Our pets, Our hearts
A few weeks ago, my social media was adorably inundated with photos of my friends dogs in honour of National Puppy Day, and here we are at National Pet Day! There's little I love more than to than to scroll through loads of cute furry photos!! We don't call them our furbabies for nothing - we dote on them, clean up after them, scold them, spoil them.... oh, and love them unconditionally! They fill our hearts with love and then adorably drag them through the whole furry spectrum of emotions before breaking them to a million pieces when we have to say goodbye. I've seen my father cry twice in my life. The first time was when we had to put our loyal, smart, handsome chocolate lab Casey down. Casey Chippits (after my favorite teddy bear, and his father, Chocolate Chip) was the son my dad never had - his hunting buddy, the quiet and obedient one, in a house full of not-so-quiet (or obedient) girls. He was 1st pick of the litter, and my dad went to the states from Canada to get him on exactly his 49th day in this world. My dad spent countless hours training him to retrieve. Casey learnt hand, whistle, and word commands - proving that dogs listen far better than little girls ever do. I would've been about four and a half, and my sister around 18 months when we got him. While I don't remember the day he came home, I remember running to the basement in the mornings to see him. My mom, who is allergic to everything with fur, was afraid of him, even when he was 10lbs. As he got bigger, he chewed everything in sight. My dad likes to tell that he ate an entire picnic table once (dad stories, anyone?). I do remember him eating one of my dad's sweatbands that fell off the clothesline one summer... Or I guess finding the evidence of it is what marked my memory so clearly lol. I also remember Casey digging massive holes under the fence, and driving around the neighbourhood calling his name from the car. My family moved from the Soo to Ottawa when I was six. We would still drive back to the Soo to spend half the summer at my grandparents cottage, and Casey would travel in a little house that my dad built on a trailer. God I wish I had a photo of that for this post. I think our dog started the tiny-house movement back in the 80s. This thing was aerodynamic, completely enclosed, with airvents, and wood shavings (like hamster bedding) inside. In those days my dad had a little Toyota truck with the smallest backseat that has ever been created. Even for child-sized humans it was torturous. We would make that 10-12 hour drive from Ottawa to the Soo, my sister and I fighting over who crossed the center line between drawing in our colouring books to the sounds of Céline Dion or Tina Turner belting their lungs out on cassette in the background. Our drawing "tables" for the car were a pair of plastic dish draining boards that had wide, speckled grooves in them that made colouring in the car even more impossible than it already was (perfectionist oldest child here, naturally). And Casey was back there, living the dream in his VIP trailer, being towed behind us like the Queen of England. No one to steal his crayons, or stick their foot over the line just to get a rise out of him. No "What's Love Got To Do With It" for the 12th time, or worse, hours of newstalk AM radio. Just peace, quiet, and I imagine the occasional sharp pang of anxiety while my dad flew past everyone on the highway. My dad is a cop, which means he drives "better (and faster) than everyone else on the road". Coincidentally, his driver's license is next to his badge, which seems to work like a company discount if we were ever pulled over.
The Casey stories are numerous. From all his puppy mischief, to hunting stories, to that time he got loose at night at our cottage and went to a Pig Roast at a nearby hotel. He brought back the snout, and clearly over indulged, because he was so so sick the whole next day! The time he got sprayed by a skunk and it felt like our whole house and neighborhood reeked for a week. Having a dog is fun and gross, hard and hilarious all at the same time. Casey made it all the way to 13, and putting him down was probably the saddest thing our family ever had to do.
Now Jason and I have a dog of our own: a handsome, stubborn pitty-lab-bulldog mix (we did his DNA - how cool, right?). When we saw Scout's profile on a Lab Rescue website, Jason made an appointment to visit him. I was in Florida training with Team Canada at the time. One of the girls said "You know Steph, there is no such thing as going to 'look' at a dog". She was right. Scout was black, with a white patch on his chest. In the photo, we thought he looked maybe part dane, tall and lanky with an adorable face. When I got back to Wisconsin, we met Scout, who was the opposite of tall and lanky, but still adorable. And a week later we were dog owners. Just 6 weeks after becoming cat owners. J and I just really diving into the pet scene head first. Scout seemed to have a split personality - quiet, snuggly, obedient inside; stubborn, strong, anxious outside. He wouldn't meet our eyes for the first months, and it often felt like he couldn't even hear us at all when we were outside. I was afraid he was going to eat the cat, and we had to keep them completely separate for 6 months, which was draining. If Lilli (our feline lovebug) was younger, faster, or clawed, I think we would've had a much easier transition. But she is 21, slow, stiff, declawed and partially deaf. The need to protect her was real, and our ability to trust him was non-existent. As I'm sure was his ability to trust us or anyone. I bet everyone who adopts a rescue pet wonders what their past was. We know Scout was picked up on the streets in Houston, Texas. We wonder if he was at a kill-shelter, because a rescue operation ended him up in Wisconsin, with the loveliest foster family imaginable. They said when he arrived, he had almost no fur, and was so food aggressive that they had to feed their dog behind closed doors. He has small scars on his face, and he is pretty afraid of taking any kind of stairs or narrow space. My heart prays he was never in one of those terrible dog fighting rings, but all to say, the poor soul probably didn't know what was happening to him and around him for a while. It has been quite the year, and we have come such a long way. I would even say both pets are coexisting peacefully and thriving in the house. Yesterday, when Scout went over to the couch where Lilli was sleeping and looked over to me for approval to hop on. I nodded and said 'It's okay', to which he put his snout on the couch, followed by one front paw, then another. Lilli lifted her head and gave him an icy stare. Then one back leg, and quickly, the last back paw. He laid down instantly, facing away from her, as if to say 'I promise I'm not going to bother you, just please let me lay on this couch'. Lilli put her head back down, allowing it... for now. As I watched from the table, my heart bursting just a little, having my own "proud mother" moment. Because I honestly didn't know if we would ever get to this. Time prescribed with patience - the cure for so many circumstances...
So to all the people working patiently with their pets: giving them a forever home, loving them when they are cute puppies or kitties, and loving them more when they are old and tired.... my heart thanks you. Because they are so much like us. They have their moods and their personalities. They have good days, and bad days. They make us laugh, and they let us down. None of them are perfect, and neither are we. But we all deserve unconditional love and second chances. And that's what loving an animal teaches us.