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TideWriters Tales
Animal Antics
Beginning Again
By Jean C. Keating

     I hung up the phone from talking with Vinnie’s breeder and danced around the room. My two house-mates looked at me in shock from their chosen places on the sofa. Miss Pittypat wagged her tail slowly before returning to her usual chore of the afternoon, the three-hour nap she required to furnish her with the energy for our before-dinner walk. A blond, plump and sweet Chihuahua and Pekingese mix, she had no premonition of the change to her life that phone call would produce. 

     Sir Sable sailed off the sofa to jump around me and bark at my excited behavior, then tore into the den to retrieve his favorite toy. The stuffed bear was too big for his little Chihuahua mouth to carry, but he managed to drag it back and push it toward me with his front legs on the rug, rump in air, inviting me to play. While I grabbed the bear, shook it in front of his face, and tossed it a short distance away for him to retrieve, I told him that he would soon have a young Papillon as a playmate and I hoped he was prepared to share his toys. He made no promises. But as fate would have it, one other little buddy would join our family group before the gleefully anticipated Papillon.

     An elderly Chihuahua-Manchester Terrier mix had been dumped at the local shelter several weeks before. She was sweet and trusting despite being neglected and possibly actively abused. Her nails were so long they curved under and her short, black coat resembled a scrub pad more than hair. Any gait faster than a slow stroll was usually accomplished on three legs, for her left patella was so bad she held it up and hopped rather than trying to use the leg. Small dogs generally have a better chance of finding a second-chance home, but this little mix, who had been named Peanut by the shelter, had been passed over for younger, healthier candidates. Despite being featured in a newspaper ad and taken to a local retirement home for exposure, little Peanut had not captured the interest of a new owner. A friend at the shelter called to say time had run out for this trusting oldie and she would be put down unless someone offered her a home immediately. I reasoned that since Sir Sable would soon have a young, playful Papillon for a companion, Miss Pittypat would need someone to sleep away the hours with her, so the blond bomber and I went to the shelter to collect Peanut. 

     Can anything prepare one for the look in the eyes of an old dog that has tried too hard to please, been rejected so much, expected little, and been given only the scraps of life? Sable and Pittypat had come to me as exuberant and outgoing puppies, had been pampered and coddled during their entire lives. The first days with Peanut were a far different challenge. She didn’t want to displease anyone for fear of being rejected again. Sable the scamp took rapid advantage of the situation and stole her food every chance he had. Peanut would back away from her dish and let him have her food. A bath terrified her, as did her first vet visit. Even the bed seemed to frighten her. It didn’t help that Pittypat contested every pillow and had to be convinced to share. It would take some two years before Peanut was truly comfortable sleeping in the big, king-size bed with Sable, Pittypat, me and the young Pap who would come to join our pack.

     Peanut was insistent about only one thing, her participation in outings. Despite autumn’s chill and a bum leg, she was adamant about joining our merry band for evening walks. A few dog sweaters provided the warmth that her poor coat didn’t, but I often ended up carrying her most of the way back. Hopping on three legs was exhausting enough. Sable’s insistence on circling her during the walks and bumping into her tired her.

     Sometime during the fall, a new family moved into the next block with a huge black dog. At least I think it was huge. Its head certainly was. It appeared that the owner or owners lived on the second floor of a two story house near the College of William and Mary and lacked yard space. Whatever the situation, the dog seemed to be confined to a front room on the second floor. Or rather most of his body was. He’d managed to tear a hole in the screen and push his huge block of a black head outside the screen to bark ferociously at our little walking group as we past. I took to carrying a spray bottle filled with bitter apple solution just in case the body should follow the head through the window and out to the street where we walked. Pittypat laid back her ears each time we passed near the house. Sable tucked his tail between his legs and dragged back on the leash whether the barking head appeared or not. Peanut just refused to walk past the house and had to be picked up and carried.

     As autumn slipped into winter, our fearsome four presented a silly caricature of an inept juggling act during our walks. I staggered along trying to hold on to the leashes of two dogs, while carrying a third in one hand and a spray-bottle at the ready in the other. 

     Christmas was fast approaching with no further word of our hoped-for Papillon, but the four of us managed to enjoy our holidays just the same. I bought a small tree and decided to decorate for the holidays for the first time since my divorce. Pittypat and Peanut supervised the trimming of the small tree between skirmishes over squatters’ rights to the ornament box’s lid. Sable actively helped by claiming every other ornament as his private toy. I could have trimmed the tree faster with a room full of octopi.

     Since the dogs had come to be such a large part of my life, to be in fact my immediate family, I decided that Christmas cards would be written in the voice of one of them, and so assigned Pittypat, the senior canine, the task of ‘writing’ the cards. If family and friends were surprised to receive communications from a dog, they were too pleased to hear anything at all from me to complain about the means. And so another year passed into memory and brought a shining, new one with challenges to meet, problems to solve, and adventures to enjoy together. 

© 2003 Jean Keating All Rights Reserved. 
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Photo courtesy Jean Keating
Photo courtesy Jean Keating

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