Hairless, Hair-brained and Hair-raising “Tails”

Brad had already established a series of puppy rules for the home: no dog on the couch, no dog on the bed, no table food for the dog. I circumvented some of the rules but was very supportive of the “no table food rule”. I insisted that Chase was not on the couch or bed, just merely on my lap. Brad adjusted the rules so that the dog could be on my lap but no dog part could touch the couch or bed. “Dogs belong on the floor” he asserted.

One week after Chase became a part of our family, he had his first vet visit. He had gained a pound and he still had a raspy cough so he was scheduled for a follow-up visit the next week. Otherwise, the vet declared him to be healthy.

Back at the house, we were quickly discovering that this puppy kept positioning himself under our feet. It was difficult to remember to look down before we stepped and many times Chase would squeak like a dog toy with our ill-placed feet. Brad seemed to step on the dog more than me; however it was I who closed the front door on Chase one Saturday afternoon.

It is my belief, after many years of experience with animals that only bad things happen to them on the weekends and after veterinary office hours. We tenderly placed our quivering ball of fluff into the car and drove the 25 miles to the nearest animal hospital. This facility typically charges a minimum of three hundred dollars just to walk in the door. Chase hobbled around on three legs, holding his injured leg up dramatically. We were escorted into a room where we waited for the vet to arrive. As soon as the vet walked into the room, Chase became excited about this new person and bounded across the floor. He soon forgot which leg was “injured” and tested a few of them out in the injured paw pose. The vet wanted to take an X-ray just to be on the safe side. We concurred. Chase was diagnosed with a sprained paw and was prescribed a low dose of pain medicine just in case he needed it. His records would be forwarded to his regular vet and as an added bonus we were given his X-ray. Since he was so small, it was an X-ray of his entire body. I planned on framing this expensive piece of art.

At his follow-up vet visit with the regular vet, Chase was given a clean bill of health and a chiropractic adjustment to keep his spine in alignment. I wasn’t sure that his spine needed to be aligned as he was still just a baby, but he didn’t seem to mind the procedure. We were given the vet’s after-hours number to call if any future emergencies occurred. Another vet visit was scheduled which seemed to be a follow-up to the follow-up. I tried to remember if my parents had taken their dog to the vet as often as we were. It seemed to me that back then, the dog went to the veterinarian once a year. Maybe things had changed.

Between these vet visits, Chase was scratching himself a lot and chewing at his paws. I couldn’t see any fleas. My grandmother kept telling me that this was an ugly dog. She thought his fur was too thin. Of course, I disagreed but the next visit to the vet proved me wrong. He had the mange. The vet explained that because Chase contracted parvovirus, his immune system was not up to par and that made it easier for the mange to rear its ugly head. I was given a dip to take home and some eye goo. The eye goo went directly on the dog’s eyes to protect them while you dipped the dog. The eye goo was nearly impossible to apply. The first eye went smoothly but he knew what was coming with the second eye and kept twisting his head around to avoid the application. Brad had to hold his head in place but it still wasn’t easy – this dog could squirm! He was still small so I used an old cooler to dip him. After three more follow-up visits, he had lost nearly all his fur, and the vet decided that if the mange didn’t clear up soon, more drastic measures would be taken. I was worried. Brad helped me research the disease on the internet. It was full of myths, semi-truths and things that seemed more believable. We learned that coating the dog in motor oil was a myth, although this seemed obvious to both of us. The things that held the most truth were immune system building foods for dogs. Translation: cook homemade food for the dog.

Never in a million years did I think that one day I would be a doggie culinary chef. I mixed up batches of rice, salmon, and broccoli. For variety there was also a choice of rice, sardines and spinach. I added all of the recommended vitamins that were guaranteed to build Chase’s immune system and promote healthy skin. Chase loved mealtime.

I’m not sure if this was considered table food because we were not partaking in his special cuisine, but our puppy was certainly pleased with his new diet. Did it work? His fur grew back and there were no more medicated cooler dips. I seemed to believe in the power of sardines and my grandmother decided that he had a beautiful coat. We were also seeing less of the vet which was good for our wallet.

At the time I couldn’t imagine that one day, Brad would be inviting the dog up on the couch to snuggle while watching a movie or calling him back to bed when it was time to sleep. Or saving a few small pieces of steak as a special treat. No couch? No bed? No table food? No way.


The Dog Application

Brad and I were ready for a huge step in our lives… a dog. I had been slowly chipping away at his wall for a couple of years. He was perfectly content with the two cats. Madison had despised me from the moment I woke him up at the animal shelter and adopted him. I think he was smart enough to add two plus two equals neutered cat and has hated me ever since. Crook was a stray and still afraid of us. I wanted a dog. The final wall collapsed shortly after Christmas when my expensive watch stopped working and Brad had to return the present to the store. I demanded a “watch” dog as my replacement present. To my surprise, he agreed.

I knew that I wanted an English Setter. Several years before, I was in charge of three dogs: a black lab, a Springer Spaniel and an Orange Belton English Setter. I felt that Labs were too hyper and I knew that the Springer Spaniel had an enormous amount of energy. I fondly recalled the English Setter and how she would roam contentedly through the salt marsh each day on her adventures. I also remembered how she would bring me little surprises: a raccoon, a blue heron, a deer. I’m pretty sure the deer had already departed this earth and she merely dragged it back for me. My dog, I decided, would be properly trained so he would not bring me gifts.

Brad had other ideas about the breed of dog. He wanted a beagle. He fondly remembered his childhood dog and insisted that he have one just like Frisky. I finally won the “Battle of the Breeds” but Brad attached conditions. We could only have a white and brown dog. No black at all. His conditions puzzled me because he really wanted a black cat; however, I was not going to argue with him about colors.

After some internet research, we found a rescue organization for English Setters and began the tedious process of completing the adoption application. Once the application was submitted, a phone interview was completed, our vet was interrogated and all of our references were checked out, we would be subjected to a home visit. If approval was given, we would be assigned a case worker who would help us find the proper dog. It was an intimidating process.

We started with the seven page application. There were many questions that warranted more in depth answers with no extra space given. We had just moved into our house and had only been in it for a few months and worried that this would be frowned upon as it didn’t show a connection to our community. There was no additional space to elaborate and no other addresses were requested. I had to remind myself that this was an application for a dog – not a job or a baby.

We then needed to list our occupations. I again worried about writing “Storm Chaser” on the line for Brad. Would this negatively affect us as a dangerous occupation?

The application had an area to list all previous dogs owned and what had happened to them. I affectionately recalled my childhood dogs: Keeshonds who had both died of old age. I knew Brad was fond of his beagle and I asked him what had happened to the dog. He told me that he had the dog for a few weeks before his dad ran over it with the car. I was horrified! How could I put that on the application? I considered my options: omit the beagle or explain that it couldn’t happen again because Brad’s father was no longer alive. As I erased “beagle” from the application, I wondered how Brad could have so many fond memories of a dog he only had for three weeks.

After completing two pages, my hand hurt from all of the writing. It was disclosed on page three that preference was given to a fenced-in yard. In fact, while it may not be held against the applicant, it was strongly encouraged to have a fenced-in yard. In this section, there was plenty of space to clarify why an applicant with no fence should be considered. I used the entire space to explain that we lived on a large amount of land with no close neighbors and six-acre pond acting as a natural barrier. We also had a dirt road leading to our house…the only house…and no traffic.

The remaining questions on the next few pages were bringing out my sarcastic side: How will the dog get exercise? Where will the dog sleep? Where will the dog be during the day? Where will the dog be at night? If you are not at home where will the dog be? Where will the dog go when you are on vacation? I tried out a few answers in my head such as “the dog will work out on the treadmill” and “the dog will sleep in his own bedroom” and “the dog will lounge on the couch eating bon bons and watching soap operas during the day”, but in the end decided that I should perhaps come up with answers that were a little more serious.

A favorite trick question was “Where will the dog go if you move?” I held back the sarcastic answer and simply wrote that the dog would move with us.

I listed references, wrote a check for the application fee and mailed off the packet. I found out that our references were checked because the persons listed called me. The vet was also contacted. I finally received a call from our case worker who told me that a couple who lived near us would be conducting the home visit. If we successfully passed the home visit, we would be matched with potential dogs.

The home visit day had arrived. The husband and wife team stood in our living room and stiffly asked questions on a clipboard. The visit was very surreal and only five years later, when Brad and I were recruited to conduct a home visit, did we understand the “why” behind these questions. We are now enlightened but at the time we found it most peculiar. We didn’t really “connect” with the couple but they gave a good report and we were ready to find our dog.

I told the case worker that we only wanted a male dog with white and brown coloring. We were interested in a young dog between the ages of two and five and he had to get along with cats. Our very specific requirements should have been daunting but the case worker was fantastic. Several prospects were quickly ruled out after the case worker contacted the foster parent and learned the dog did not like cats. A few months went by with no successful matches. The case worker called me and told me about a litter of puppies that had been given to a shelter in Mississippi. The litter and the parents were transferred to Tennessee where the puppies were diagnosed with Parvo. Both parents were adopted. Only one puppy survived. She felt that this puppy would meet all of our requirements except for the age. We could train him to respect the cats. She believed it was a perfect fit. I convinced Brad and a few days later, I was on my way to Nashville to pick up my puppy from his foster mom.

It was love at first sight. He was five pounds of fluffy white fur. His head was bigger than his body. He had floppy ears and a button nose. One leg was still shaved from where the IV had been. It looked like a funny leg warmer from the eighties. Nothing mattered but the fact that we had our dog. Chase.