Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The puppy who chose freedom

Saturday evening we had some American friends at the house, and we all walked down to the doner shop together for dinner.  As we settled down at the cafe tables to eat, a puppy was making the rounds begging for handouts.  She was thin but not emaciated, mostly brown with white socks on her front paws and black and white stripes on her muzzle.

The kids have been wanting a pet for quite a while.  We had some turtles for a while in Kosova, but they died.  We've never had the conditions to keep a cat or dog.  Since Luke was born, we've shared a yard with the landlord (minus the two years during that time that we were on Stateside assignment).  Another factor is that we've tried to keep our house welcoming to our Muslim neighbors, many of whom are disgusted by indoor pets.  Then there's the issue of our lives straddling two continents.  We stay in Europe for four years then go back to the States for a year, then back to Europe again.  What do you do with a dog when it's time to move back and forth across the Atlantic?

I offered the kids compromises.  What about a hamster?  A guinea pig?  A nice rabbit?  But they weren't interested.  We have some colleagues here in Macedonia who work with the same organization we do, and they keep a dog.  It turns that taking a pet between countries does require some extra work but nothing insurmountable.  I know that my kids are growing up, and deep down I guess I feel that their childhood would have been deficient if they never had a dog or cat.  So I promised them that when we looked for a house, we would try to find one that had a yard where we could keep a dog.

One of the first things I noticed about our present house the first time I saw it was that tucked among the weeds and trash was a crudely made doghouse.  This was clearly a yard where it was possible to keep a dog.  (It turns out that the former owner kept, not one, but four dogs.  I'm starting to gather that a lot of neighbors were grateful to see him go!)  

So there we were at the doner shop with the kids pulling that, "Please, dad, can we keep her?" thing, and I said ok.  The black and white stripes on her muzzle suggested a badger, so I proposed the name Bella after a badger character in the book I've been reading to the kids at bedtime.  

Lydia carried Bella in her arms for the five minute walk home.   I could see that it was a bit of  a struggle for her.  While the dog was far from fully grown, she wasn't tiny either.  Halfway there I offered to relieve Lydia of her burden, but she insisted on going the distance herself.  

When we got within sight of home, I realized that we had a problem.  The house is surrounded by an iron fence with big gaps everywhere.  Only a fairly large dog would be unable to crawl out.  I don't know how the former owner kept them in unless he bought them when they were big.  Or maybe he kept them chained up.  I just hoped that once Bella tasted the affection (not to mention the puppy chow) that we had to offer, she would choose to stay.

The kids (our two and six guests) and Bella romped and played for hours that evening.  Lydia went to the grocery store on the corner and bought dog food, and we were amazed at how quickly the puppy wolfed it down.  It soon became evident that we were going to have to teach Bella some manners.  She nipped at the heels of the little ones and made them cry.  But overall we all found her very charming. 

During the course of the evening she darted in and out of the fence a few times but always came back. When our guests left and Lydia and Luke had to go inside for the night, Bella cried and whimpered at the door for a while as if to say, "Please come out and play with me some more!  Please don't leave me by myself!"

I awoke the next morning with apprehension.  Would she still be there?  She was waiting in the yard, and she wagged her tail enthusiastically when I walked out the door.  We had crossed the first big hurdle.  We fed her again and left for church hoping against hope that she would still be there when we got back.  She was.

After lunch I announced that Bella was going to get a bath. We decided that I would hold her down while Lydia would hose and shampoo her.  She firmly disliked the water and detested the shampoo even more.  It was all I could do to hold on to her while she wiggled and whimpered.  When it was done she shot through the fence and ran a little ways down the road where she rolled and rubbed on the asphalt trying to rid herself of the stench of Johnson's Baby Shampoo. That was the last we saw of her.

The kids didn't cry or anything.  The good thing is that they had had less than 24 hours to get attached to her.  On Monday afternoon Lydia was moping around the house, and she suddenly said, "Dad, is it ok if I go take a walk?"  

"Where are you thinking you want to go?" I asked.

"Oh, you know... down by the doner place."

I understood.  "Of course it's ok," I said.  

She was back in a very short time.  I knew before I even asked that Bella wasn't there.

We'll get anothe puppy eventually.  I still don't know how I'm going to do it.  We can't afford to put up a new fence even if our landlord would allow it.  I know that in the US you can string wires underneath the permiter of your yard and outfit your dog with a special collar, but I doubt that that is available here.  After having read Shiloh out loud to the kids last year, none of us wants to be the kind of person who keeps his dog chained up.  Maybe we'll build a puppy pen inside the yard -- just until our he or she gets too big to fit through the fence.  We'll figure something out.


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