Thursday, April 15, 2010

Puppy Breath and Big Girl Brains

Addie is my almost-two-year-old Basset Hound puppy.  Like any young child of two or three years, she is into everything because everything is an adventure for her.  And, of course, being the youngest "child" of my four Bassets, she is a source of frequent "disgruntlements" amongst her elders.  It's just what a little sister (or brother) is supposed to do--it's in that contract they sign when they join the family!  Or so I'm told...I have no siblings, only my observations of my friends and their interactions with younger brothers and sisters.

Addie, 2/10/10

In mid-July of 2008, I brought Addie home from my local animal shelter when she was approximately 14 weeks old. I hadn't intended to adopt another dog since I already had three dogs, and wasn't actually looking for another.  A friend had told me about a Basset puppy being held at the city shelter. I went to see her to find out about her so that I could contact the local Basset rescue so that they could pull her and place her in a foster home until a permanent home could be found.  Determined to be objective, I took photos and notes about the puppy and asked about her origins, health, etc., so that I could give the rescue group the best information I could.  I've done this before, so I knew what I was up against.  It's not easy to go to a shelter full of homeless animals and not want to bring each and every one of them home.  Or, at least it's not easy for me.  To me, an animal shelter--especially a kill shelter--is a hopeless, heart-breaking, depressing place.

I played with the puppy through the cyclone fencing of her kennel.  She was cute, funny, and oh-so-typically puppy:  long floppy ears, big brown eyes, a long skinny tail that must have been twice the length of her body, and big--huge--floppy feet.  She was a tri-colored, full-blooded Basset puppy, with a cute and rather unique reversed question mark marking on the back of her head.  Her tail was inky black on the top, a long brown stripe underneath, and it curled over her back in a big arc.  There was a tiny white tip on the end that seemed to serve as the punctuation mark at the end of this long-bodied baby dog.  A lot of personality was packed into that wiggly puppy-body, and it was so hard to leave her at the shelter that evening.  I'd breathed in her sweet puppy-breath and she'd stolen my heart...the little "monster" had stolen my heart.  She cried and barked when I left, and somewhere between "being objective" and the exit door of the shelter, I knew I was sunk. Now what do I do?

I told the adoption coordinator at the shelter that I would be back the next day, either to pull her for the rescue or, heaven help me, adopt her myself.  I even went so far as to put a deposit on her so that no one else could take her.  Now I was really invested in this project.  All the way home, I told myself I had no business dealing with a puppy--I hadn't had one in over 25 years, and I knew that a baby like this one would require even more work and energy than the puppies I'd had in the past.  They were all older--like 6 or 8 months or older.  No baby stuff with them.  This little gal was a baby, and we had no real idea of what kind of life she'd had with or without her mama-dog.  Those early weeks with the mama-dog are so important in the life of a puppy!  I was counting on her having had a good base, but was mentally preparing myself for the other possibilities.

When I got home I pulled the photos from my camera into my computer, and burned a CD of them to take to show to my mother, who was in a rehab hospital recovering from knee replacement surgery.  When she saw the photos, Mom knew almost instantly that that puppy was not going to go to the rescue group, she would be coming home to our house to join our three other Bassets.  Before I could even say anything, she asked me what time I had to be at the shelter the next day to pick the puppy up.  My Mom's a sharp lady, she doesn't miss a trick.  She asked about the terms of the adoption and what we'd need to do to puppy-proof our house while little Miss Ankle-Biter was learning the ropes.  She also mentioned, just in case I'd forgotten, that she would be laid up in the rehab hospital for another 6 weeks or so, and that I would have sole puppy-wrangling responsibilities.  "Not a problem! It's summer, and I'm home all day long except when I'm here.  A couple more baby gates and some puppy training pads and we'll be fine."  (Oh, dear, what am I getting myself into?  That pup is so damned cute, though, and I just can't leave her at the shelter.  What if the rescue can't find her a home???)

What neither of us mentioned was the fact that my male dog, Pelly, was at home recovering from having a ruptured disc repaired three months prior.  Pelly was still not walking on his own, and required physical therapy to help him get his strength and balance back.  It wasn't difficult or even time-consuming, just some gentle massage and some balancing work with him for a few minutes three or four times a day.  He was self-sufficient otherwise.  He could slide himself all over the kitchen and family room on the hardwood floor, and was beginning to stand up by himself on the throw rugs where he could gain traction.  The two other dogs, Jasmine and Penelope, were his "nurses" and they took care of him and kept him company when I had to be out of the house.  Pelly is also my Velcro Dog.  Velcro is probably an understatement here, because even the Velcro people have not found something that can adhere like Pelly has to me.  Pelly is a rescue dog, one that was dumped out in the country and left completely alone and defenseless.  When he was picked up by the animal control officers, he had no collar, no identification, no microchip.  He was just sitting on the side of the road, waiting pitifully for his people to come back for him.  As a result, he has some severe abandonment and separation anxiety issues.  When I adopted him, I became his Mama, and the rest of the world can go to heck in a handbasket as far as he is concerned.  He does love his Grandma, but I am his Mama, and I am his be-all-and-end-all.  Six weeks at the hospital nearly killed him simply because he pined so much for me.  The vet and the physical therapist actually told me that it was better if I didn't visit him often because he got so agitated when I left.  Needless to say, both Mom and I were thinking about what this puppy would mean to Pelly and how he would react.  And, we would be very surprised.

Needless to say, I never made the phone call to the rescue group that evening...or the next morning, either.  The next day, a Tuesday, I arrived at the shelter about 15 minutes before the official adoption hours began, and so I planned to wait in the car with a book to read.  I had already been to Walmart that morning to purchase a few items necessary for a puppy's homecoming:  food bowls, pee pads, a couple of puppy toys, an additional baby gate, and a big dog pillow for a bed in the family room, and I'd made a list for a trip to PetsMart for other supplies once I had Miss Puppy in hand.  My reading was interrupted when the adoption coordinator came out and tapped on my window.  "You're back for the Basset puppy, right?  Come on in, we'll start that adoption paperwork..."  Jeez, even this lady knew that I was not sending that puppy to the rescue.  Am I THAT transparent? 

Twenty minutes later, papers were filled out, a microchip had been implanted, and I had little Miss Houndie in my arms.  We were waiting for an animal control officer to make an official transport of her to my vet for an examination and some shots.  While we waited I had my face "washed",  my glasses "examined", my nose nibbled, my shirt "snuffled", my earrings pulled, and a couple of rather large puppy paws run through my previously-combed hair.  And I was in heaven.  Puppy breath!!  Sweet puppy breath!! 

It would be a rather long afternoon waiting for Dr. Dan to call, so I passed the time doing brushing and ear-cleaning on the houndie kids at home, and even got in a good massage and balance session with Pelly.  When the phone rang, I tried to be nonchalant as I answered, but the vet on the other end broke my cool.  "She's so darned cute!  How did she end up at the shelter?"  My funny little girl had kept the staff at the vet hospital in stitches most of the afternoon, and the only reason they called me is because they were getting ready to close for the day and I needed to pick her up.  I told them I was on my way out the door and would be there in a few minutes.

When I arrived at the vet's office, Little Miss Puppy was playing with a couple of the vet techs in the waiting area.  She bounced and pounced and tumbled and rolled all over the tile floor and then gamboled back again.  When I came in, she bounded for the door as if to say, "Hey, Mom, where've you been?  I've been waiting for you!"  I picked her up (at just under 20 pounds, that was still possible then), and we went back to talk to Dr. Dan about his findings.  She was healthy, about three-and-a-half months old, and had had the first set of her puppy shots.  We talked about what she should eat and a few other "puppy-refresher course" topics, made plans for her spay surgery in about eight weeks, and we were on our way.  I put her in the back of my van on her new pillow, and then climbed into the driver's seat.

We weren't half way out of the driveway, and I thought I was in the middle of a really bad opera performance...there was a certain amount of howling and yowling and, for lack of a better term, yodeling, coming from the back seat.  Miss Puppy was not at all happy about being back there.  "Hang on, little girl, you won't have to be back there forever.  PetsMart is just down the road.  We've got to get you a house.  You'll get to ride in a cart and see all the neat toys.  Then we'll go see Grandma.  Okay?"   Things were getting louder and more dramatic by the minute.  This dog can emote, let me tell you.  "Ahroooooo!  RRRRooooo.... Owrrrroooooo!!!  Wooof.  Woof-woof-woof...ahroooo!"

Five minutes later, we arrived at PetsMart and I put her on an old towel in the bottom of the big blue basket.  By the time we were inside the door, she was up on her hind feet, front paws propped on the front end of the basket as if she were the bowsprit on a tall ship "navigating" our way through the store, her tail going ninety-to-nothing.  First stop, collars and leashes.  What color should we choose?  Well, let's see.  Penelope, who is caramel and cream-colored wears a purple collar. Jasmine, who is tri-colored, wears  a blue one. Pelly, also a tri-colored and who has a large white "bandanna" over his neck and shoulders, wears a red collar.  Miss Puppy, another tri-colored dog, has a few choices:  black, dark green, brown, camouflage, orange, or bright pink.  Hmmm.  Black or brown would be hard to see, dark green the same.  Camo?  Naaah.  Orange, well, no for any of a number of aesthetic reasons....  Bright, flourescent pink would be a good color for a little girl, so we'll go with that.  We found a matching leash and a cute little figure-8 type harness, too, so we would be appropriately outfitted for about two months.  Growing Puppy-Girl will need additional wardrobe items before too long.  On to the kennel crates...

Having already previously mis-bought a kennel crate for Pelly, I was not about to make the same mistake for this one, so we' consulted an "expert".  This little girl is going to be loooooooooong, so we want to find a crate that is long enough to accommodate her as an adult.  I do not want to do this again in a year or so, especially at $90 - $130 a pop.  Been there, done that.  I'd measured my other crates at home, so I had a good idea of what we needed, but shopping is always important when doing this.  We had several options, and of course, had to "try them out" by putting Miss Pup in and out of each one and discussing the relative merits of each manufacturer's features.  After some discussion and elimination, we found a nice heavy molded plastic crate with sturdy connectors, good ventilation, and a good steel-mesh door that can work in a couple of ways.  A fuzzy crate pad, a sack of puppy chow, a flat of cans of wet food, a couple more puppy toys, and we are out the door. 

Adoption fee, $80; Puppy supplies, $250; years of unconditional love, companionship, and entertainment, priceless.  Hey, MasterCard!

From PetsMart, we headed down the highway to visit my Mom.  Miss Puppy rode, rather vociferously, in her new crate on her new crate pad amongst her new toys and wearing her new collar, harness, and leash attached to said harness.  The trip took about 20 minutes, including a brief stop at a Jack-in-the-Box drive through for some iced tea, heavy on the ice.  My budding opera star sang arias--all off key--the entire trip.

We arrived at the rehab hospital, and I let Little Girl out of her crate and took her to an open field for a quick restroom break.  She'd been really good all this time, but I knew that baby puppies have tiny bladders, so it was time.  She'd eaten a little bit at the vet's office, so that was also a factor.  Good puppy that she was, she took care of business like a little trouper, and off we went to meet Grandma in the living room.

I opted to carry Miss Wiggle-Butt into the building rather than have her balk at the sight of wheelchairs, walkers, and a lot of medical equipment, not to mention a whole host of strange people and a myriad of different smells.  She knew security from me having already been held and petted and loved on earlier in the day, so she was quite content to snuggle up to me when I picked her up.  We made our presence known at the desk, and received the requisite oohs and aaahs over Her Puppiness from the staff and a few residents, and then found our way to the living room where Mom waited.  Mom was in her wheelchair with her knee wrapped and supported, but she was ready to meet her new Grandpuppy, so I put my little charge down on the floor and let her have the length of the leash to explore her new surroundings. Boinga-boinga-boinga, and there she stood on her back legs, front paws on Mom's lap, eagerly stretching her long little body to try to give Grandma a big, sloppy pink-tongued puppy kiss.  She gave an imperative little woof, and Mom petted her and talked to her, stroking her long silky ears.   Puppy's tail wagged furiously, and the white tip was a blur.  They became acquainted, and Mom was soon smitten with little family member. "Well, you were right, she is cute.  What's her name?"  That was to be my chore for the evening.  "I don't know yet.  I need to find the 'What to name the baby' book and look up a couple of things.  Right now, she's Puppy, or Miss Puppy....  Any ideas?"  We tossed around a few ideas, but nothing seemed to fit.  When it was time to end our visit and take my baby home, she was still "Puppy", and a very tired little girl.

We said good night to Mom, and I carried one tired Puppy Girl to the car and put her into her crate.  She didn't object at all, and snuggled down into the pillow and snoozed all the way home.  When I got home, I opened up the big sliding door on the van and left her in the car for a few minutes while I set up a few things in the house.  She woke sometime in that brief interlude and made sure that I knew--and every one of our neighbors knew--she was awake. "Bark, bark, wooof....bark, bark, woooof...woooof!  Hey, Lady, I'm out here all by myself!!"  I'd been gone less than three minutes and already she was running my life. 

I'd put the Big Girls, Jasmine and Penelope, into their hallway behind a baby gate.  They could see the puppy, smell her, and get acquainted with her but not be in the same room with her right away.  I knew that Jasmine would probably be okay with a puppy because she's our little Nurse Nancy-hound, a little mother hen.  Penelope was a bit of a question, because I don't know if she'd been around very young puppies, and I wasn't completely sure of her reaction.  As she's gotten older and more arthritic, she is less tolerant of playing, so the baby gate was a way to protect her as well as the puppy.  Pelly was ensconced in the kitchen area on his big pillow.  He would be the first of the Big Kids the puppy would meet up close and personal because he had the run of the family room and kitchen area due to his disability.  He would either shut down completely or he would take to that puppy, there would be no middle ground.  If he shut down, I would call the rescue.  I could not take a chance with him because he was still so fragile after his surgery and physical ordeal.

"Okay, Little One, let's go meet your new family."  I opened the crate door and managed to body-block the Baby Basset-bullet that came flying out of the crate.  After a minute or two of "scolding" from her, I picked Puppy up and carried her into the house. I put her down on the floor just inside the door, and let her have the length of her leash to explore her new surroundings.  She snuffled the gate where the girls were, but made a bee-line towards Pelly on his pillow.  He sat up and looked at her, woofed a couple of times, and then allowed her to explore him.  She sniffed and nibbled and patted him with her paws for a couple of minutes, then plopped down on the pillow next to him.  He sniffed her from one end to the other and then shifted his body so that he could see her.   All was quiet, and the two snoozed peacefully for a good half-hour while I made doggy dinners and put things away.  So far, so good.

By the time everybody had had their dinner, Addie was a part of the family.  Jasmine had "examined" her from top to bottom, front to back, and side to side, and then gave her a bath.  Penelope was content to observe from a distance, but did sniff-and-inspect just a bit.  Pelly scooted around after his little charge as if he were a father chasing a toddler beginning to walk.  When it was bedtime, Pelly and Penelope went to their respective pillows, and Miss Baby Hound was set up in a bathroom with a baby gate across the doorway.  Jasmine parked herself in front of that gate on a pillow she'd dragged out of another crate, and set herself up as the Night Nanny.  This was to be the plan for the next several months until Puppy Girl was old enough to sleep with the Big Kids.

What to name this little ball of energy?  After everyone was in bed that first night. I pulled out the well-worn "antique" book of baby names and started looking for something that would fit.  I'd made a bit of a list as possible names came to me, but nothing really struck me.  It was getting late, and I was ready to stop for the evening.  As I flipped through the various channels on our cable tv, I came across the movie version of "Guys and Dolls", that wonderful old musical comedy with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.  And there was inspiration:  one of the female characters, the comic element, is named Adelaide.  "Adelaide, Adelaide, ever-lovin' Adelaide...."  And that was it!   Miss Puppy became Adelaide.  Not only is this dog a comic, she sings funny, too.  Adelaide it is!

As with any name, the variations on it were to come.  Adelaide soon became "Addie","Miss Addie", "Addie-baby", "Addie-gator" or even "Addle-gator" (those still stick!), and then, "Addie-Lou".  Finally, to recognize her kangaroo-jumping abilities, Adelaide became first and foremost "Addie-Lou Roo, the Baby Kangaroo Basset".

Addie is definitely a Basset Hound (well, externally, that is...) with all of the appropriate Basset attributes and personality quirks. She has perfected the "look" that only a Basset can give as well as the attitude to go along with it.  She will cock her head just so and look down her nose at us as if she were a strict teacher admonishing a misbehaving child.  At other times, we would swear she is smirking at us just barely holding in a big giggle.  She is definitely a clown.  Sometimes her lips will catch on her teeth, and she'll give us a perfect sneer...usually just as we're getting ready to scold her for something.  It's very hard to correct her when she's being so funny.

Now, if you've ever seen or even met a Basset Hound, you are almost immediately struck by the fact that these are long, low-slung dogs with short legs.  They are dwarves by definition, and have very dense and heavy bones.  They have short legs, but are considered large-breed dogs.  Bassets generally average in weight at around 60 pounds, although there are some that are on the lighter end of the scale and some that weigh in at close to 100 pounds. They are not particularly graceful, nor are they generally considered to be functionally aerodynamic.  They are certainly not designed to jump up in the air.  But Addie did the first time I met her, and she is still a jumper to this day.

Addie has what I call "Baby Ballarina Toes" going on with her front legs:  she can stand in a perfect first-position ballet turnout with her ankles demurely placed just so--touching lightly, feet turned out almost 180 degrees. (I joke with Mom that she's ready to make her Debut, we just need to get her a tiara.)  While this is not an unusual physical attribute in a Basset, she is the only one of my four dogs that has this particular physical anomaly.  While she may have some arthritis in her elder years, her crooked front legs and feet have not slowed her down yet.  She tears around the house doing the Basset 500 with the rest of the crew and doesn't miss a step.

But on the inside, well, that is where strange and unusual things have occurred.  You see, Addie is really a baby kangaroo inside that mild-mannered-looking Basset suit.  She likes to jump, well, actually, leap, onto table edges, counter ledges, the edge of the stove, the middle shelf of the refrigerator (don't tell my Mom about that one!), and anywhere else her long body will take her.  She's not a climber, just a leaper, thank heaven, or we'd be pulling her off the bookshelves and cabinets.  She stretches her body so that she can look at whatever is on the surface she's landed those big front paws on, and she often goes "shopping" for an interesting item to steal and carry off to her favorite hiding place. There's a distinctive sound that Addie makes when she jumps up on anything, so "Addie, OFF!" is a constant command.  Most of the time she's pretty good and is just looking, but in her time with us, she has managed to steal wooden and plastic serving spoons from the dishwasher, plastic handled knives, a couple of pairs of scissors, some peanut butter cookies, and a collection of Mom's pens as well as countless paper towels, napkins, and other paper items,including Mom's pocket address book.  The cookies disappeared to a crumb, most of the paper goods have been shredded beyond recognition, and Mom's pens have not survived their Addie Encounter.  The address book was dismantled but not eaten, probably because Addie discovered that she was not listed in it and was offended.  Oddly enough, Addie doesn't generally steal my things, just Mom's.  Once in a while she'll snag something from my desk or place at the kitchen table, but most of her "scores" have been things that Mom has handled.  I'm waiting for the day Mom leaves her partial where Addie can get a hold of it.  I'm not sure how we'll explain that to the dentist--or the insurance company. 

As I mentioned before, Mom and I were concerned about Pelly's reaction to the puppy.  While our concerns were well-founded, we really had nothing to worry about.  Pelly took to the puppy almost immediately, and they became fast friends.  And, as an added bonus, he began to get stronger and his balance and muscle tone improved.  I was still doing daily sessions with him, but the playing and wrestling that he and the puppy were doing had really toned him up.  She was gentle with him, but forced him to get up and moving.  When Mom came home from the hospital in mid-August, he was standing up more and more on his own, and even walking short distances.  By the time Halloween rolled around, Mr. Pelly was walking the length of our kitchen/dining area and family room.  He wasn't up to running yet, but he'd gotten enough motivation and, in some ways, "therapy" from the puppy and all of her activity, to get himself up and walking again.  By Christmas, he was participating in the daily Basset 500 around the family room at a slow trot.  Two years after his accident (4/12/08), he is romping like normal and even racing with the three girls.  Addie was probably the best thing we could have done for him in many ways.  She certainly helped him get back on his feet.

My fellow Daily Drool subscribers often write about the anticipation of the arrival of "big boy" or "big girl" brains, signifying the end of puppyhood and the beginning of adult dog-hood.  Puppies, after all, are somewhat challenging, exasperating, exhausting, and generally a lot of work.  But they are also such fun.  There is nothing better than watching a puppy explore his or her new world.  And EVERYTHING is new!  While some wait in great anticipation for the adulthood of their pups, I am dreading it, just as a parent wants to hold onto those precious baby and child years.  Addie is my "baby", after all.  As for Addie, well, the "Big Brown Truck" has yet to stop at our door and deliver anything remotely resembling Addie's Big Girl Brain.  I'm not sure, but I think Addie must have secretly written whoever is in charge of such things and told them not to send it, at least for the time being.  But Mom and I have noticed a certain change in our "little" (70-pound!) girl of late.  Whether or not the "Big Brown Truck" has been here, we believe that Addie is becoming a Big Girl.  Her unlimited joy is still there, her quirky silliness is still present, her ability to leap into the air and bounce like the kangaroo-child she is is still a part of her, but they've taken on a different tenor.  She's becoming an adolescent...a teenager.  She's growing up.

And I am NOT ready for that!

1 comment:

  1. A really good commentary. You are obviously a very good "dog Mommie" and your pups are fortunate they have you to love and care for them. There is nothing more fullfilling to me then the love and dedication of a dog. We have a 13-mo old Golden Retriever named MollyB. She came into our life last July through Gold Ribbon Rescue of Central Texas. She is boundless in her energy, love and devotion...a pure joy and a challenge. She is the best thing ever for my wife and I.