Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chestnut is not amused

“Oh, and we have cats,” I said to the man that day when he brought Molly to my house and told me we could have her. I had forgotten about them until that moment. The poor cats; they are always the last to be consulted about anything, if they are consulted at all.

“She’ll go after them,” he said with certainty as we stood outside in the fading light and looked up at the house, the windows dark and reflecting the flat light of evening settling amongst the trees.

“Really?” I said with a sinking heart, and I imagined Chestnut sitting back from those windows looking down on us from the shadows, keeping an eye on this new black creature with the tall ears. ‘Hmm, another dog,’ he would say. ‘Well, they better not think it’s coming in here.’

The thought that flickered through my mind then was, ‘we can’t take her,’ and I said, “Well, I’m sure it will be fine. They’ll figure it out.”

But I knew it wouldn’t be that easy, I wasn’t entirely sure that they would figure it out at all and that Chestnut wouldn’t get sick again. We shouldn’t be doing this, I thought, as the man and I discussed us taking Molly for a few nights as a trial run.

“What about Chestnut,” I said later to Morgan when I told him more about Molly.

“I know,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about that.”

I always have it in my head that our cats are great with dogs, they were raised with them after all, coming to live with us when they were just weeks old and too tiny to know the difference between their actual mother and Bear. But, that’s the thing, it was Bear they fell in love with, all other dogs Chestnut has just tolerated and Cleo has treated as research subjects.

It was when I brought Murdoch home that Chestnut had his first and most serious bout of urinary tract issues. The stress of the situation eventually resulted in an extended stay at the vets, necessitating the use of a catheter to empty his bladder. Since then any time a stressful event happens in his life, Chestnut’s urinary system betrays him.

While Chestnut had a melt down over the insane puppy Murdoch, Cleo approached him as more of a novelty, planting herself in front of his locked kennel and staring at him with almost scientific curiosity while Murdoch pledged with slavering jaws and sharpened teeth to eat her the minute he was free.

And so it has gone on, with Chestnut jumping at the slightest noise, running to hide behind the wall in the bathroom when the wind buffets the house just so, while Cleo approaches life with an obliviousness to all things dangerous.

If she was loose in the woods and came across a pack of wolves, we always joked, Cleo would run into the midst of them crying ‘Hi! I’m Cleo. I love dogs.’ And commence rubbing up against their legs and purring happily right up until the moment someone ate her.

If this thing was going to work with Molly, we said, it is going to be up to Cleo. And we were going to plan things better than the haphazard way I imposed Murdoch on them all. There would be baby gates and rooms off-limits to Molly at first, and places for the cats to escape to, and there would be lots of treats.

The minute Molly saw the cats, who had arrived wide-eyed and twitchy-nosed to look through the railing from the kitchen down to the entryway to see what all the fuss was about, she barked and lunged and leapt after them and they scattered with the scrabble of claws on hardwood, leaving tiny clouds of fine hair suspended in the air behind them as they beat a hasty retreat up the stairs, which only piqued Molly’s interest even more.

“Molly,” We yelled in unison. “No!” and she half flattened herself to the floor and looked at us askance with confusion, a fiery pent-up adrenaline flashing across her eyes, ‘did you see those things?’ she seemed to say. “Don’t eat the cats.” We said. “They’re part of the family.”

For the first week, the cats lived like phantoms, slinking through the kitchen for the bathroom and for food. They abandoned their posts by the woodstove in the entryway and slept instead in a heap on the couch on the second floor, far away from the warmth of the fire and far away from ‘the beast’. They sat quietly on the stairs and watched the new dog without her knowledge, for when she saw them, she barked and lunged all over again.

But brave Cleo always sat a little bit closer, always slunk a little more slowly. She couldn’t help it, her curiosity overpowered her survival instinct. So Cleo eventually ventured forth to bridge the gap, and Chestnut, of course, had to go to the vet.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A new adventure begins

Molly came to live with us on a damp grey Monday at the end of November. A foot of snow layered the ground and made everything cold and drab in the fading light of evening.

“I’ve never taken a dog away from a loving home before,” said Morgan as we trundled up the road in our car to pick her up. 

“I know,” I mumbled. “I feel terrible. Because it’s not like we’re rescuing her from some horrible life or anything.”

The information I found online about taking a dog to Ireland was varied. I had emailed it to Molly’s people hoping they might come across something useful and decide they could in fact take her with them. But I did not know their story, not really, it had all been such a fast progression from meeting them to agreeing to take their dog, to this moment now, surreal as it was, when we were going to get her.

The reply had been appreciative, but adamant. Their minds were made up. Molly was not going with them. I was distraught on their behalf, part of me felt a little desperate and part of me just didn’t understand. But then I slowly came to realize that once you have made such a difficult decision it is best to go forward with it, not to waffle and change your mind back and forth, to torture yourself with possibilities.

So, Morgan met Molly on Sunday and then on Monday we brought her home.

“Don’t worry about me,” Molly’s owner had said on the phone when I called to tell him we were running a little behind. “I will be a mess. I might not even come out to say goodbye.”

But he did come out, with photos of Molly as a puppy, and her papers, and her leashes. He appeared, voice husky, behind his wife who had met us at the door.

“I’ve already had a good cry,” she said. “And I’ve said goodbye and I know she is going on to good things and new adventures.” Then she smiled, a genuine smile that started in her kind eyes, and I knew she meant every word she said and I loved her for it.

Molly was outside when we first pulled the car into the driveway and she wagged her tail when she saw us, and when Morgan and the woman walked her to our car, she hopped in to the back seat as though she had done it a million times.

“She knows,” she said as the man and I stood back and he went over Molly’s commands with me again.

“She will push you,” he reminded me. “Don’t let her get away with anything.” And then he said, “God bless you,” and we hugged and it felt like we were sealing a life-long friendship.

In our tiny car Molly sat up tall and patient, her giant ears brushing the roof. She looked at us over her shoulder as we opened the hatch and laid in her blanket, her food and a bag of her toys. We all laughed then as we looked at her serious face and discussed what she must be thinking and the woman waved to her and wished her well on her new adventure.

“We will send pictures,” I said.

“And Heather has a blog,” said Morgan.

But the man shook his head. “I don’t want to know,” he said. “I just need to have a clean break.”

The woman smiled knowingly, though, and said, “I would love to see pictures and hear how she’s doing. In a little while.”

There were more hugs and more well-wishes and then we drove away. Molly’s head appeared between ours as she looked forward out the windscreen. She flicked her tongue at both of us and poked us with her nose and seemed to say, “Where are we off to then?”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Plans change

The next time I see Molly she is trotting down our road. I am doing dishes in the dull light that seeps over the windowsill before me at the end of a grey overcast day. I am lost in thought about one thing or another when I glance up from the sudsy water at movement on our always-quiet road.

My thoughts catch in my brain when I recognize her, a dog I thought I would never see again. A few steps behind marches her owner, a bunched up leash flashing back and forth in one hand as Molly skips ahead. I would know those ears anywhere, I think as I shake water from my hands and dry them hastily on a tea towel.

I grab my coat and stuff my feet in to my boots and slip out the door before Murdoch can become aware there is another dog in his woods and he is whipped into a frenzy.

“Hello,” I call cheerily, thinking perhaps they have come for a walk. I meet Molly beneath the low branches of a pine tree where the path to our door joins the driveway.

“If you want her, she’s yours,” says the man as he strides up to me, the words rushing out on top of each other as if they are suddenly released after being caught in his throat.

“What?” I say, taken aback by the urgency in his voice. “What happened?”

The words continue to tumble out, his accent is thicker today and it is laced with the faint scent of whisky. He looks like he has been trying not to cry.

He speaks quickly and colourfully. Every other sentence is an apology, “excuse my language, but I’m Irish and I’m p***ed off.” I assure him I am not offended, my blood is Scottish and Irish, I tell him. I get it. But I don’t fully understand what went wrong. It is something to do with the company that was going to ship Molly, “I don’t trust them,” he says. There is something more about a lengthy, circuitous route and uncertainty about when she actually might arrive in Ireland.

“But there must be another way,” I say.

“No,” he is adamant, “We are not taking her. We’ve made our decision. So she’s yours if you want.” And he starts to tell me how wonderful she is.

“I’ve had German Shepherds all my life. My dad got me my first one when I was a boy. And Molly is the best I’ve ever had.”

He shows me how she is trained with hand signals and I watch as he stands tall before her and barks out commands, raising his hand this way and twisting it that, and Molly stares him in the eye, as though reading his thoughts, and performs perfectly.

I am heartbroken watching this man and his dog. And I try to put myself in his shoes and I think, I couldn’t do it. I could not leave my dog behind. If Bear had been unable to travel with me somewhere, I wouldn’t go. And even now with Murdoch, as difficult as he has been and can still be, I couldn’t leave him behind. It would be excruciating to have to give him away.

“You have to be firm with her,” he says, interrupting my thoughts. “She will push you.”

I nod, I know all about pushy dogs.

We do have a dog now, I tell him. He didn’t know. We agree Murdoch should come outside and meet Molly.

“He has a strong personality,” I say over my shoulder with my hand on the doorknob, and I quietly pray that he will not be a complete jerk, that he will not go crazy and refuse to listen and make this man have second thoughts about the beautifully trained Molly staying here with someone who obviously can not control her dog.

Okay, here goes, I think as I turn the doorknob. Murdoch comes bounding over the threshold and crowds into Molly’s face, where she stands with her owner, looking a little startled.

There are a lot of stiff stances and posturing and paws placed firmly on backs and at first there is Molly slinking away trying to figure out this strange creature. It is me who is apologizing now for my overbearing dog. But it is okay, says the man. He knows dogs, he knows dogs with strong personalities and he is not worried. There are a lot of ‘Heys’ and ‘Nos’ from myself and the man. And then Molly turns and barks at Murdoch, stands her ground, and I think, this could work.

Murdoch needs a dog who won’t be pushed around, he needs someone to keep him in check sometimes. He needs someone to play with now that he is the only dog on our road and his best friend is gone.

Molly is a King Shepherd, he tells me, a breed I later learn is made up of German Shepherd, Great Pyrenees and Alaskan Malamute. She is from a breeder in Montreal and was classified as stubborn and difficult to train but he has worked with her diligently and, he reiterates, she is the best Shepherd he has ever had.

It is almost dark now and the dampness has settled in for the night, it has started to permeate our coats. He and Molly still have to walk home. It is not far, but they are both dark shapes and there will soon be no light. We agree that in a few days we will bring Murdoch to Molly’s turf and Morgan can meet her and we can decide what is to be done. Of course we know this is all just a formality.

We wave goodbye and I go inside with a heavy heart and mixed emotions. I call Morgan to tell him the news and then I go to the computer and start researching how to take your dog to Ireland. There must be a way, I think.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Meeting Molly

Ever since Max, I can’t look at a German Shepherd without my heart melting just a little. So when I stepped from my vehicle on that dark evening in late November and saw those giant ears pointing so regally up to the indigo sky, my entire spirit buoyed me forward.

“Hello!” I said to the shadowy shape emerging from the darkness. She stood silently, her tail swishing in a friendly way from side to side, the tan spots on her eyebrows punctuating her dark face from the shadows that descended from the mountain behind.

I held out my hands to her and then ran them over her downy-soft head and down her back as she turned and trotted by my side towards the house.

The main door stood open and a square of yellow light glowed from behind the screen, defining the figures of two people.

“Hello,” I called as the dog and I climbed the wooden stairs to the porch. “Who is this?” I asked, indicating the dog at my side. Her name is Molly I’m told as she and I stand together outside the door, light now spilling on to her face so I can see her kind brown eyes.

“She’s beautiful,” I say as I run my hand over her head again. “I love your dog.”

“Do you want to have her?” Asked the man, who I had never seen before. I half laughed and stuttered and was unsure how to respond.

“She is lovely,” I say, “I’m sure I would love to have her,” I say, “Um, why?”

Well, he answers in a soft Irish accent, of course he is not giving her away. Molly is such a wonderful dog and she is going to move with him and his wife back to Ireland. He speaks of Molly as I would speak of my dogs, with great love and a great sense of connection.

“You’re going on an adventure!” I say to Molly. “That’s exciting.”

And then I step inside the house where I have come to buy some apple cider. The woman who lives here has an orchard behind the house. It is carved from the boreal forest at the base of the mountain and is somewhat of a hidden gem in our neighbourhood. I just discovered it last summer, this piece of paradise around the corner from my house.

The man is her brother-in-law and he explains that he and his wife have every intention of taking Molly to Ireland with them, but if for some reason things don’t work out, if something happens and they can’t take her…

Back at home, I tell Morgan about this black German Shepherd I met and how I may have agreed to adopt her. “Absolutely!” he says, “I’m in,” when I tell him the story.

Neither of us had been thinking about getting another dog right now. It is too soon after Bear, but maybe, we say, our hearts were separately searching.

I send a message to the woman at the orchard that if need be, Molly would be more than welcome in our home and we would love her and take good care of her.

We are told the couple has decided, without a doubt, that Molly is going to Ireland with them. There are shades of disappointment at first but then we think, perhaps it is for the best.