CAVE CANEM Part IV - THE DOG STAR
[f you are just tuning in, this is the final installment of a four-part series. You might want to go back to Cave Canem Part I – The Bitch Is Back. to see how this all began.]
The next morning when I took Daughter to school I popped Ursula into the car with me. Our dog needed some quality time alone with Bed to repair their relationship, and it couldn’t be good for our cat Lulabelle's health to arch her back and scream for six hours straight.
I took Ursula for a hike in Griffith park, which she enjoyed immeasurably. I enjoyed it too. It was a refreshing change to have a canine hiking buddy who didn’t seek refuge under the first shady bush and refuse to take another step. I then ran some errands, keeping Ursula in the car as needed, taking her with me when I could. I thought, I could do this -- have a second dog that stays with me all day. She’s unbelievably sweet. I’ll exercise and socialize her, and our dog will have hours at home by herself where she can pretend Ursula is nothing more than a horrible dream. It would be nice if she’d stop licking my ear while I’m making right-hand turns in traffic, though.
We stopped at Whole Foods for groceries and I grabbed a take-out lunch which Ursula and I could share at an outside table. At the check-out, I happened to meet the mother of Emily, one of Daughter’s schoolmates. As we chatted, I mentioned my lunch date was Ursula and gave her the short version.
“I’d love a third dog,” she said enthusiastically. “My fourteen year-old son has been begging for a dog of his own.”
Hmm, this might work. They have dog experience. They have an energetic teenage boy wanting a dog. They have developed a tolerance to dog hair on their clothing. Hmmm. I went to the car and brought out Ursula. She lay down on the sidewalk next to Emily's mom and gazed up through her long black lashes with moist adoration. The woman fairly swooned.
I ate my lunch and she and I talked. I was most forthcoming about Ursula’s charms and peculiarities, but I’m not sure how much she heard being as Ursula was actively campaigning for the title of Most Precious Medium-Sized Dog West of The Mississippi. The love was fairly oozing in both directions.
Finally, she looked at her watch and said reluctantly, “I’ve got to do a couple more things before I pick up Emily. I’m going to think about this and talk to my husband. There’s no point in talking to my son, he’ll say it’s a great idea.”
“Okay,” I said, “see you at pick-up.”
“Do me a favor,” she said. “If Emily sees Ursula, don’t tell her I’m even thinking about this. She’s going to love this dog, and I need to make up my mind without that pressure.”
When it came time to pick up Daughter at school, I walked Ursula onto the outer playground. One child looked over and shrieked in delight, “DOG!”
Within thirty seconds, Ursula was swarmed by fifteen small, gleeful playmates. I’d have never done this without absolute confidence in Ursula’s good nature, but she was even better than I hoped. She lay down on the ground, accepted all petting with pleasure, and licked whatever child body parts were near her tongue. I noticed Emily was one of the first kids to cuddle Ursula and one of the last to be peeled off when it came time for us to leave.
That night, I was making dinner when the phone rang.
It was Emily’s mother.
“I can’t get Ursula out of my head,” she said. “And Emily came home raving about her without even knowing I was thinking about this. My husband thinks I’m insane, but Emily and I want the dog.”
I was delighted but cautious.
“Maybe we should have a playdate with Ursula and your dogs first?”
“No. We know we want her.”
“Okay, do you want to stop by this weekend...?”
“Actually, we were thinking tonight, so that my son could have her right away. Could we come by in about an hour?”
I was stunned. It was going to be that easy?
“Uh, okay. I mean, yeah. Great! I’ll have her stuff ready to go. We even have a crate for her, and we’ll see you in about an hour.”
I hung up the phone and saw Daughter standing in the doorway, frowning.
“Who’s coming over tonight?”
I said brightly, “Emily’s mom has decided that Ursula would be a great addition to their family, and they’re going to adopt her. Emily and her mom are coming over to pick her up tonight!”
It’s amazing how I thought presenting it in my best “Good News” voice would negate what I was actually telling her. Daughter’s face began to crumple.
“But…But, I wanted her to sleep on my bed.”
I swung quickly into “I know it’s hard to give up a sweet dog like Ursula, but every quadruped in the house hates her…Her new family goes for lots of walks and has another dog that is closer in age to Ursula…And she’ll be with someone we know again, so we can visit her… A lot!”
I might as well have acted out The Iliad with sock puppets for all the good it did Daughter. She flung herself into her room, sobbing, and slammed the door. I followed her to the threshold.
“Do you want me to come in?”
“No. I want to cry!”
Which is pretty much all she did for the next hour, when she wasn’t throwing things around her room or yelling “I wish Ursula was mean so no one else would like her!”
I tried saying supportive things through the door like, “I hear that you’re upset.” The parenting magazines suggest reflecting what the child is feeling back to them.
“JUST STOP TALKING!” she barked, between sobs.
The parenting magazines might want to rethink that suggestion.
As this point, all I could think was: if Daughter and I had been driving down that street just five minutes later, I might have a peaceful house right now. Then again, you never know. We’re an emotional people.
What fascinated me was that Ursula only lived with us for two days (when we first found her back in July, I had kept her in boarding), and still Daughter had grown this attached to her. This tells us something about the kindness of my kid’s heart…And the overwhelming cuteness of this dog.
Emily and her mother arrived at seven on the dot. I liberated Ursula from her crate and she ran joyfully to them. Daughter hid in the corner of the living room and sniffed. She didn’t want to be part of the goodbye, but she wasn’t going to miss seeing it. When Emily, her mother and Ursula left, Daughter collapsed again. She sat in my lap and cried and cried while I stroked her hair.
This may sound callous, but I was pleased this was to be her first real experience with loss. She found a dog, she loved a dog, and she had to let it go to a better situation than we could provide. She was learning that loving something means sometimes thinking of its best interest over yours. She was learning that doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good but you don’t do it because it feels good in the moment. You do it because it’s the right thing.
And she learned again that her Mom isn’t perfect, but will always hold her and pat her head until the sorrow fades.
The next morning, Daughter and I were on our way to her school, not far from where we had first spotted Ursula, when something on the sidewalk caught our attention.
“Mommy, I don’t…"
“Yeah, me neither...”
I pulled over slightly in front of the dog which was running down the sidewalk beside us. Similar size and breed mix to Ursula, but that was the only thing they had in common. This dog was in a wide-eyed panic, swerving to avoid walking anywhere near the people in his path.
“C’mere, sweetie,” I said softly, crouching down and making sure not to look him directly in the eye. “C’mere, good boy...”
His eyes flashed in terror, and he veered sharply to get away from my outstretched fingers. His fear of humans was such that he had now placed himself on the outer edge of the sidewalk, inches from speeding traffic. If I made another move towards him, he would run into the street to escape. His eyes glanced quickly up at me, terrified. He desperately wanted to be left alone.
I couldn’t help him.
“It’s okay, I’m just going to back up,” I said soothingly, so as not to send him spinning away from me as I moved back towards the car. He waited until I was about ten feet away, and then raced off down the sidewalk.
“Why didn’t you put him in the car?”
“He wouldn’t let me, bunny.”
“He’s probably just walking home," she said hopefully. "He knows we’re not his family so he wouldn’t get in our car. That’s what I think.”
“You might be right.”
Daughter and I sat for a minute parked by the curb. I don’t know what was going through Daughter's head, but I was sending a silent prayer of thanks that Ursula’s good nature had somehow been left intact. I sent another prayer of thanks to the family who adopted her, and a profound hope that things would work out for them.
I sent a prayer to every dog running alone down a sidewalk.
I started the car and drove away.