Friday, July 27, 2012

And there were dogs... and they were good. Sometimes.

My friend Gary has been bringing his so-cute-you-can't-stand-it beagle Penny to visit with the residents at the senior community where I work. I enjoy the heck out of escorting them around the building and watching the residents' reactions to the dog. (We people, of course, become invisible the minute a cute dog appears. We are fine with this. It is as it should be.)

It's really heartwarming to see residents who just a minute before had been staring blankly away, caught up in their own pain and troubles, light up and beam when Penny comes wiggling and nosing over to them. They hold her ears, lean their face down for kisses, and come alive again. Many of them tell us about the dogs they had in their younger years, and folks who can't remember if they had breakfast or not will recall the tiniest details and stories about their childhood pets. It completely affirms my belief that dogs are magical beings sent here to remind us of the best we can be. What's that saying- everyday I strive to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am? You can't aim any higher.

Every time I see Penny visiting with the residents, I'm reminded of how much my grandma Genevieve loved dogs. Their family always had dogs- my mother even had her own dog named Penny! But I'd be willing to bet that her favorite was Paddy.

Oh cripes, Paddy. Little Gram loved our dog, Murphy, so much we decided to go to our local shelter and try to find a similar dog for her. (Note- getting a pet as a surprise for someone is not typically a good idea. Many animals surrendered to shelters are there because they were given as a gift that wasn't really wanted or feasible.) We found a wee little guy, light brown and white, sort of a sheltie-corgi-beagle mix. He seemed like the one, adopted him and took him back to our house. The poor little guy had been badly abused. He was absolutely terrified. It took hours to get him out of the car and once he was in our house, he cowered on the cellar steps landing for the rest of the night. We called my grandma, all excited, and told her we'd gotten her a dog. He'd fortunately started barking in the background just then as proof. I'm not sure how she felt about this.

But once she met him, it was true love, plain and simple. She figured out that he was very sensitive to things around his neck- probably leftover from the abuse- and bought him a harness for his leash instead. She was gentle and quiet and patient with him and he blossomed.

I won't go into the details of how he developed a skin condition which she treated with smelly, greasy ointments. (We bought him a doggy tshirt to get around the fact that she would get very angry with you if you didn't pet Paddy, even though it left your hands all greasy and kind of gross.) He developed cataracts so bad near the end of his life that they turned his eyes blue. The point is that she gave him all the love and attention he deserved in the years they were together, and he brought her joy, comfort, security, and companionship. What more could you ever ask for.

After Paddy passed away, she wanted another dog, but she didn't feel it would be fair as she didn't know how long she'd be alive and if she could continue to care properly for a dog. (Not that she was ill or infirm or anything. This is the woman that once called my mother up and groaned and said, "Well, I have bad news. It looks like I'm gonna live to 100.") Partly on a whim and partly as a gesture of defiance to my other grandmother (who hates animals) who had dismissed the idea as stupid, she bought a life-size resin statue of a golden retriever. My sister and I took our grandmothers back home after the weekend, with the newly christened Happy ("because he makes me happy") sitting proudly in the backseat between my beaming grandma Genevieve and my sourly scowling other grandmother.

When I adopted Minchy, one of the first things we did was visit my grandma. She thought he was awfully funny. From the moment he became ours, he was a very physically affectionate dog, climbing into your lap and resting his head on your shoulder whether you liked it or not. But he was also horribly hyperactive and mischievous. And it all came to a head when we visited just before Christmas.

We were supposed to have had a big baby shower for my cousin Susan at grandma Genevieve's, but snowstorms forced us to cancel, and she was so horribly disappointed. Since I only lived 45 minutes away, I came up with Minchy for a visit the weekend after. It was a disaster.

Checking out Happy

He was a wild man from the minute we came in the door. He pulled whole branches off her artificial Christmas tree in the living room. He ATE ornaments. He grabbed things out of the trashcan in the bathroom and pulled them into the living room. He ran upstairs and jumped on her bed and peed into the bedpan that was sitting up there wrapped in a plastic bag. (I admired his knowledge of what such things were used for, and grateful for the plastic that kept the urine from getting on the bedding, but still.) He dragged a basket of potpourri into the next room, dumped it out and proceeded to gnaw on pinecones like they were a chewy toy. I was at my wit's end. I called my mom in tears from the upstairs after I attempted a time-out with him in one of the spare bedrooms.

My grandma loved it. She laughed and laughed and clapped her hands every time he committed a new atrocity. I don't doubt that he was doing it all to entertain and impress her. Finally, toward the end of the night, we decided to go to bed. My grandma was sleeping in a bed downstairs in a side room at that time. We got ready for bed, then decided I should take Minchy out to potty one last time before going to sleep. I took him downstairs, and he jumped into bed with my grandmother. Let me reiterate that. He did not jump ON the bed with my grandmother. He jumped IN the bed with her. Under the sheets. Head on pillow. Nose to nose.

The next morning we sat in the kitchen, me exhausted and spiteful, her feeding Minchy bits of toast and exclaiming over how gently he took treats. When I announced it was time for us to leave, he bolted off and hid under the couch in the living room. It took another half-hour for me to chase him down and corral him so I could leash him and go out to the car to drive away in our shame.

Shortly before she passed away, my grandma was staying at my parents' house when we visited with the dogs. Minchy bolted in the house as usual, a little tasmanian devil whirlwind, and stopped short in his tracks in front of my grandmother. He looked up at her with total recognition, and his ears went back. He remembered how he had behaved the last time he had seen her. The rest of the weekend he stayed curled at her feet. He gently jumped into bed with her and curled up at her side, growling and showing his teeth to my mother when she tried to get him to leave. My grandma couldn't stop talking about what a good boy he'd become, how he was nothing like that wild animal that had been at her house that night.

One of the last things she said to me was how proud she was that Minchy had become such a good dog.


  1. No fair making me tear up at work.

  2. Oh wow. This was all just wonderful. Dogs truly do bring out the best in people. I can only imagine what a hit Penny is!
    My Grandma Margaret and Dink were just the best of friends. They loved each other so much. My Grandma would give her cheese and love and everything good. Dink would immediately jump on her lap when we would visit and I'm sure it probably hurt my Grandma and I would yell, "Dink!" And Grandma would say, "Oh she is fine!" and then Dink would nap on her ottoman by her feet. After my grandma died I went to her house and brought Dink-E along, because anytime I was going anywhere she would go. She ran and looked at the chair, no Grandma. Then went to the fridge (where she would get cheese from Grandma.) Not there either. I put a picture of Grandma Marg and Dink in her casket. They were great friends.

  3. What a great story! I remember my grandma trying to give Minchy a piece of cheese and he actually turned up his nose because it was just cheese slices. I don't think we'd ever given him cheese before to make him into a cheese-snob. He just naturally was one.

  4. I enjoyed this thoroughly - here's to Penny, Paddy, Happy (especially Happy!), Minchy, and all the other magical beings who are blessings to ours spirits.