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Love, Loss and a Pint-Sized Puppy

Hey everyone!

Did you think you’d never hear from me again?

It really hasn’t been too long since my last post. Just since…. May. Whoops.

I blame three things for my major blog absence these past three months:

  1.  Working so hard to bring my freelancing business to the next level that the idea of spending even more time in front of a computer screen made me want to puke.

2. Gorgeous weather, a jam-packed summer camp schedule, and enough traveling to keep me constantly out of a routine.

3. The anticipation of sharing some BIG news that’s still not quite ready. I’ve been sitting on this story for months, and it’s almost time to go public with it. So stay tuned.

Nonetheless, the cooler weather is getting me back into a contemplative mood, and I’m ready to start blogging again. But first, I need to share the kind of news I never wanted to write about.

We lost our dog, Aldo, this summer.

This is an ever-present risk of having our two dogs live a semi-wild life up here on the mountain, but it still completely blindsided me when it happened last month.

For our second anniversary, Ian and I decided to do a romantic couples thing and planned a backpacking trip through Shenandoah National Park. Because we also believe that spending time alone together is semi-overrated, we took Aldo along with us. He even wore his own backpack!

Wendell was left at home because his joint problems mean that extended hiking trips aren't his idea of fun.
Wendell was left at home because his joint problems mean that extended hiking trips aren’t his idea of fun.

We had the best week with our backpacking buddy, and Aldo proved how physically superior he was to us by sprinting around camp each evening while Ian and I essentially passed out from exhaustion.

Once we made it home and reunited our two puppies, Wendell and Aldo decided to celebrate by sprinting off into the woods together. This is entirely normal, as most of our mountain walks end with one or both dogs chasing a deer into the woods and returning home, sopping wet and utterly spent, several hours later.

Unfortunately, this time, they didn’t return.

We didn’t notice anything was wrong until the next morning, but by then a pit of dread had lodged itself so deep in my stomach I couldn’t focus on anything else. For days, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t do anything really, besides futilely roam the woods with a big bag of dog treats, calling their names as I went.

Every dog owner knows they will eventually lose their pets. But to lose two completely unexpectedly, as puppies, and on the same day? That was a level of injustice I couldn’t comprehend, especially after the chaos of caring for them this spring.

Four days after they ran off, Wendell limped back to us, thin, weak and missing the padding on one of his paws. As overjoyed and as we were to see him, his return in such a distressed state was almost conclusive proof that we’d never see Aldo again.

Was it a car? Coyote pack? Rattlesnake? We may never know, and that’s been hard to accept.

I don’t want to play up my grief and act like I’ve experienced some extreme hardship while hurricanes and wildfires are causing real devastation across the globe. Appalachian mountain dogs live dangerous lives, and I know we gave Aldo a happy home with us that had just one bad day. Nonetheless, losing him so mysteriously was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve personally experienced. As I cried and cried and cried over his loss, I knew I was mourning as much for myself and the loss of his much-valued companionship during my otherwise solitary workdays.

And so we moved on. Or, at least, tried to.

Unfortunately for Wendell, he’s kind of a poop on his own. We love him dearly, but he’s a little aloof with everyone not canine. Losing his buddy caused him to adopt a sedentary life, only waking up from his daylong snoozes to join us on short walks. This one-dog life could have become our new normal, but after having a taste of the daily joy that two dogs brought us instead, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back.

So when Ian mentioned the small puppy up for adoption at the local vet’s office, I gave him my permission to find out more.

She was just three months old, a survivor of parvo, and a mountain cur mix, so Ian told me. He speculated she would get bigger than Aldo, making her the perfect companion for Wendell someday.  And so, after way less talk than this kind of 15-year commitment usually necessitates, Ian arranged to pick her up the next morning.

Was it too soon? Absolutely. But Ian and I tend to be impulsive people, and it rarely goes wrong for us. I spent the morning in giddy anticipation of meeting my new friend, eagerly running out to the car when he finally arrived with her.

And then I stopped dead because this wasn’t the puppy I was expecting.

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She was TINY. Just seven pounds and already almost half grown, I could tell immediately. Where was my promised mountain cur?! She’d been replaced by a rat terrier, and I suddenly knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ian actually knows next to nothing about dog breeds.

I mean no disrespect to small dog lovers, but WOW. This threw me for a loop. My definition of the ideal dog is one I can take on runs, one that’s at least passably intimidating if an invader comes, and one that barks, not yips.

One that will never be confused for a cat…or a large rat.

In the interest of full disclosure, I got fairly mad at him. How could Ian have gotten the breed so wrong?! He’s forever grateful that his immediate family was visiting him at this time because the abundance of eyewitnesses surrounding us meant I couldn’t give him an unfiltered piece of my mind. Feeling trapped, I agreed to give the dog a trial run for a few days, fully expecting to tell Ian by the end to trade her out for something a little more dignified.

And like all dogs, she knew exactly who she needed to impress and devoted all her attention to the task at hand.

There were five of us in the house, and we all met her at the same time. Yet, who did this savvy pup attach herself to within the first few hours? Me. By that evening I couldn’t walk around without a small shadow trailing me, and even briefly leaving the house left her in such a tizzy that she’d frantically search for me and howl in dejection. This will probably be a problem someday, but it was pretty stickin’ cute in the moment.

Friends forever? We'll see.
Friends forever? We’ll see.

Sooner than absolutely no one expected but me, I was completely enamored with the scrappy puff and couldn’t envision life without her. She soothed my hurting heart, and today we are a two-dog family again.

I’ve even forgiven her for being small.

So without further ado, meet our little Annie (Dillard)! Let’s hope her legs at least grow long enough to jump on the couch because I still might refuse to lift her up on principle.

The new permanent fixture under my writing desk.
The new permanent fixture under my writing desk.

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On Being a Canine Popsicle

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This is what Wendell looks like after spending a freezing cold night in the woods. We gave up searching for him last night, but at 7am this morning Ian found him in his dog house, shivering in his sleep, and carried him into our house. We wrapped him up in an electric blanket turned on high and rubbed him vigorously until he fell into an exhausted sleep, which we let him enjoy until we had to leave for school.

Continue reading “On Being a Canine Popsicle”

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Farm Dog Misbehavior

Wendell Berry, author and environmental activist, is known for challenging the status quo by vocally protesting situations in the world that he believes are unjust; and Wendell our farm dog is proving himself more than worthy of his namesake. 

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As I’ve written about previously, Wendell is a shelter dog that spent almost the entirety of his first year of life in a noisy pound with little life experience and even less socialization. Our hearts broke when we first saw him quivering in his small cage,
trying to make himself as invisible as possible. “He will never be an outdoor dog- too scared!” we were told. Despite these warnings, we adopted him without a second thought, knowing that he would take a lot of work and patience, but filled with optimism that our home on the mountain was one of the best places for this troubled dog to be. 

IMG_4697The first week must have been hellish for him. Barely breaking out of his statuesque trance in the house to eat a small bite of kibble and trembling at every shadow and crunchy leaf on his outdoor walks, Wendell seemed positively miserable. But slowly over time he began to warm up to us and his new home. Now he runs around the property with abandon, barking and chasing every stick not still connected to a tree, tormenting the chickens and accompanying us on long walks through the woods. In so many tangible ways he is a new dog, but one thing hasn’t changed. 

 

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He still hates the house.

So much, in fact, that he refuses to go in. We’ve had different ways with dealing with this throughout the past weeks. At first we would coax him in slowly, one leash length at a time, in an arduous process that often took over an hour. When we tired of that, we would chase him into the chicken yard, relying on the fences as an aid for cornering him and then scooping him up. But now he has wised up to our tricks and gives the chicken yard and us a wide berth as soon as the sun begins to set. It’s really not safe to leave him outdoors in the cold with coyotes so prevalent, so we go to great lengths to get him inside the house. His behavior is aggravating because he seems to enjoy every second of freedom; running circles around us and yelping with glee, always just out of reach. 

IMG_4674Last night was the last straw for us. After trying for hours to coax him into the chicken yard, we decided to let him to come in on his own terms, leaving the front door wide open and his food just inside the doorway. We even moved his bed and toys to the very entrance to give him something to look forward to. But instead of coming in, Wendell stood mere feet from the door, looking in at us and barking his heart out. Collectively, Ian and I spent hours sitting in that doorway, our hands outstretched with a spoonful of peanut butter, but never once did Wendell come close enough to do more than lick tentatively at it. Not until 2am did he settle down from his aggressive barking enough to let us sleep. 

IMG_4661At this point, we are completely stymied. The bedtime routine in the home is the same for Wendell every night, so we are at a loss for why he is fighting it so much. We would feel better about him being outdoors if he retreated to his dog pen to sleep there, but instead he endlessly circles the house and barks at us. It’s obvious that the fun of being free had long worn off for him, but he wouldn’t let himself calm down enough to come inside or even let us touch him.

His behavior cannot continue and every attempt Ian and I have made to outsmart him has been matched and beaten. If you have any idea or suggestions, PLEASE let me know! We can use all the help we can get!