Four years is a long time to be without a dog.
After Daisy died in the summer of 1998, friends started asking me, “Are you going to get another dog?” I really didn’t know. I was sixty-seven and my grief was intense. I thought, “I don’t want to have to go through this again in my eighties.”
Instead, I wrote the story of her life, The Daisy Sutra, and published it myself. Finding an artist and a designer, putting the book through production, finding distributors, promoting it–all this absorbed my time and energy for three years.
Woodstock is a dog town. It seems that every other person has a dog, and it got so every time I went to town, I would fall in love with somebody else’s dog and realize that there was a great big hole in my life.
It was time to put up a fence.
If you build it. . . .
I’m an early riser and I like to write first thing in the morning. On many days I don’t get dressed for hours. I figured if my dog had a fenced-in yard I could just let her out in the morning, and we could have our first walk later on.
My neighbors had four dogs, and before they moved in, they had Charlie, our mutual handyman, put up a very handsome fence. It was split rail lined with black wire fencing in front of the house, and just the black wire for the part in the woods.
I told Charlie I wanted a fence just like that in my back yard. He tried to talk me out of the black wire fencing because for some unknown reason it costs three times as much as the green, is only available at one local store, has to be ordered specially, and takes forever to arrive. But I had my heart set on the black, which blends in better with the woods.
Charlie was right, it took forever. He ordered the black wire in February. Five months and numerous phone calls later, it was delivered in July and by that time, of course, Charlie was busy. He finally got to it and the fence was finished late one evening in September.
It was time to look for a dog!
Consulting Miss Daisy
Daisy had promised that she would always be with me, and that eventually she would come to me again. I needed to know if she had taken another body or was ready to do so. As the fence neared completion, I contacted her through animal communicator Ginny Debbink.
As usual, our session was conducted on the phone. When Ginny connected with Daisy she said, “She’s so glad you’re getting another dog. This is a truly joyful thing for her.
“She’s still out of body. She’s in spirit because she’s needed. She’s a teacher of love. Many lost souls are coming to her. The world’s in a shift now. Lots of spirits have to leave their bodies–some to learn about love for the first time, some to learn about forgiveness, both of which are needed in the world. She says that the entire spirit world is very busy.
“The good news is that because of books like the one you wrote and people like you, more of the world is open to the spirit world. She’s glad that you gave her a voice that’s been heard far and wide and touched so many hearts.
“She can’t come back to you right now but she is with you in your search for a dog. She will lead you.
“There is a dog waiting for you. A young dog, not a puppy. She says, She’s not even as big as I was, but very much like me. Follow your heart, and you’ll go right to her; she’s nearby. Your paths are going to coincide very soon.
“Be joyful with the new dog, the new dog is a gift.”
The search begins. . . .
As soon as the fence was finished I started going to shelters, scanning the local papers for ads, and checking out Petfinder on line. I fell in love with a black dachshund terrier mix in Long Island and even got out an old map, but by the time I called, Razelle had been adopted. And I remembered that Daisy had said that my dog was nearby.
I was drawn to Rondout Valley Kennels in Accord, partly because Jane, the neighbor whose fence had inspired mine, was director there. I haunted the SPCA in Kingston. I made phone calls to local animal adoption networkers. I met and walked some wonderful dogs but somehow I didn’t feel that heart connection. I thought I was looking for a young female smaller than Daisy, a medium-sized beagle mix who tipped the scales at 35 pounds. Most of the shelter dogs were older and larger, and the majority were male.
At Rondout Valley Kennels each dog has a comfortable room with a bed, toys, and a Dutch door you open the top of to see the dog.
One day, I was going down the hall there and opened the top half of the door of a dog named Zip. As soon as he saw me this handsome brown dog came over and put his two front paws on the top of the bottom half of the door and looked me right in the eye. He was wagging his tail allegro vivace and made as if to jump right over the barrier. His soulful face looked a lot like Daisy’s, and I said, “Oh–who are you?”
But Zip seemed too full of beans and fully capable of jumping over my fence, and besides, he was male, and taller than Daisy. So I dismissed him.
I still thought I was looking for a small young female. At the SPCA in Kingston, Bill urged me to open my mind to the possibility of an older dog, and I decided he was right.
This whole process reminded me a little of looking for a house. I had started out looking for an old house with charm and had ended up with a raised ranch built in 1976. Maybe I was barking up the wrong dog.
I get out the steel rule
Because the ground is uneven in my woods, there are places where the black wire fence isn’t much higher than my waist. Charlie had advised me to get a dog who was “gravitationally challenged.” But I kept thinking about that enthusiastic dog Zip who didn’t look gravitationally challenged at all. I wondered just how high the bottom of his Dutch door was in comparison with my fence.
One day as I was driving up 209 on the way home from the Accord pound, I decided to stop at Rondout and measure the bottom of Zip’s door.
It turned out the doors to those little rooms were all different sizes, but Zip wasn’t in any of them. He had been moved to a big room near the desk where dogs who may have “issues” are placed for observation. It seems Zip had been adopted out and returned because he had snapped at a man who wanted him off the furniture.
Well, I could care less whether my dog got on the furniture. Daisy had won that right for all future dogs when she took over the club chair in the living room.
I asked permission to visit Zip in his room. As soon as he saw me he jumped off the couch and came over, wagging his tail and wiggling joyfully all over. “He remembers you!” Evelyn assured me. “He doesn’t get off that couch for just anybody.”
I had forgotten how elegant he was. His coat is mostly brindle–that is, a rich brown with black streaks–with white paws and belly and a bit of white on his face. Like Daisy, he has beautiful brown eyes and he even has that gorgeous Liz Taylor eye makeup that Daisy had, only his is even more dramatic, because the black eye liner is extended out a la Liz as Cleopatra.
I sat down on the couch and he immediately got on my lap and began licking my face. He was a little too big for a lap dog, so I pushed him gently down. He lay down beside me and rolled over and showed me his belly.
It was time to take him for a walk. This is always a gamble for me because of my arthritis. Often I’d leave the shelter with my back in an uproar. But Zip, though he pulled a little, didn’t pull hard, and when I told him not to, he always looked around at me and obeyed. It was clear that he was torn between his excitement at being outdoors, surrounded by the fascinating scents of other dogs, and his desire to please me. Good dog!
Like most shelter dogs, Zip was a mix–but a mix of what? Jane said, “Mostly whippet.” There was a chart on the front of the counter with pictures of all the different breeds. Yes, he definitely had the whippet-greyhound silhouette: the elegant curves, the full chest and tiny waist.
It was Friday. I put a hold on Zip, and told Jane I’d call her Monday morning.
On line, I read that the whippet is a sight hound, and the fastest domesticated animal of its weight. A kind of miniature greyhound, the whippet was bred in the north of England to course small game, mainly rabbits. With its tremendous lung capacity, it can attain speeds up to 35 miles per hour. No wonder they called him Zip! But Zip wasn’t a good enough name for this elegant, angelic being.
I knew that the names of pets often need time to reveal themselves. Nevertheless, that weekend I pored over baby books and made lists of possible names. Everything from angel names like Ariel, Gabriel, Raphael, Angelino and Cherubino through heroes like Mozart, Dante, and Goethe to cream puffs like Robert Downey, Junior. For some reason–maybe because of Zip’s brindle coloring–I kept thinking of Brindisi, which is a town on the east coast of Italy where I once got very drunk waiting for the boat to Greece.
And I still wondered if he was really the right dog for me. The measurements I had taken that day were inconclusive. Would my fence be high enough to contain him?
I called Jane at Rondout and asked her opinion. Could he get over the fence? “Absolutely not. He won’t jump the fence. I’m sure of it.”
She knew the fence and she knew the dog, so that was reassuring. But Daisy had said that the dog waiting for me was female, “smaller, but very much like me.” Zip was not a large dog, but he was male. He did, however, remind me of Daisy, and he was the only dog I had met who made eye contact. And Daisy had said to follow my heart.
So that’s what I did. And so it was that on a bright Monday morning in early November there came into my life the most loving animal I have ever known.
A total love dog
Daisy was and is my greatest teacher of love. Brindle–for that, of course, is his name–is love incarnate. His goal in life is to give and receive love 24/7. He loves everyone and everyone loves him. A guard dog he’s not; a therapy dog he is. I really should take him into nursing homes, because he spreads love and joy wherever he goes.
Well, maybe a squirrel wouldn’t love him that much. They know enough to stay out of his yard. And just as Jane predicted, he honors the fence I put up even though he could probably jump it if he chose. But you should see him run! He races around that yard so fast that at first I was afraid he would collide with a tree, but he never misses. And he doesn’t just run, he leaps, like a deer, like a dancer, like Nureyev in his prime. He’s poetry in motion.
Fast as he is, he hasn’t caught anything yet, probably because of the fence. The squirrels seem aware of their advantage, and I can almost hear them gloating ”Nya, nya, you can’t get me!” from the safety of a treetop. But though Brindle stands at attention under the tree and sometimes even barks, he doesn’t seem to mind not getting them. He seems to love the chase for its own sake. He will run and run for no reason at all except the joy of running.
A native of Virginia, he is taking our coldest winter in decades in his stride. He rolls in the snow and flings it about like a bird taking a dust bath. But he also loves to sunbathe. When the sun hits the ottoman of his favorite chair around noon, he’s always there, basking like a cat.
He looks very dashing in his black and white hound’s tooth coat with its belt and hood; but he wishes I’d throw away his yellow slicker. He’d rather feel the rain on his fur. And when he comes in out of the rain or a roll in the snow, more often than not, he’s not even wet! He’s my magic dry dog.
I had read on one of the many dog breed websites that the whippet needs a small amount of vigorous exercise every day, after which he is content to curl up and be a couch potato. Brindle fits this description to a T. He’s the soul of patience with this sedentary writer who can sit in front of her computer for hours on end, this senior citizen who can’t necessarily walk him on leash when the driveway is covered with ice.
Brindle has two personalities. Indoors, he is sweet, submissive, docile, and could charm the pants off of the crankiest curmudgeon. But as soon as he gets outside, he is a different dog altogether: alert, focused, dignified, regal, a force to be reckoned with.
Women and whippets
My new neighbor, who is very English, tells me that in the north of England when you go into a bar and the bartender asks, “What’s your pleasure?” the standard answer is “Women and whippets– but I’ll have a beer!”
In my favorite TV commercial, Lassie is being besieged with demands for rescue: “Grandpa fell down the well–go to him, girl!” and so on. So Lassie goes on line and clicks on Adoption. In the final frame, Lassie is sitting on a fancy brocade sofa with her new mistress who coos in a phoney English accent, “Lassie, finish your caviah!”
Brindle doesn’t get caviar, but he’s allowed on all of the furniture. He eats whatever is put in front of him with gusto. He never begs at table. He understands everything I say to him, and he almost always minds. He rarely barks, but he has a little doggy groan he makes when he wants to come up on the bed which is so passionate that I call him The Fourth Tenor. He loves music. Daisy used to leave the room when I sang. Brindle wags his tail and gets up on his hind legs and we dance.
I can’t help wondering about his past history. He was transferred to Rondout Valley Kennels from an overcrowded shelter in Virginia. Why was he there in the first place? Who could have given up such a wonderful dog? What was his name? Which, if any, of the names he’s been given does he prefer?
There’s a great Gary Larsen cartoon where the dogs tell each other their true names. One dog says, “I am Gorth, destroyer of garbage and scourge of cats, but they call me Fluffy.” What is Brindle’s true name?
I hope that eventually one of my animal communicator friends can shed some light on these questions.
A few weeks ago Brindle suddenly started favoring his right front leg and having trouble with the stairs. From one day to the next, my champion racer was limping around like an old dog. The vet suspected Lyme disease and started him on an antibiotic at once. The results of the blood test confirmed her diagnosis, but two days after we started him on the meds he was back to normal, racing around in true whippet fashion. I can only hope that we caught it in time.
But there are deer in my yard all year around, so I’ll have to be vigilant. Lyme isn’t one of those diseases you have once, and are then immune. It can recur. And in rare cases, it can be fatal.
In The Daisy Sutra I wrote: “A pet’s life is so much shorter than our own. We know this when we take them on. A pet is a lesson in letting go, a home course in Buddhism. To have a pet is to embrace impermanence and to say, Yes, I will lose her. She won’t live forever. But I’ll do it anyway, because of the love. The love between an animal and a human is like no other love in the world.”
At the end of the day, when my work is done and Brindle and I have each had our supper and have taken our last walk, we lie on the old couch in the den in front of the TV. Brindle keeps me company while I watch Buffy or West Wing or Animal Precinct. For an hour or so I live in a world in which the good guys always win, the president speaks good English, and at least some of the abused animals in New York City find good homes. Brindle dozes with his chin on my leg, occasionally stretching and sighing with contentment. We’re warm and dry, all our needs are met, and for this septuagenarian célibataire,– it doesn’t get any better than this.
And I remember Daisy’s last words to me:
“Be joyful with the new dog, the new dog is a gift.”