for her.  I had to find something attractive enough that we could leave it on the side table next to the covered urn that held Bobo's ashes. I could place the plastic box inside a larger box, I thought.   First I considered the miniature cedar hope chest I received when I graduated from high school. No, that would be too big. And, besides, some of the things stored inside that little chest had been there for more than forty years. That was out.

Then I thought of the beautiful wooden box that sat on my dresser. That would be perfect, I thought, but the plastic box will never fit inside there. The only way to be sure of that, however, was to try it. I took the few pieces of jewelry that I stored there out of the box, and once again admired its smooth, polished exterior. I  noticed the soft velvet interior. Perfect, I thought again. If only... I placed the plastic box inside the wooden box and closed the lid. How well did it fit? Like it was made for that express purpose.

I had saved the dried remains of the first ever rose that bloomed on my new rose bushes - a rose that Lucie was too ill to smell - and placed that inside the box, as well. The fit of the boxes was so perfect that the small dried flower barely fit there. I placed the box next to the beautiful ceramic urn that holds Bob's ashes.  There, I said to myself, there.  Lucie is home and where she belongs.  I felt comforted.  I feel comforted.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

a period of adjustment

I don’t understand why the house is so much quieter with Lucie gone. I can’t remember the last time she barked or even growled. I would hear her shifting around sometimes in the chair in Ben’s room or hear her tags rattling when she shook off, but that was about it. She didn’t jump down anymore or click off to the kitchen to get a big, noisy drink of water. She hadn’t chased around with Rufus or fought over a toy with him in a very long time. And yet, it is so quiet here now.

Ben says it is because she was such a big personality in such a tiny package. Once Julie left, Lucie was pretty much in charge around here. We all wanted to know, what is Lucie doing right now? We frequently searched the house until we found where she lay napping. It is hard not to do that now. Rufus still does it. Yesterday I saw him sniffing very carefully at her leash where I had left it lying on a bench in the kitchen. I removed it, but found him sniffing at the same spot later in the day.

Rufus has always been a clingy dog, but it seems to me like he sticks closer than ever to me right now. And that’s okay. His little world has been turned upside down, and he really doesn’t know what could happen next. Our job is to make sure it is something good.

Does that mean a new puppy is on the horizon? Well, sure, probably. But I am surprised to find that I don’t want one right now. It seems right that the house should be strangely quiet. We have lost our tiny dictator. We have lost our little love. That needs to be recognized and accepted. Then we can move on. Then we can fill the house with the all noise and energy and excitement that a new puppy will bring. We’ll know when that time comes. We’ll be ready for it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

golden slumbers fill your eyes

We sang Lucie a thousand songs. Most of them didn’t have words, maybe – and some of them didn’t have much in the way of a melody, either – but we sang to her day and night. I liked to sing to Lucie when I carried her from place to place. I didn’t really give much thought to the songs I sang, and more often than not I noticed it was a college fight song I was humming into the soft, fluffy, fur on the top of her head. Because I was raised in such an odd way, college fight songs were my lullabies. I shared them with Lucie.

Julie sang to Lucie, too. Her songs were extemporaneous, and the styles varied widely, from polkas to marches to scat. They were all sung with great gusto and enthusiasm. The songs Ben sang were just between the two of them, but I know he did it, all the same, holding Lucie close so only she could hear. I like to think that Tom sang to her, as well, after Lucie won the hard-fought battle for his affection.

Yesterday afternoon after Julie and I took Lucie to the animal hospital for the last time, I noticed the song lyrics that were playing over and over again in my head without my even knowing it: “Sleep, pretty darlin’, do not cry. And I will sing a lullaby.” I can’t sing without breaking down right now, but this song goes straight from my heart to Lucie. It is my final song to her.

Once there was a way to get back homeward
Once there was a way to get back home
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Golden slumbers fill your eyes
Smiles await you when you rise
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Once there was a way to get back homeward
Once there was a way to get back home
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby