I’m not sure what type of characteristics make you a “dog person” as opposed to a “cat person” but I am unequivocally the former and not the later. When I returned from Europe with only a suitcase, my first goal was to get a job and a place to live. Once that was secured, and by default, I also had acquired RG as a live-in partner in life, I started campaigning for a dog. I ignored the fact that our lease said no pets. I had become such good friends with our landlord, I assumed I could win him over to accept whatever tail wagging, four legged companion I chose to adopt.
Initially, RG resisted my efforts. He said he didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of an animal, that I would be at work and he would be left at home with it and he could barely take care of himself, but in that contrarian way of his, he supported my interests in exploring the characteristics of “the breed of the moment”, taking photos of every dalmatian on the street when I expressed an interest, then there were his mothers dachshunds, the German shepherds, the standard poodles, etc… I really wasn’t sure what kind of dog I wanted, but I figured I’ll know it when I see it, and indeed the situation occurred that seemed predestined.
One of my student interns, Julie, had a boyfriend who had a dog. Said boyfriend skipped town, but as a consolation prize left Julie with his dog. Julie was a lovely girl, kind and well meaning, but her life was in chaos and the dog was too much for her. She was not sure what to do about it, so I told her I was looking for a dog, bring it in to the office and we will see how it goes. The dog was a female. Her name was Cassidy.
The next day, I happen to be standing by the office entryway when this big bundle of bouncing fur comes leaping up the stairs, tail wagging, tongue hanging, with Julie running behind holding a computer cord tied to the dogs collar. Julie had lost the leash. It was instantaneous, love at first sight. I said “I’ll take her.” I called RG and suggested he meet us at the bus (they allow dogs on public transportation in Boston). When he spied Cassidy, his reluctance evaporated. We estimated she was about 4 years old at the time. She stayed with us through 3 moves. She lived with us for 15 healthy years. We adored her. She loved us. Losing her was very hard for me, but even more devastating for RG. She died on our kitchen floor, in our arms, surrounded by our friends and neighbors who knew how well she was loved.
Once the smoke had cleared, following the turmoil of leaving RG, and selling our house, and buying another house, and retiring and leaving Boston to move to Vermont and suddenly, finding myself surrounded by quiet, living alone for the first time in my life, the nearly desperate need to find a dog, returned with a vengeance. I started looking online at all the pet rescue sites. I went down to the local humane society to see what they had in dogs. I knew I wanted a big dog. I’ve always preferred them over the little gnarly, yippy, ankle biters. I also wanted a handsome dog, Cassidy was so beautiful (we had Jasper after her but he’s another story for another time), I like to surround myself with attractive creatures and things. I wanted a dog that I would love to look at, as well as live with.
After weeks of searching, I’d heard that one of the rescue groups was having an adoption fair at the local PETCO. I hopped on the bus and went down to take a look. By the time I got there most of the dogs had been taken, and the woman running the show tried to discourage me from adopting, she seemed to have sized me up as being somehow unsuitable. I walked out of PETCO discouraged and depressed. An unusual state of mind for me.
Across the PETCO parking lot, I spot a woman, sitting on the tailgate of an SUV, surrounded by several dogs, one of which is the biggest St. Bernard I have ever seen. Just to make myself feel better I sashay over, introduce myself, compliment her on her fabulous looking St. Bernard. Turns out she is a professional breeder of boxers and St. Bernards and was there to hand over one of the dogs to a client. She was a friendly woman, and the dogs looked healthy and seemed to love her. I told her of my plight and how much I wanted a dog, preferably a rescue and she said “I have a dog for you!” She told me she had answered an ad from someone who was selling a female St. Bernard puppy for breeding purposes. When my new found friend went to the location, an isolated farm house in rural NY state, the dog she found was in pretty bad circumstances and while definitely big, it was not a pure bred St. Bernard. She felt bad, but she couldn’t take the dog. Meanwhile she feared for the dogs safety and future if it was not sold. She gave me the contact information for the seller, and offered to help me, since I had no car and no way to travel the two hours or so to some rural God forsaken place across the lake. She gave me her card, I gave her mine, and we agreed to stay in touch.
The first thing I did when I got home was to email the owner of the puppy in question. She responded and said the dog was still available. I asked her to send photos. She emailed 6 photos from early puppy, to what was at that time current, 80 pounds and 10 months old. Even to this untrained eye, I knew this was no St Bernard. She had the body and color of a large Golden Retriever, more dark red than gold, a white bib across the chest, floppy ears and a black face with wary, intelligent, golden eyes. She was beautiful. I wanted her. I inquired about the asking price. I would have paid anything at this point, but the price was right. We made a deal, I sent a check – never having met the dog or the seller. My daughter said I was crazy. “Sight unseen”, she said, “Mom, how do you know this will be a good dog? How do you know these women aren’t in cahoots and will just rip you off?” My daughter is far more cautious than I.
I can’t tell you how I knew this dog was meant for me. From the moment I was drawn to speak to a total stranger in a parking lot to the emails, with another total stranger, to seeing the photos and hearing this dogs sad story (she was raised outdoors, had never lived in a house, did not know how to go up and down stairs, tried to escape by jumping the fence where she was kept, had fleas, never been walked on leash, etc. etc.) I knew I had to have her. I asked the seller if the dog had a name. She said “Ethel” but could not tell me the source. Perfect. Ethel it is.
My friend from the parking lot went to pick up the dog after the seller confirmed she had received my check. I paid the expenses for the transport. Her arrival date was set at October 14th. I was like an expectant parent, had her dog bed set up, numerous chew toys, feed and water bowls, leash and collar and made her first Vet appointment. She had had a rabies shot but had not been spayed. I couldn’t sleep the night before. I saw the SUV pull in the drive and dashed out to meet them. My friend opened the side door and out bounded Ethel. There was a slight putrid odor that emanated from the car. Ethel had thrown up during the trip. I felt apologetic and somehow responsible – after all – it was my baby who made the mess. Being a breeder and regular transporter of dogs, my friend assured me it was not a problem. Her car was deigned so she could just hose it down, inside and out. She told me Ethel was very alert, and sensitive. She thought it was from anxiety, as she was wary about getting taken yet somewhere else she had never been before.
Ethel pressed her not insignificant body against me as though seeking shelter or protection from whatever might befall her next. I bent down and hugged her. She remained still and seemed calmed by the contact. She was so beautiful. What luck. The woman who facilitated this, she was like some angel – she made it all possible. I told her how grateful I was. She just seemed pleased to have been the matchmaker. After some chitchat, she drove off. I never saw her again.
Since that day, Ethel has been a big part of my life. We had some excellent in-home training (more for me than Ethel). I had made the mistake of thinking we were pals rather than me establishing Alpha status. Now I have the upper hand MOST of the time. Ethel loves children and little kids best. My granddaughters can do whatever they please with Ethel and she seems happy to accommodate them. Best of all she fills that big empty space in my heart left by Cassidy. And, she gets a lot of attention on the street. Maybe she will help me hook a man to fill the space left by RG. In the meantime, Ethel is enough for me.