Sometime in the mid 1980’s, our daughters went off to college and the dog (Poncho) died–the classic scenario.
Our nest was empty for a while. The daughters’ pets had also met their assorted fates. Work at the lab and the excavation of dinosaur Seismosaurus filled the gap.
Apparently, still feeling that gap, I adopted a turtle or two. Husband Don gave me a proper aquarium.
In the summer of 2000 I rescued Freddy the water dragon from Pete’s Pets, our local pet store prior to Pet Pangaea. Other dragons had beat him up. He needed to be fed live crickets.
One day we were sitting on the couch in the living room enjoying lunchtime. Freddy was on my shoulder snatching up crickets I offered, when Don had the kindly thought: “That woman needs a dog.”
Maybe he said it out loud, because when an ad appeared in the newspaper announcing that the local shelters would have a fire sale of rescued dogs, he agreed I could go take a look.
A collection of improvised pens filled with dogs of every size covered the sidewalk in front of Safeway (now Smiths.)
I had not imagined having any dog other than a “Santa Fe” shepherd like Poncho, but when I saw a tiny white ball of fluff with black smudgy polka dots, and looked into the baby-dog eyes searching mine, I was hooked.
As I reached into the pen, I spotted in a nearby pen another ball of fluff–a dark wavy blue roan with white spots.
“Oh yes, they’re litter mates,” the shelter lady said. Which one would I take? It was a terrible dilemma. Both puppies were looking me in the eye and wagging long tails in anticipation – the irresistible signals that have bonded humans and dogs for thousands of years.
“I can’t decide between these two,” I whined. Of course, that triggered an offer I couldn’t refuse: “You can have them both for the price of one. They’ll do so much better together.”
Their story clinched the deal. They had been loose in Española during the fire evacuation there. One had been picked up, and a week later the second three-month-old puppy was found and taken to the shelter.
When they saw each other, they exploded with joy, obviously recognizing each other from being in the same litter.
When I came home carrying one pup, and friend Joy followed with another in her arms, Don’s jaw dropped. “They’ll do so much better,” I said. No problem. Don had already chosen Scooter as a name; it landed on the dark one. Over the phone, granddaughter Tahvi named the white polka dot pup DeeDee.
To this day, they do take good care of each other – keeping each other clean, curling up together in their den under my art desk, bird-sitting together, taking on threats at the back fence together, exploring the canyons with us, eating from a double container dish, even sharing the role of alpha in very interesting ways.
Scooter is the one who comes back to check when someone falls behind. When we’re hiking, she always leads. As young adults, however, DeeDee, the larger white one, declared her alpha position at the dog dish. Scooter reacted with dramatic pouting. She would no longer eat beside DeeDee.
I offered to feed Scooter in the kitchen, but she acted even more abused. When I understood that she was successfully using the issue to get attention, I insisted she take her position on the right side of the double dish.
It worked, because DeeDee got lots of praise for “letting Scooter finish.” DeeDee invented a face-saving compromise: she would lick Scooter’s bowl when both were finished.
Just recently the problem has re-emerged. (Dogs get crotchety as they get older, like the rest of us.) If I’m not looking, DeeDee will slowly push her muzzle over and eat from Scooter’s bowl, leaving her own supper unfinished.
Scooter backs off and whines at me to do something about it. “Go and finish your supper,” says I, and she does. A delicate business, this alpha dog stuff. I’m the super-alpha, as it must be.
My fire-sale dogs will be 13 years old soon, and still – every time I drive up 38th Street and look up at the hills once covered with Ponderosas – I feel grateful for the dogs’ lives, but I remember too well the missing trees.
In answer to my complaint, a geologist friend said, “It’s not so bad. I rather like it. Now you can see the rocks.” Indeed, I do enjoy the rocks now, too.
Well, enough about spring fires; I need to check my evacuation boxes. This column next week will start at the beginning. How did the Hen House come to be, 40 years ago, before the Age of Urban Chckens?
Editor’s note: Dr. Neeper is an avid student of sustainability, steady‐state economics and the impact of cosmology on issues of science and religion. She and her husband Don Neeper live in Los Alamos with a friendly menagerie of dogs, fish and fowl. CaryNeeper.com/blog.htm