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High Anxiety

I woke this morning around 5am and couldn’t catch my breath. To my left, Kerry, my husband, slept soundly and still. To my right, the plastic shoe box wiggled with three puppies, one of whom whined the warning, “almost time to eat.” It’s kind of them, I think, to wake slowly, giving me a chance to heat the bottles. I realize it’s rather fantastic to think they have a sense of courtesy, but I’m the one whose heart is racing in the groggy, pre-dawn hours, so I can think what I like.
Shuffling across the cold, white tile to the kitchen, I breathe slowly and deeply, dismissing the odd bit of panic to focus on the task at hand. Alfa, Bravo and Charlie only have so much patience and I have to teach in a couple of hours. Returning to bed, I snuggle each puppy individually and offer the warm mix of formula and pumpkin — feeding has become quick and sweet now the pups’ motor skills have improved.
So, why the panic? What nagging subconscious thought came bubbling to the surface to dispel my dreams?
The blog, of late, has been mostly about progress made, about fuzzy-love moments of puppy breath, ounces gained and wobbly steps taken. But it hasn’t been all sunshine these last few weeks. A storm has been brewing and I realize, after a handful of days where weather has forced us inside more than usual, that some changes need to be made. I am feeling a sharp and forceful measure of both rock and hard place.
If you’ve been following the blog, you know there are seven dogs in the house: Bailey, Mick, Duke, Mike, Alfa, Bravo and Charlie. Granted, the ABC’s are tiny and not at all under foot. Their total combined weight is less than half that of a “real” dog, as Kerry would describe it (he is of the strong opinion real dogs weigh more than eleven pounds – less than that is a rat). Bailey and Mick are the “home dogs,” while Duke and Mike are fosters – these four are all grown and well under foot — often.
It’s not the presence of the dogs, however, that presents a problem. It’s becoming an issue of chemistry. When Duke first arrived, he presented the greatest threat to Mick’s sense of home ownership. Mick had taken his time learning to share his space with us and with Bailey (who is more than double his size, but a fairly gentle and patient soul), and, though he wasn’t thrilled with Mike’s presence, he accepted it. Molly, of course, had been so ill she’d gone unnoticed. But Duke seemed to set off something in the Basenji — some trigger. Mick exploded into furious little tirades at the sight of Duke, occasionally waiting for the big dog to pass before lunging and striking his back haunches.
Duke was relatively tolerant at first and seemed almost confused at the angry attention being paid him. He was much more interested in the toys and food, both of which he was inclined to protect and hoard, a habit which we noted and have tried to discourage. Duke is very easy-going fella, playful and extremely smart. As Mick’s behavior became more pesky and intrusive, Duke avoided him unless attacked, at which point, he would slap the little dog down, sometimes giving him a nip. Bailey picked up on the tension, her herding instincts shifting into gear, and began “moving” Mick away from Duke, pushing him with her chest and shouting the odd warning growl. “Don’t make me pull this car over,” she seems to say.
That was the first month or so. Over the last few weeks, while Mick wants to mother the puppies, he has become increasingly aggressive toward all the other dogs, snapping even at Bailey. A few days ago, when I’d slipped away to the kitchen for a midnight puppy feeding, he got sideways with Duke in my bedroom — one of the only places besides the back yard that had an air of neutrality — and started a fight. Kerry stopped them, but not before Duke had put a rather large hole in Mick’s neck.
Since then, Mick grumbles around the house, working himself to fever pitch with even a peripheral glimpse of Duke. He has snapped at Mike, leaving a mark on his chest, and no longer backs down when Bailey intervenes. The two-legged family members are on edge, as well, and I worry that Lily will be bitten should she attempt to stop a quarrel. Mike and Duke are ready for adoption. I realize that will ease the current situation, but then what? Are my fostering days to end because of Mick’s territorial and intractable nature? Is it fair to consider adopting Mick out to someone who will understand him — not test his patience? I want to do what’s right, fair and best, but is it possible to accomplish all three?
“Start by doing what is necessary. Then do what is possible. And suddenly you are doing the impossible.” St. Francis of Assissi

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Nature’s Miracle: Forgiveness

I haven’t had a lot of time to write lately. It’s the same excuse most of us have at the start of Winter: the Holidays. It couldn’t possibly be the two extra dogs in the house, who, in their first two or three weeks with us, were too shelter-shocked to do much more than sleep and eat, but, of late, have taken to mad romps across sofa, stairs and pool table (yes, Duke has been found standing on the pool table of a morning, surveying his territory).

However, before I take off for a day of galavanting (read: running errands), I have this thought:

If dogs have taught me anything, it’s that love is often measured in ounces of forgiveness (and Nature’s Miracle, the stain and odor remover)

I realize my audience may respond with a collective, “duh,” about the correlation between love and forgiveness, but how often are we truly struck with that correlation? Because, when I was hosing down floor, pet gate, dogs and toys this morning after an altercation over most-beloved-purple-Kong-Wubba that led to micturition — of the voluminous sort, subsequently tracked about in the melee — I found myself chuckling, petting heads and soothing hurt feelings, rather than scolding and shooing pups out the back door.  I have lost count of how much Nature’s Miracle and hydrogen peroxide we’ve used over the last month, while the ratio of pounds of dog food to pounds of dog poop has become the subject of side bets, math problems and good humor. That the myriad of inconveniences involved in fostering has become joke fodder is evidence of the miracle of forgiveness extended by and to all members of my household, two- and four-legged alike. We are awash in forgiveness.

 

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