We adopted Max in '99, a month after moving into our new house (now old house, in old state). Max's picture on the DC Animal Shelter website turned us into cooing nutjobs: a small, red puppy, head askew, with upturned expressive ears. According to the story, Max was left homeless when his owner died. (We always kinda assumed the worst because I'm thinking you don't get a puppy when you're knowingly terminally ill, or 98. But who knows.) While Mr. ABF had a dog growing up, my life with animals had been limited to cats, gerbils, and fish. We already had Tucker & Kirby, two rescue felines that we dragged to the DC environs from Chicago where we adopted them. But now it was time for a dog.
For years, this was our life: two cats, one dog. I loved that having a dog forced me out to walk twice a day. We had long Frisbee lunches when the weather was good. We took him hiking with us, and we wrote letters and attended local meetings in order to build a dog park near our house.
And then, when Max was 5, we had Bella. And as you can imagine, pet time diminished dramatically. Gone were Frisbee lunches. Bella was not allowed in dog park. While I could walk Max in inclement weather, I couldn't always sling or push my kid through it, and walks would often get jettisoned for some out back time or sprints around the block.
Eventually we figured out a routine, but I think Max missed being the focus of attention (a claim which makes my oldest cat Tucker snort as he sits here reading over my shoulder). And at some point we began to ponder if he might be happier if we had a second dog.
We had tried this briefly: one day we entered PetStoreChain and walked smack into an enormous adoption event with some really scraggly dogs, one of which looked eerily like Max. Apparently a recluse had killed himself leaving 40 some odd dogs behind, in various states of disarray. Did we want one? No, not today. Could we foster one? Certainly. It was karma: we adopted a dog who had been fostered when his owner died, and now we could pay it back. We took home a small beautiful red dog.
The ticks were literally jumping off her body, and so shell shocked was she that we had to carry her outside to do her biz. She fell hard asleep when we weren't flea dipping her. She awoke two days later the cutest, sweetest dog, completely smitten with Max. We put her on a leash for what was obviously the first time, and began to teach her sit. And two weeks later at an adoption event, she was the star of show, her coat glistening, her head held high prancing around the store. She was adopted by a lovely couple who we kept in touch with for a few years.
We always thought Max would get jealous of another dog, but we discovered that WE were jealous of the other dog. Instead of greeting us at the door when we walked in, Max ran and sat by her crate, "Let her out! Let her out!" They wrestled for HOURS, never once coming over to investigate my lap or lick my hand. After she left the house I think we were all depressed for a week.
We started thinking maybe Max would be happier with a second dog. So like the good students we are, we did some research, and asked friends with two what the deal was. Somewhat on purpose we timed our visits to places to correspond with adoption events, and occasionally perused the shelter websites. Nothing really clicked.
And then we decided to move, and got pregnant, and a second dog seemed the farthest thing from our minds.
And then Maddy died.
And sometime in mid to late May last year, I came back from a run (sigh), and Mr. ABF said "you HAVE to go see the dog that [our neighbors] are fostering." Turns out our neighbors are friends with an emergency vet, who took in a dog that had been severely hurt in a car accident. Sadly, the owner relinquished him when faced with the bill. (This apparently happens a lot in animal emergency medicine, and I suppose is a good public service announcement for animal insurance.) And there at my neighbors, was the sweetest dog, his leg shattered and rebuilt, missing a few teeth, flapping his tail against the couch when I walked in. "We never foster dogs for this doctor although she asks us all the time," our neighbors said. "But this one reminded us of Max."
What the fuck were we doing? Barely three months beyond our daughter's death, neither of us able yet to get through a day without breaking down in some form, thinking about adopting yet another pet? Wasn't this irresponsible? Rash? Stupid?
Probably. But we did it. And suddenly after three months, I woke up.
For starts, I realized that when we brought Buddy in the house, we'd consciously have to let all the pets know that we still loved them. And it dawned on me (by "dawn" I really mean "hit on the head with a cast iron skillet"), I have pets. I had completely neglected them at least since February if not a bit longer. Max's walks had become fraught with emotion as I hated being in public and running into people. I was a zombie in my home, sleep-walking through my days, mechanically doling out kibbles at the appointed time. But with Buddy in the house, suddenly Tucker jumped on my lap. Kirby (Kirby! Where in hell have you been for three months??!!) started sleeping in our room. And Max developed energy. He wanted to play. He wanted to run. He wanted to show once again that he could retrieve too. I literally felt as though they were all brand new, and I was just discovering each of them for the first time.
Buddy also helped me personally. He needed taken care of, and needed rehab. And so rehab we did: we drove out to the dog therapy pool 2-3 times per week. Dutifully I gave him umpteen medications for pain and infection and swelling, and monitored his gait. When a screw holding the plate together in his leg popped, I drove out to the emergency vet during her overnight hours so she could look at it. We carefully observed him when we realized that his hip wouldn't stay in the socket, and pondered more surgery (we opted no; the hip has formed a false joint. He will likely suffer from arthritis earlier than usual, but we're already taking preventative measures). Buddy got me out of my house, talking to people, and reminded me that really I'm fairly good at looking after dependent mammals if given the chance.
Max is an alpha dog, and I like to say that he'd hump the fridge if he thought it would get him somewhere. I was a bit nervous about bringing another dog in the house, especially one who couldn't agilely let Max know he wasn't welcome, but I shouldn't have worried. Apparently they came to some gentleman's agreement in the yard, and there has never once been a show of dominance although clearly Buddy is thrilled to be the beta. (Gamma, corrects Tucker, nearly throwing up a hairball in amusement.) We knew Max was good with sharing, but I've never been so impressed to walk into the kitchen, see that one of the dogs got Bella's left-over peanut butter and apple dish off the counter (a dish which measures about 5" in diameter), and find them both with their noses in it at the same time. I know dogs who live together who bare teeth in order to claim roasting pans.
Buddy likes to sleep with a headrest. And it's not unusual to stumble upon the dogs somewhere -- on the bed, on the windowseat, on the couch -- lying asleep next to each other with Buddy's head resting on Max.
A year ago, Friday, Memorial Day weekend, our neighbors brought Buddy over, and left him here to become part of our family. Today, we celebrated a year with Buddy with many of the neighborhood dogs (about 15 in total), and even the vet who saved his leg and probably his life.
And quite possibly, our lives, too.