LIVE. LOVE. BARK.
At first, that Tuesday morning in late spring seemed like any other ~ rising early, coffee over a morning news show, snuggles with my canine son Jack, and a twinge of sadness with a glance at the clock. This mom had to cut those snuggles short for a shower, commute and many hours of work piled high on a desk.
On that day I was a little less sad than usual over leaving my son and those delicious kisses and snuggles. My husband’s scheduled work project was delayed. It was an unexpected day off to spend with our baby. This spared me from running Jack to Grandma’s for daily babysitting. We didn’t know it yet, but these seemingly small blessings would set the stage for something beautiful.
“I think I’ll take Jack to the park around 10:30,” my husband said cheerfully, cradling fifteen pounds of rat terrier in his arms as I stepped out the front door, but not before planting a kiss on each of my boys in farewell. One furry head, one scruffy human cheek.
“He’ll love that. I’ll be home around 3 or so, it all depends.”
“You better spoil him rotten today.”
“You know I will.”
Twelve miles and two hours later I was up to my neck in files and ringing phones when the vibration of my cell broke the chaos.
“Honey, I’m at the park. With Jack.”
“Is everything alright? Where is our son?!?!?!”
“He’s right here, he’s fine.”
“Then what’s wrong? I can hear that something is wrong.”
“Well, it isn’t really wrong, I’m just trying to figure out what to do.” I closed my eyes and sighed.
“Trying to figure out what?”
“There’s a dog here. A puppy. A pitbull puppy. Tied to a tree. It’s a little girl.”
My heart started to race as he told me more. Talking to passersby, some strangers and some familiar, he learned the little lady had been there for some time, days in fact. A park regular was bringing her water. Another brought food. At first all who had seen her assumed she was only there for a moment, that her human parent was not far away. But no human was ever there. No one came.
He grew more distracted as he spoke. “Honey let me call you back, I have some people here I want to talk to.”
Less than five minutes went by and my phone danced and vibrated on my desktop again.
“Someone called animal control!” he yelled.
“Calm down, it’s okay. What do you want to do?” I knew the answer before I even asked. “This is NOT happening! Animal control is not taking this dog!” “Okay,” I said softly, trying to calm him.
“She’s a pitbull! Bad things happen to pitbulls! I have to take her home!” He was growing more and more breathless.
“Okay, yes, take her home,” I said. “we will figure it out later, what to do, to help her find her home.”
“No!!!! Some (expletive) left her here! She doesn’t have a home!”
I sighed. “We don’t know that for sure. No yet. One thing at a time. We will take care of her regardless. But we need to figure things out. Just get her safe, okay?”
I could barely concentrate in the aftermath of that exchange. Jack ended up going to Grandma’s after all so my husband could concentrate on our new little houseguest. And for the next several hours I fought a twinge of jealousy, knowing he got to be home with a puppy and I was stuck elsewhere, occupied with something as dumb as work.
I felt light and giddy as I cut out of the office early, not caring what anyone thought about it. All I could think of was this little baby that had clearly captured my husband’s heart, a little baby I had not even seen, yet it was clear she had already captured mine too.
Allyson, don’t do this, don’t get too excited, I tried to tell myself. Don’t get too attached. It was possible we would have to say goodbye as quickly as we got to say hello. I arrived home, practically sprinted to our front door, and very slowly and quietly stepped inside.
My husband, beaming, pointed to the family room in silence. There she was, a silvery gray and white ball of absolute perfection, soundly sleeping with a blanket and pillow on our sofa. My eyes moved to her soft white paws and then her round, pink well fed belly, every inch clean from a bath. But what I could not take my eyes off of were her tall, beautiful intact-and not-cropped pitbull puppy ears, flopping endearingly as she slept. I kept watching. She stirred, completing a silly, half asleep belly flop to the floor, somehow settling under the coffee table, managing to drag her pillow and blanket with her.
We were hopelessly in love.
The following days were bliss. We were fighting hard to not get attached, and we were failing miserably. We tried to mentally prepare to lose her as we went through the compulsory steps to reunite her with a possibly panicked family desperately looking for her. She was checked for a chip. Paperwork was filled out. No “missing” flyers seen anywhere, and likewise no response to our “found” flyers or online posts stating the same. Deep down we knew the truth. This girl, this impossibly perfect girl, was abandoned. That panicked, loving family that every dog in this world deserves simply did not exist.
In those early days, there were so many sweet moments. Like when she discovered the master bedroom for the first time, awkwardly climbing up on the bench at the foot of the bed so she could join our pack at bedtime. On her walks she would be mesmerized by a dragonfly buzzing by, eagerly chasing with ears erect and a steely focus in her eyes, wanting to learn more about this curious, winged friend of another species. She was so smart, eager to please and quick to grasp potty. And most endearing of all, she would snuggle with Jack on the sofa and then look at us to say I want him to be my brother, and I want you to be my Mommy and Daddy. When the obligatory time was up, there was no question. She was meant to be part of our family. The first thing I did was go online to order a heart shaped tag with her new name and our contact information.
“Grace. Your name is Grace, sweetheart.” Then one kiss on her nose. And another on that sweet little spot between her amber eyes. “Do you like your new name?”
With her tail wagging ferociously and all of her in an adorable full body pitbull puppy wiggle, wide eyes looking up at me, she communicated her overwhelming approval.
These past four plus years have been an adventure. Her puppyhood long behind us, she is now a grown lady who exemplifies the best of her breed: goofy, loyal, regal, loving, gorgeous, just to name a few. And oh my, there is loads of sass in this girl. There is the Mommy-get-off your-butt-and-get-me-a-treat bark. We also have the Mommy-I-really-want-your-spot-on-the couch-so-move-over bark. And the that-mailman-person-is-here-again-but-don’t-worry-I’m-hereto-protect-you bark. And the that-demon-squirrel-is-back bark. Whatever the bark and whatever business she has to dish out, it is always followed by a flop to the floor and a roll on her back, stretching out to show her pittie belly, her way of saying it is time for love and cuddles. I always fall to pieces, joining her on the floor and finding that sweet spot on her chest I love to kiss so much.
These years have not been without worry. Wishing your children peace, health and happiness is not solely the province of those who parent humans; parents pray for all of that and more for their fur babies too, so much that our hearts ache for it. Grace’s health took a turn earlier this year, with liver enzymes dangerously elevated to the point where a liver biopsy and exploratory surgery were required. After months of fear and hopelessness and watching her condition decline, we were blessed to learn that while she has a genetic, lifetime condition, it is a treatable one. We are working on restoring her health, she is thriving, and she has the chance to live a long, healthy life. Heartbreak can give way to hope. It did for us.
This time with Grace has not been without the discriminatory reactions sometimes experienced by the families of unfairly misunderstood breeds. While walking in our neighborhood, people will stop, expressions going from joy to horror, changing their route to avoid us. Looks of disdain are also shot our way in the vet office waiting room. Even so called “enlightened” friends and acquaintances have made comments, some drifting away from us, in protest to our “keeping a dangerous animal.” We realize it is actually a great thing. The garbage essentially takes out itself. The people who know us best know it isn’t our style to care what others think, and sometimes ignorant comments are met with a fiery, protective response from us. Just as it is wrong to paint people with too broad a brush, it is equally unfair to do the same with dogs. We ask anyone to keep hearts and minds open, and not believe everything you read and hear when it comes to these amazing dogs.
Furmoms and furdads know well how the furry child becomes the teacher. We discover things within ourselves, fueled by their love and companionship. A friend of mine who lives with severe medical conditions was afraid to adopt a dog out of fear her limitations were too great. After a lot of thought she took a chance, adopted that sweet little baby and everything is beyond fantastic. Her dog is thriving and happy, my friend is now more confident in herself, and she is functioning better than she has in many years. In many ways she has gotten her life back. The impossible became possible. As Grace’s mother, I am not immune to her canine charm and soul. My own life has not been without immense health challenges. After many years of seeing some of the things that gave me joy slip away, I always seek out ways to maintain purpose in my life. I see how Grace approaches every moment and it helps me be a better person, a better everything. She lives completely. She loves wholeheartedly. When she has something to say, she does. She always stops to relish in the simplest pleasures. Those things only scratch the surface of how wonderful she is and the wisdom she bestows. When life got messy, it was almost as if I forgot how to do these things; because of her, I now know to live, love and bark with my full heart and soul.
Grace, Mommy loves you. Daddy loves you. Jack and Grandma love you, too.
Thank you, Baby Girl.
~Allyson Clayton lives in Northern California with her husband and furry babies. A writer, photographer and artist, she is continuously nurturing her creative side in the face of chronic illness. For more about Allyson or to say hello, you can find her at her happy living blog www.loveyourdash.com.