There were 200 days between December 23, 2019 and July 10, 2020. That’s 28 weeks and four days when there was no dog in the house. For the first half of that period I wouldn’t even consider a replacement for Nobby. He was irreplaceable anyway. Nobby really belonged to my husband Peter, but after he moved into dementia care, Nobby and I carried on. He was a big presence, 90 pounds of gentleness who had served, early on, as a therapy dog at nursing homes.
Midway through the period I decided I needed another dog. Easier said than done. COVID precautions meant that adopting a pet from the SPCA is quite difficult. I found several that suited my requirements—20-35 pound range, preferably terrier-like, young-to-middle aged. But all of them—Silo, Toto, Abby, Marvin and Bently to name a few—were either adopted by someone whose meet-and-greet appointment was earlier than mine, or weren’t really suitable for me or, in one case, the owner decided against giving up her pet.
Daughter Leslie shepherded me through most of the choices and disappointments while her sister Carolynn coached me on from afar. She even found a likely candidate, Lucky, who was rescued near her, albeit 596 miles away from me! It was Carolynn who discovered Carolina-based Westie Rescue Southeast had rescued several West Highland Terriers. I’ve loved those little dogs since I met Ben in Yorkshire years ago. He was son-in-law Martin’s family dog. Carolynn and Bill have two Westies now.
I’ve never had a dog of my own, a dog I chose, named and trained. Quite often Carolynn had a hand in the arrival of the dogs I fed and cleaned up after through the years.
“Mo-o-mmm, please can I keep her?” Carolynn, 18 or 19 at the time, came home from classes at community college, a puppy in her arms and tears in her eyes. “They were going to use her in the lab for vivisection!” Her tear streaked cheeks, hard sell and my guilt were persuasive.
Cupid, the only female we’ve ever had, matured into a sweet dog. She did snack on the weatherstrips around my car windows when she was confined to the garage though. She moved out with her mistress, but returned several years later when Carolynn relocated to an apartment where dogs weren’t allowed.
Cupid’s life and residency overlapped with a shaggy, white terrier-mix. Carolynn and Leslie rescued him from the SPCA. They brought him home as a present for Peter and I two nights before our wedding. They’d already named him PJ…Peter…Judy. My lips said yes, but it had to be Peter’s decision—he’d never had a dog. He nodded his head and said, “His name is Fred.”
Fred was so easy-going he never would have gotten in trouble if Cupid hadn’t led him astray. Even though our back yard was fenced she flew over it as if she had wings. She was a gazelle in Lab-mix clothing. Fred, not an athlete, waited for the four-foot snows common to upstate New York then walked over the fence to join Cupid cavorting around the village.
Years on—Fred was an only dog by then—Carolynn called to ask me to come to her apartment one Sunday morning. She had something to show me. I insisted she come to us since her sister was home visiting. She arrived with a wiggly black bundle under her jacket. “Please, Mom, please keep him. Bill rescued him. They were going to drown him with his litter-mates.” Her eyes overflowed. “I’d keep him but you know I can’t have a dog.” I knew Peter would like this little guy whose outsized puppy feet were a sure sign he’d be a big adult. And he was. Decker was a smart, energetic Border Collie/Golden Retriever mix who, at his heaviest, weighed 118 pounds.
When Fred left us Decker was glum. Months later we met a woman with a little dog who, at distance, resembled Fred. Decker revived. As age crept up, his main ailment, the autoimmune disease pemphigus, led to him being a case study for our local vet, Cornell University and ultimately Virginia Tech Veterinary College. “No more dogs ever,” Peter said when we returned home from our last goodbye.
And so it was for nearly five years. Then, a chance meeting with two Goldendoodles while visiting friends near Seattle and Peter forgot his vow. Around that same time, dementia began to tighten its grip on him. My gift for his seventieth birthday was to suggest he rescue a dog from the SPCA or pick a Goldendoodle puppy from a local breeder’s newest litter.
He chose the calmest, shyest little Goldendoodle in the pen. Nobby. Though I’d hoped for a smaller dog, Nobby weighed in at 90 pounds. He was a gentle sweet-tempered and beloved pet for nearly twelve years.
By mid-April I began an exhausting, frustrating search for my dog. I lost count of how many I almost got, how many sites I trolled searching for size, temperament, cuteness. I really wanted a Westie.
My luck finally changed when Westie Rescue Southeast contacted me. Pippa, an eight-year-old female, was ready to be adopted. I’d sent in my application and names of three references weeks before. Next I was asked to send photos of my fenced yard. Promising! Leslie drove me to a meet-and-greet in North Carolina. Two days later her foster mom delivered Pippa to me.
My dog! Pippa. Leslie suggested “Scout” for Pippa’s middle name. Because was instrumental in helping me get her, and since Pippa loves to “scout” for chipmunks in my flower beds, Scout is her title, Joy, her middle name. She is a joy, a funny, smart scamp, all 18 pounds of her. And she was so worth waiting for!
2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.