Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Finding Arya

I'm sitting on a couch in Maryland, watching "Lady and the Tramp" with an awesome puppy sleeping next to me.

How did this happen?

I've wanted a dog since I was a kiddo.  It took me 31 years.  Family allergies/lack of dog enthusiasm took dogs off the table for us.  My mom almost got suckered into bidding on a husky puppy at a fundraiser once, but that was the closest we ever came to dog ownership. We had the requisite carnival goldfish growing up.  I caught plenty of frogs and lizards.  We got a hamster after my sister's classroom hamster died and my parents volunteered to replace it, only to pick out a female that happened to be pregnant.

My mom asked for a tarantula one Christmas--she named it Noel.  None of us ever handled this fuzzy critter, but she was a great pet...we only had to feed her once a month and she made a nifty conversation piece.  When we turned 10, my sister and I were allowed to pick out a pet we could independently care for (but no birds!)  My sister got a lop.  When you get a rabbit, you learn quickly that most rabbits don't like to cuddle, unless very well handled and socialized.  Cuddling = "Something is about to eat me!!" to a bunny.  She was about as friendly as the Monty Python rabbit. She lived in a fenced area of the backyard.  Eventually she lived on our roof for a couple months...but that's another story.

When I turned 10, I picked a lovely pink and lavender ghost corn snake.  I named her Blossom.  I maintain that this wasn't a reference to the TV show.  But I was 10.  Blossom was neat.  I loved taking her to the park and showing her off.  In high school, I also owned 3 chameleons.  The first, Vladimir Adrian Chernabog Dodgson III, died after 2 weeks (an unscrupulous salesperson sold me a sickly critter with an abscess from a cricket bite).  The two who stuck with me a bit longer were Byron Caliban Mission de Bergerac (3 horned Jackson chameleon) and Dolores Augusta Persephone Liddell (Senegal chameleon).  I was 16.  I liked books.

I thought about getting another snake in college.  But the smell wasn't the greatest.  And Blossom got cranky and bitey near the end.  My husband Lee and I got married in 2005.  Within a few months of getting married, I made a PowerPoint presentation for him titled "Why We Should Get A Chameleon."

He didn't go for it.  He doesn't like keeping wild, tropical things in terrariums...fair enough.  He had a couple family dogs growing up.  The one I knew, Shelby, was a gorgeous Australian Shepherd.  Lee's family got her when Lee was 15 years old.  She was a puppy--he picked her out.  The breeders noted that they'd named her Terminator.  My mother-in-law did not heed this warning.  In hindsight, she felt this was possibly a poor choice.  But Shelby was a wonderful dog.  At first, she'd jump like crazy when I came into the house, and bark whenever I hugged Lee.  Over time, she mellowed out around me.  I thought this was because she'd accepted me as a member of the family.  In all likelihood, it was simply her failing vision.  Shelby got more and more wobbly, and was put to sleep last year, at the age of 16.

The puppy fever really kicked in for me about 5 years ago.  Since I didn't grow up in a dog family, I was always a little daunted by the prospect of owning one.  How does that work?  But about 5 years ago some grad school friends brought their 2 dogs over during a BBQ. The dogs ran around our home.  They jumped on our bean bag.  They didn't bite cords and electrocute themselves.  They didn't destroy the house.  They were lovely.  I told my husband that if he wanted to surprise me with a puppy, I was officially totally cool with that plan.  I began to think more and more about living with a dog.  Pups started catching my eye. An early one was a lovely pekingese border collie mix at the local shelter named Gomez. But it was not our time. From July 2010-July 2011, I had to live 2 hours away from my husband during weekdays while completing internship.  I started spending inordinate amounts of time on  Often while tipsy.

My sister had told me several years earlier that if I ever got a dog, she'd need to stay in a hotel when she came to visit (allergies, general dog dislike).  Then she fell in love with a boy who had a fabulous sheltie named Atticus.  In November, 2011, my sister and this boy got engaged.  We visited them soon after for Thanksgiving.  Three days with Atticus really fanned the flames. I had a fever.  And the only prescription was...more puppy.


In December, 2011, I was preparing to head home to California to visit my family for Christmas.  I expanded my petfinder search to California.  That's when I submitted my first adoption application.  Amber. A lovely, golden, Benji-ish mix. Sweet eyes. In need of some good meals. Scruuuuuffy.  I love me some scruff.  Scruff = looks like a puppy forever.

The rescue specifically said that they didn't do out of state adoptions.  We were living in Iowa.  I spent 2 hours on the application--offering to do a home visit via skype.  I may also have been avoiding some job-related paperwork at the time.  I got a rejection email in 3 minutes.

I kept up the puppy-stalking.  I fell in love with a dog named Beau in Des Moines, a black schnauzer mix, but they wanted someone who was home all day.

In March, 2012, this beautiful girl popped up on petfinder about an hour away from us:

Lilly.  Schnauzer-dachshund mix.  Lee was smitten.  But she was adopted in a couple hours before we could even make a trip to see her. We also saw "John Carter" around this time.  I proposed adopting this inexplicably bald beauty and naming her Woola.

But she had some pretty severe stomach problems.  A few weeks later, I took my husband to an adoption event to meet Franklin.  A little black cairn mix.  He was shy.  I adored him.

We went home.  I wrote up a puppy budget.  The budget was reasonable.  Our schedules were not.  I was working over an hour away, and was typically gone from 6am-6pm or longer.  My husband was typically gone from 8am-6pm.  I'd never really thought about these logistics. Ten hours alone, minimum, didn't seem like a very happy time for a dog.  A dog walker or doggie daycare was not in the budget.  I stopped seriously proposing adoptions.  However, I didn't stop visiting petfinder.

I contacted a couple local rescues and volunteered my services for weekend fostering, but nothing came up.  I also strongly considered trying to foster this gorgeous 3 legged husky, but they wanted a fenced yard.

In November, 2012 my husband finished his dissertation.  He quickly lined up a postdoc in Maryland.  They wanted him to start ASAP.  I began job-hunting and dog-hunting in earnest.  I developed an extensive Chrome bookmark folder (hundreds of dogs).  My husband headed out to Maryland in February, 2013.  The plan was for me to join him in early March.  As February unfolded, it became apparent that the job I was most excited about was also going to involve a pretty big raise.  Combined with my husband's raise, groovy dog care was a definite possibility.  I submitted an application for Reilly, an adult corgi-scottie mix (what?!) a week before moving to Maryland.

Reilly was adopted a few days before I got to town.  I also submitted applications for Scout (a young terrier mix)...

...and for Carrie (a two year old black terrier mix with white paws and little white tip on her tail).

Didn't hear anything.  I made it to Maryland.  We got our stuff moved in.  My husband expressed some reservations about adopting rather than going to a reputable breeder.  He shared that he was worried about doggie emotional baggage, and really wanted to be able to bond with a new dog.  I indicated that getting a rescue was important to me, that the dogs come from lots of different situations, and that I was sure we'd be able to find a dog who was a good fit.

On St. Patrick's Day my husband, typically a light drinker, had 3 beers.  I truly though I'd talked him into adopting a 10 year old border collie with arthiritis and failing vision.  On waking up the next morning, this turned out not to be the case.  My husband and I have always differed in breed preferences.  He likes bigger dogs.  I have often joked that I will get a little black yorkiepoo the second he dies.  But he was the one who pushed for an apartment in Maryland (5th floor, 900 square feet) so he conceded that a smaller dog would be a better fit.  Also, my husband was really in favor of adopting a puppy, despite the time and energy required.  I really liked the idea of adopting an older, less desirable dog (Heartworm? 3 legs? But ideally housebroken).  Puppies get snatched up pretty quickly on petfinder--I liked the idea of getting an older  dog that was really in NEED of rescue.  I also liked the idea of getting an older dog because you know more about what you're getting in terms of personality and appearance.  My other ideal traits included:

Good Apt. Size/Energy Level
Kid Friendly
Dog friendly
Good in car
Low shed
Medium to long fur = Scruffy
Adorable/goofy looking (give me a gorgeous puppy or a hairless Chinese Crested)
Not too snouty (is this weird? I love dogs with rounder muzzles or smushy faces)
Dark fur (I wear black pants pretty much everyday)

While discussing dogs that Sunday, 3/18, Lee mentioned a fondness for beagles.  I've never loved beagles...primarily due to the sea-monkey-esque let-down where they don't live up to their cartoon likenesses.  We joked that a beagle/shih tzu mix would be a great compromise (google image confirmed--bea tzus are pretty friggin cute).  A scruffy beagle.  Good call.

Unbenounced to Lee, I had some 10 week old scruffy beagle-terrier mix pups squirreled away in my bookmarks (at this point, an elaborate series of folders--best, best of best, best of best of best).  These puppies had been listed the week before.  They were being fostered in Falls Church, VA, about 30 minutes away.  It was unclear whether I'd be starting my new job in a week or a month.  We were going to be at PAX East over the next weekend and had agreed we couldn't bring a dog home until after this trip.  Surely adopting a puppy was crazy?  Would we have time to train it?  Would we have time to help it feel at home?  Surely these puppies were adopted already?

On Monday morning, I called several local doggie daycares.  They indicated that they accept puppies as young as 16 weeks, once their shots are complete.  I also contacted my future employer.  They indicated that I wouldn't start work for at least 4 weeks.  I looked at possible interim dog care options (after I started work, before vaccines were complete).  It seemed like we could possibly make this work.  I submitted an application.  I didn't tell Lee...the puppies were too great, I didn't want it to be a let down.

Lee came home for lunch. I heard from the pups' foster mom at 12:45pm.  She still had puppies (it turns out a lady had said she'd wanted two puppies, then called a few days later to report she had allergies and couldn't take any).  We went back and forth...the online application forms hadn't saved correctly.  But the foster mom was really sweet and helpful.  We finally set up a visit for Tuesday night.  I told Lee he was really pulling one over on me--this would be a lot of work, and no one would believe he'd twisted my arm into adopting a puppy.

Clockwise, from the upper left, these are "Carly," "Carlos," "Cameron," and "Cailey." Carly was my favorite from the start.  The runt.  I was also pretty fond of Cailey.  When we arrived, there was a lot of barking.  The foster mom's pack of big dogs came into the room first--4 or 5 or them.  Two were hers--Hurricane Katrina rescues (a yellow lab and a very dignified chow).  Plus a few other foster dogs.  The puppies flopped into the room a few seconds behind (tiny legs!)  There were 3 pups.  Cailey was already adopted.  Cameron was there, but spoken for.  Carly and Carlos (top row) remained up for grabs.  We began to coo over them.  The most recent foster addition got feisty and got ahold of one of the pups' ears (we're not sure if it was Carly or Carlos).  There were whimpers.  Foster mom removed the offending dog.  In the midst of the chaos, Carly plopped herself down right in front of me and looked up at me expectantly.  I grabbed her.  

We sat and talked with foster mom.  The puppies had been found in rural West Virginia before making it to their foster home in Falls Church through Homeward Trails rescue.  The foster mom regularly makes trips to rural areas to rescue unwanted dogs and litters.  She was fabulous.  She noted that the puppies were likely a genetic grab-bag...beagle? terrier? dachshund?  I've finally settled on schneagle, but more on that later.  I eventually plopped Carly in Lee's lap.  Carlos continued to chew on him.

Foster Mom confirmed that the pups were actually 12 weeks now and had received 2 rounds of vaccinations.  Job timing should work out well.  The pups were excited and nibbly for a few minutes, but then curled up in our laps.  I said we probably needed to get in the car and debate whether we wanted Carly or Carlos (I thought Lee was favoring Carlos).  Lee said we should get Carly.  We agreed we'd pick her up in 6 days, after our geek-convention, if the requisite home-visit went well.

On the drive home, we talked about names.  I'd been considering Seymour ("Little Shop"/"Futurama") or Toby ("Greatest Mouse Detective") for a boy.  Lee has always joked that if we have kids, our first born will be named Phlogiston Aether (two debunked theories of matter).  I noted that I would happily use these names for a puppy instead.  I'd definitely fantasized about calling "Phlogi! Pholgi!" to a new dog (boy or girl). Lee said that for a girl, he'd just want to go with Aether.  Pretty.  Any other ideas?  As we drove through the tidal basin, I thought about other things my husband and I have been enjoying together recently.  "Game of Thrones" was high on the list.  "Arya," I said.  "Yeah, Arya."

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