Last Saturday I couldn’t help visiting Petco again, this time with the whole family to see who was available to foster. First we met Bella, another chihuahua mix like Jessie, but much more like a fancy miniature German shepherd. She was beautiful. Swamp Chicken held her and fell in love, though later he admitted that she had the ‘chihuahua shake’ he’s not fond of.
The prospect of adopting Bella made me go giddy, forget about this fostering nonsense, and I talked with the Philly Paws staff about it. We all agreed it would be better to adopt since parting after bonding would be too painful, and SC realized this was probably true, especially as the adoption fee was so reasonable.
I turned to the kids. “What do you think of Bella? Isn’t she so pretty?” This was their response: Fffft. Nothing. Peaches and Spike were too busy playing on the cart-return rails to give Bella a passing glance. Maybe they didn’t even want a dog.
Then a tiny terrier mix came bounding out of the store and the kids could not leap down from their game fast enough to pet her. “Who is this?!” I asked, and it was Nyla!
They told us Nyla was a mystery. She was dropped off at the shelter with two other dogs and had been fearful, but was happy now. They told us she was six to twelve months old.
The kids couldn’t get enough of her and Nyla seemed to reciprocate. Lick! Lick!
I asked if I could bring her home there and then, only half-kidding. I knew Swamp Chicken was still cautious, but he gave his approval. I was advised to make an appointment at the downtown location, meet Nyla and THEN possibly take her home. In the meantime the downtown guy was alerted via text.
Sunday was tree day. Cut your own at Linvilla Orchards.
Sunday was anticipation day. I called the the shelter just to reiterate my interest in adopting Nyla. Sunday night I slept maybe four hours. My eyes sprang open at 0330, my brain racing with thoughts of all that needed to be done. In the morning I would be possibly bringing Nyla home. There was so much to do! I spent the wee hours of the morning online, researching vets, training, feeding, supplies. By morning I was running on fumes, foggy and buzzed and determined.
As the kids got ready for school they asked again and again, “Will we have Nyla today?” And I said, furiously nodding, “I don’t know one-hundred per cent but think maybe so!” By one o’clock in the afternoon, I was speeding down Interstate 76 toward Philly Paws.
When I met Nyla again she was covered in her own poop. Her little vulva hung low like a penis and her teats swayed as she walked. Her rear legs looked bowed, elderly. How had I not noticed before? Maybe because she’d been wearing a pink sparkly harness. She ambled over to a secluded spot and crouched. When she was done squeezing honey mustard diarrhea from her little rectum she scooted over the pebbly ground, scraping her butt. Charming.
I asked what was up with the poop and her nipples, remarking that she must have had a litter before. The shelter dude shrugged as if to say, This is a city shelter. What do you expect? I asked Shelter Dude how old she was and he said three or four. Years? I said. Years, he said. I thought she was under a year. Oh. Well. Let me check her paper again. Hm. Oh yes, six to twelve months. Shrug.
I glossed over all these tiny details. I was on a mission. I had to take this doggie home. This was the ONE. I had to greet the kids with her after school. In the back of my mind I also knew that at some point I would have to sleep, but when?
Quick as I could, I filled out the forms, handed over my credit card and Nyla was mine. In the minivan I called Swamp Chicken. “We have a dog! And she’s covered in shit!”
Great, he said.
All the way back to Petco with Nyla on my lap, tiny thoughts seeped into my sleep-deprived brain. Thoughts like, What the hell am I doing? Who the hell have I become? I’m not a dog person! And something about being possessed.
I patted her gently on her poopy fur. I looked at her sweet confused face. She stayed curled on my thighs the entire time, shivering.
At Petco I bought her a crate, treats and food, a collar, leash, harness, two beds, three toys, shampoo, compostable poop bags. I couldn’t grab crap from the shelves fast enough. My tally, including the adoption fee, was almost $250.
There was no time to bathe her before picking the kids up. At school she caused a sensation, even dirty. I warned everyone but they didn’t care. The other moms looked at me charitably. I could see the gratitude in their eyes—gratitude that they weren’t dog owners.
I got Nyla and the kids out of there quickly, to get her into the bathtub which she did not care for. She would need to be professionally groomed soon. Still, the poopy fur was now clean, and after I changed out of my poop-dusted clothes, I sat with her on my lap. And sat, and sat and sat.
That night she slept in bed with Swamp Chicken and me. At one point she hopped down to the floor and left a load of diarrhea on my nice wheat-colored carpet. The odor was so strong, so foul, it felt too big for the room. Then she puked on the bed. Every hour she hopped to the floor and every hour Swamp Chicken and I bolted up in anticipation, more sleep-deprived than we’d been since Peaches was a baby. I scooped her into my arms and ran outside in the drizzly cold half-naked to ensure that she didn’t go on the rug again. She went outside, didn’t try to escape or anything. Squeezed her mustardy load and trotted right back into the house.
During one bleary-eyed excursion she jumped into Peaches’s bed and curled up on her pillow, almost on top of her head. Peaches woke up and said, “Can you take Nyla? She’s smooching around on my pillow. I don’t like it.”
At around four AM she burrowed into our covers like the ratter she was bred to be however many years ago. Then she puked again.
At around five I began to cry.
And cry. And cry. What have I done? I wailed. I don’t want this! This is not what I want! What was I thinking? We were finally freer than we’d been since before the kids were born! I can’t function without sleep! Who is this stranger? This intruder? Our lives will never be the same again! Oh my GOD, Nooooo!!!!!!
Swamp Chicken held me and soothed me with supportive words. The next day, groggy with exhaustion, he stayed home to help care for our new baby.
In the morning I brought Nyla out front to pee. Our neighbor Marilyn* was on her way to work, but she got out of her car to come meet our new addition. Her Jack Russell had just been euthanized and it had been a rough time for them both. Marilyn pet Nyla while I burst into tears. She soothed me and brought me two giant packs of pee pads. Another neighbor walked by with her two dogs—a puggle and a Yorkie. I sobbed to her too. She offered us a bigger crate. A travel carrier. More pee pads. Told us it would get better. She promised.
During the day I drove to Petco for more supplies, exchanging and returning as I focussed in on what it was that we really needed—a striped sweater. A bone-shaped chrome ID tag. The receipts piled up. I loaded up on books from the library. I read and researched, stroking Nyla on my lap the whole time.
Nyla wouldn’t go into her new crate. She pooped on the dining room floor. She peed in Spike’s room. She peed next to the Christmas tree. We walked her in the rain. She hated it. I hated it. Swamp Chicken cried. “I wish I could make time go in reverse.”
By dinnertime Peaches said she didn’t like Nyla anymore, that she wasn’t the same dog she met at Petco. I couldn’t help but agree. If only Spike would come on board, we could just return her. I would be the neighborhood pariah, the most lothesome of all creatures, but in my exhausted stressed state, it seemed perfectly acceptable. It would be a blip that we would all transcend. One day.
There was only one thing to do: phone my mom. “I think I made the biggest mistake of my life!” I wailed.
She said, “Eh, give her back. The kids’ll get over it.” My mother has always been quick to flippantly dismiss life’s greater conflicts.
“But Mom, Spike said he would kill someone if we returned her.”
“Eh. “he’s not killing anyone. He’ll be fine.”
“I don’t think so. He’ll never trust us again.”
“Well Elise, who’s in charge? you or him?”
“Good point. I really don’t think I want this.”
My mom laughed at me. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But it’s hilarious.” Then she told me a story. “When I was a little girl, my father brought home a puppy—a collie-shepherd mix.” How did I not know this piece of my mother’s history? “The oven door was open, it wasn’t on, just open. The puppy jumped right in. My dad said, well that’s a tough little guy, huh? And we named him Tuffy. Well Elise, Tuffy grew. And grew. And grew. He grew so big that when he wagged his tail, the lamps shook. And one day my mother said, either that dog goes, or I go. I was fourteen by then. And my father gave her away. I wanted him to give my mother away. Elise I LOVED that dog. Every day when I got home from junior high, Tuffy would bound down the street and jump on me. He was my best friend. And you know what? I got over it.”
I couldn’t relay the story to the kids fast enough. They were not impressed, though Swamp Chicken for once hung on my every word. Spike threatened to kill me if we got rid of Nyla. I confessed to the kids that we may have been wrong about getting a dog. Spike wailed and cried. “We are not giving her away!” I cried some more, told him how much I loved him, how sorry I was for breaking his heart, how confused I was, how scared and anxious and unprepared. I also told him that he needed to smell her poop, help clean it up, see what it was like to have a dog puke in his bed, wake him in the middle of the night. He declined to involve himself with such things unless we promised to keep her.
It was ugly, one of the most painful horrible moments of my parenting life.
For sleep on her second night we baby-gated our bathroom and put Nyla in there with blankets and a new pee-pee pad. SC and I slept downstairs in the guest room so we wouldn’t have to hear or smell her. She whimpered a bit and pooped all over the place but it was easily cleanable on the tile floor.
That second night I slept better. I still woke in the middle of the night, guilt and shame and overwhelming stress swirling in my head but I settled down and managed to sleep till morning. Once it was daytime I realized with a sliver of lightness, there’s just no way around it—we are keeping this dog.
Swamp Chicken left for work. The sun came out. Peaches and I walked Nyla. Peaches danced for Nyla. Held her on her lap. My sister came over and met her. I fed Nyla raw chicken necks from Hendrick’s Farm, the same necks I use in my stock because you know this dog will be as Primal as yours truly. She loved them. Crunch! Crunch! Her diarrhea cleared that day, like storm clouds. She rolled onto her back for belly rubs. She barked at the piano teacher. Wagged her tail and trotted along with me everywhere.
Swamp Chicken called to say that he felt like he was going through the stages of grief, especially the guilt and anger. He said it was as if a thousand doors had closed. Doors representing our ability to travel, to be spontaneous, to sleep through the night.
But he wasn’t with Nyla during the day. Wasn’t with her when she made her first solid poopy outside, when she wore her new sweater, when she smelled like berries after her first grooming. He wasn’t with her when people stopped to pet her and smile and remark on her goodness and sweet nature. He wasn’t there on walks, witnessing how the world lights up when you have a cute doggie. Everyone smiles. Talks to you. Opens their hearts. Like a door.