Tooth Fairy

July 2008, continued

Zozo is the most charming pupper-doodle ever.  Eh-VER.  He’s sweet and goofy and smart.  Here he is with a rope toy.

with rope toy

Other than Dragon, who is gingerly moved from one corner of the apartment to another like a security reptile, this rope toy becomes a go-to Mama’s Little Helper.  When Zo gets antsy in his crate, we drape the rope in, around and/or through the crate sides and the puzzle is on.  When he gets nippy, out comes MLH for a game of tug-of-war.

Know what else comes out? His molar.  It klinks to the floor in a moment of absolute silence.  We both look at it, he with curiosity (can I eat that?) and I with terror.  I broke the puppy.  I played too rough, and I’ve destroyed Zo’s dental integrity.  There’s no OW in fun.  Game over.

Quickly, I run to the kitchen and pull out an ice cube for the pup to nom until I can verify if his mouth is bleeding.  However, he’s more interested in herding the cat and rearranging our dining room chairs.  Completely unphased, his world continues on.  Why these things happen when I’m home alone with the pets is beyond me, but it’s starting to feel very unfair.

Maybe it wasn’t a tooth, I start to explain the situation away.  Maybe it’s a pebble from a shoe that just happened to fall out of thin air the very moment you and Zo were playing.  I’m muttering.  I carefully store the possible pebble-tooth in a ziplock bag, and I try to go about business as usual.

James has taken off work tomorrow.  I’m finally heading back in to the office after spending two days at home housebreaking and crate training the dog. I’m rereading the sections I’ve highlighted in “How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend” in hopes that we can start positive reinforcement obedience training later in the week.  I’ve over-thought my fur-motherhood.  I’m tired and it’s good that I’m inserting myself back into my pre-Zozo routine.

I call James twice from work the next day, casually asking if Zo seems to be salivating more or indicating soreness in his gums from the empty socket where his molar used to be.  Nothing to report.  He sends me pictures of Pupperdoo (that’s nickname numero uno, thankyouverymuch) so I’m involved in the going’s on at home.  Napping.  Pee breaks.  General boy stinkyness.  I wish I was there.

Finally home from work, I’m on the rug puppy-pouncing with Zozo while James cooks up dinner.  Zo bobs and I weave and he clonks his head against my chin. Plink.  I freeze and he trots away to the kitchen, looking for a carrot or some cat food.  Still splayed on the floor, I stare at the tooth and erupt into tears.  Our six month old new dog is losing his teeth, and it’s all my fault.

I pick up the phone and call the vet’s office, but it’s after hours and I’m redirected to the Alexandria Animal Hospital.  The tech who answers the phone listens to my guilty confession.  She asks for Zozo’s age, his breed and for a general health history.  She puts me on hold.  I’m gesturing to James that he should find the leash so we can get in the car because the dog is obviously dying, but my charades aren’t particularly specific or good.

Both Zozo and Athena have made their way over to me.  He’s licking the salt from my cheeks, and Athena bats the tooth across the floor.  I’m up, nudging her out of the way to prevent it from gliding under the couch, and Zo gets excited at the activity.  “Oh, we’re running!  The cat is being my friend!  This is the best night of my life!”  He barks for the first time, a tenor that sounds like a tarnished New Years noisemaker.

The tech doesn’t return to the phone, but the doctor on duty does.  Turns out he’s the same vet who gave Zo his first series of puppy shots yesterday.  “Tell me what’s up with our boy.”  I recount the tug of war and the head-bonk.  I tell him we have two dog molars in a ziplock bag.

“Wow,” says he vet, and I can’t breathe.

“I’m really sorry, it was an accident,” I plead.

“No, this is really cool.  We never see them.”

“See what?”

“Puppy teeth.  You know dogs lose their teeth like human children.”

“…. oh… oh yeah, sure.  Totally, yes.” I’m lying.

“Usually, they fall out when they’re eating and they end up swallowed.  We don’t get to see them.  Can you bring them in with you when we see you in a couple of weeks?”

“Sure, yeah. Yes. Totally.”  Because rearranging the words makes me feel like less of an ass.

I hang up the phone, and I relay our prognosis to James.  Totally normal.  Zozo’s just losing his teeth like any other little boy.

I’m getting a beer.

Like the Led Zeppelin album?

July 2008

I’m making lemonade.  Literally crushing lemons and mixing the juice with water and sugar because I don’t know what to focus on for the next seven minutes.  The apartment is shiny.  Athena’s had a bath, and she’s still screaming a soundtrack of dismay while she dries herself under the dinner table.  We’ve puppy-proofed our stuff as much as is reasonable.  We’ve even cleared a spot where we’d put the crate if we’re approved.  All that’s missing is a pup.

The Home Visitor arrives exactly two minutes early, produces her Homeward Trails Animal Rescue credentials so we know she’s not “just anyone,” and we welcome her in.  I get gabby because I want to make a good impression.  I’m nervous.  A sideways-and-down glance from James silences me.

Before I can offer her some hand-squished lemonade made from anxiety, she’s looked in every room, under our bed and is on her way out the door.

“Thanks for your time.  We’ll be in touch.”


The break-up pit of despair in the bottom of my stomach reopens, and I’m shuffling towards a trauma-nap when my cell rings.  It’s our adoption coordinator, asking if we’d be around on Saturday.  The Home Visitor thought we were great.  We’re it.

Tuesday- the rest of the night.  We’re going to be parents.  Oh. My. Gahhhhhh.  If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a planner.  Planners plan for every possible… everything.  I begin to worry that four days isn’t enough time to get ourselves together.  There are like 75 things on my list that have to be done before the furbaby arrives. I kid you not.

Within minutes, we’re off to Petsmart (or was it Petco) to spend a small fortune on a training crate, Kong™ toys, treats, food and bowls and, most importantly, a squeaky dragon toy instantly dubbed “Dragon.”  It’s green and iridescent purple and James picks it out because he himself loves dragons and so naturally the pup will, too.  Maybe we can bring it along when we pick him up.  We rearrange our furniture and set up the crate.  Neither of us can sleep from excitement.

Wednesday.  Emails fly between us during work.  We talk on the phone during lunch, a breach of our typical protocol.  We happen to stroll over to the neighborhood dog park when we’re walking home from the grocery store with dinner, just to check things out.  All conversation is dog-focused.  We make changes to our schedule for Saturday, and eliminate all non-essential commitments for the next several weeks to allow for an adjustment period.  We reach out to family and our closest friends with our big news. Again, no sleep.

Thursday.  I contact our vet to schedule the first in a series of puppy check-ups.  I fax over what little health-history paperwork we have for the boy.  I inquire as to whether I should establish a quarantine for the cat so that she doesn’t pick up any bugs he may be carrying from the kennel.  The vet tech is gracious and patient, “Is this your first dog?”  Athena sniffs interestingly at the crate and dog toys we’ve set out around the apartment, so they pick up the smell of home.  She pees on his crate bed.  Awesome. 

Friday.  I schedule to be out of work the following Monday and Tuesday in order to facilitate crate training and to make sure both pets are transitioning appropriately.  I might as well have taken today off, too, because I’m completely worthless from lack of sleep. I try to convince James we should change the spelling of the pup’s name to XOXO, so he can be the hugs-n-kisses puppy.  The suggestion isn’t dignified with an answer.  We line up friends and family to provide midday potty breaks to the pup when we have to go back to work.

Saturday- The Big Day.  We drive out to the pick-up site and wait for the transport.  6 other expectant families fidget in the parking lot with their adoption coordinators.  A “Silence of the Lambs” van curb-checks into the lot and the coordinators quickly pop the back doors and start releasing the dogs from their travel crates.  We wait; leash, collar and Dragon in-hand, watching labs, retrievers and mutts get matched with their forever families.  We’re starting to wonder if maybe another van is coming.  Minutes pass and we’re (I’m) getting antsy.  Then, one more dog sleepily lumbers out of the van.  Black Collie tail, Newfie legs and feet, white star on his chest like a Carebear-stare.  He’s bigger than we expect for 6 months old; shaggier.  So handsome.  James walks him over to a grassy knoll for a pit stop while I finish up our paperwork.  We finally head back to the car to drive home.

Me. James.  Dragon.  And Zozo.

Photo Credit: Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, 2008

Photo Credit: Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, 2008

Why can’t we save them all?

May through June 2008

We’re going to get a dog.  We start telling people, “We’re getting a dog.”  Not really designer people, and since I’m a sucker for a good bleeding-heart story, we know we’ll rescue.  But from where?  With so many resources out there, and a significant lull at work, the emails flew:  links to websites and rescue societies, craigslist ads for people “looking for a new home for their pet they love so much but can’t have anymore because [insert reason here],” news stories about dogs from puppy mills and hoarders in need of a forever home (we could save one or four, right?).  We exchange more emails during the months of our dog hunt than we have during our entire courtship.

And then we find him.  I stumble across a link for a Chow/Lab mix who had been so mistreated by his previous owners that he’s gone blind.  The photos online show a dog with a perpetual smile, eyelids sewn shut, purple-tongue extended and ears open to face the world.  His profile boasts of a big, slobbery, happy boy with zero aggression-tendencies seeking a calm, forever home.  We must save him.  I send his foster-mom an application email, and the waiting begins.

 To keep busy during the waiting, I know I should do something totally unrelated to the pup.  Knit, read, take a language class, maybe clean the apartment.

 Instead, I lose my mind. 

I contact several veterinarians and scour the internet for information on how to train blind dogs. I reach out to consultants in our area specializing in “nesting” for special-needs pets.  I engage James in extensive dinner-time discussions about what scents we’d make each room in the apartment so the pup would know where he’d wandered to.  Would James feel incomplete having a dog he can’t play catch with or have as a running companion?  My wishlist fills up with toys specifically designed to engage dogs with sensory impairment.  I become the Wikipedia of blind-dog knowledge.  The Monks of New Skete are my homeboys.

But the unthinkable happens.  The foster-mom abruptly ends our correspondence and disapproves our application.  We’re perfect.  We’re gainfully employed and around.  We’re prepared to take care of whatever medical needs the pup has.  Our references are impeccable.

The response?  The apartment’s Property Managers have changed their breed policies.  No dogs with any Chow genes are welcome.  For the record, none of the following breeds are welcome: Staffordshire Terriers, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Chows, Akitas or Dobermans.  (We’ll get back to this later.)

 And I am heart-broken.  No one would love that fur-boy like we could.  I take the news like a 14 year old girl’s big break-up from the love of her life.  I cry.  I shred pictures.  I’m angry and I decide we should move—apparently, that’s irrational of me, and so James and I fight.  We will never find another dog. (We= me making declarations.)

 James, meanwhile, is clandestinely continuing the search. Smart man.  After a week, he gently sends me the PetFinder link to a Border collie/Something mix. 

Me: Ok, he’s kind of adorable… Is that a star on his chest?

James: This fuzzy boy is living in West Virginia but can be driven to NoVa for the right family. 

Me: I don’t know, James.  Maybe we’re not the right family.

James, ignoring the previous comment/trap: Great with other dogs and cat-tested.

Me: Whatever, Athena will hate him no matter what.

James: He shows some signs of anxiety around people, men in particular.

Me: Well boys are kind of dumb, so he’s a smart dog.

James: He’ll need love and patience.

Me, perking up: I have those things.

James: Socialization exercise with humans. 

Me: We have friends!

James: The rest of his litter has already been adopted.


Homeward Trails Animal Rescue is handling the adoption applications.  We send in a form, and within 24 hours we’re contacted for references and to schedule a home visit.  If all goes well and we’re approved, the pup will be on the next transport.  Fingers crossed.

Pet Rent

My cat and I were a package deal, two girls who had been through a rough year and were looking for a safe place to land. So we found an apartment in an up-and-coming Urban Village and settled in, James deciding to make the move with us. We didn’t really talk about living together, but there we were: a diva-kitty and two humans establishing roots in an apartment that looked like the inside of Chipotle.

Athena, looking on judgingly from her cat-condo.

Athena, looking on judgingly from her cat-condo.

7 months into our cohabitation, James and I got the itch. We started thinking long-term and maybe adding to our little family. We could make it work. We’d have to make some financial sacrifices and rearrange our work schedules. We had a bunch of friends and family nearby, so arranging for sitters wouldn’t be a big problem. Our social lives would change, but maybe that was for the better. We’d slow down. It would make us stronger as a couple. We might not be ready, but then who really is?

We had decided: we’d rescue a dog.