Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Our family grows

First there was Nash.

My husband was never very fond of dogs, having been rather savagely bitten as a child...on two occasions...but while dating me, he grew rather fond of my ancient little Pekingese, Chloe. When I came to South Africa, Chloe had to stay behind...I feared she was too old to survive the trip...so when I arrived here, it was to an empty house. My furniture was in transit, my dog had a new home, and my husband was at work all day.

But he is a kind-hearted man and loves me enough to face his fear of dogs. Leafing through one of the local circulars one day, I came across a small ad about an elderly woman in our town known to everyone as the "Dog Lady." She was known to be a person who would rescue abandoned animals and care for them until she could rehome them. Unfortunately, she had unexpectedly died recently and left a houseful of animals with no caretaker. The woman's daughter and granddaughter had taken on the task of finding homes for a dozen or more dogs and cats, and were advertising for interested homes.

After conferring with my husband, I called the ad and gave them a rather detailed set of specifications: an adult dog, small sized, housebroken, gentle natured, preferably female. I explained that my husband was not keen on dogs and if we were to get one, it had to be as non-threatening and "user friendly" as possible. The following day two rescuers showed up at my house for a visit, and with them was fluffy white little Nash.

It was a surprising visit. Nashie is a very friendly, open personality dog but not highly active or energetic. So he walked up to Hubby with a wag in his plumed tail and a smile on his doggie face, stretched himself up and put a paw on Hubby's leg. They bonded. We had a dog.

The nice thing about the Maltese breed is they have hair, not fur, so they don't shed or have dander or activate my allergies. The not-so-nice thing about the Maltese breed is that they have hair, not fur, so their hair never stops growing and if you don't take them to the groomers every month, they quickly come to look like animated dustmops. Nashie had recently been groomed, so his body hair was cut short, and he looked like a dapper little gentleman. But there were a couple of things that seemed a little off: he wasn't a very good eater and was therefore a little on the thin side, and he had breath bad enough to wilt plants. That last particularly concerned me, so I whisked him off to the vet and soon learned the two were related: he was thin and not eating because his teeth were bad...which was causing the bad breath. Further, his teeth were so bad that he was on the verge of sepsis! The very next day he was put under and emerged with only 7 teeth left in his whole mouth! After two courses of antibiotics he was finally healed and we were to quickly learn just how formidable his appetite really was!

But he was lonely. Having been abandoned several times (failed placements), Nash had developed separation anxiety and everytime we left him alone, he howled nonstop until we returned, much to the chagrin of our neighbours. After trying behaviour modification and tranquilizers, we finally found the solution to his anxiety problems: enter Miss Candy (AKA Evil Doggie, Mad Thing, and Toothsome Wench).

Hubby took me to the SPCA for Valentine's Day and we found a rambunctious, long-legged, spring-loaded young Maltese/Jack Russell female who had the beautiful white coat of a Maltese and the boundless energy of the Jack Russell. After filling out a five page form, paying R265, and having our home and garden inspected (!), we were approved as an adoptive home under the SPCA's guidelines, and Candy was ours.

It was slow going in the beginning. Candy had been a street dog and what manners she had were bad. She nipped me and Hubby, she dug in the garden, she was aggressive with Nash, and she was given to bursts of mad, frenetic activity, racing around our large garden like the devil himself was perched on her ostrich-plume of a tail. And Nash's little nose was put squarely out of joint by her arrival, his position as spoiled darling of the household in jeopardy. The Count of Maltese Cristo was definitely not enamoured of his Countess! But time is the greatest of healers and eventually Candy acceded to our discipline and Nash came to tolerate her antics and within the span of just a few months they were friends...and Nash stopped howling when we left him home.

We made a cosy little family, the two dog-babies and their indulgent parents, and had no serious thought about adding to the family, but a year and a half after Candy joined us, the daughter of the Dog Lady called us out of the blue...Nash's sister, Sasha, with whom he had lived the first six years of his life, needed a new home. Her second family was emigrating to the UK, which has a six month quarantine for incoming dogs (at the expense of the owner), and she was about to be homeless again. Were we interested?

We agreed to a one week trial, concerned about how Candy would react to a new dog, but the trial was short lived. Sasha arrived here at 7 last night and I was appalled that these people had had her for 2 years and she had no collar or leash, it was winter and she had a short haircut but no jersey, and she had no toys, no blanket, no doggie bed...nothing but a bowl. Candy came from the SPCA and I expected her to arrive naked as the day she was born, but this dog supposedly was coming from a loving home and she didn't even have a collar and a tag with her name and owner's phone number, in case she got lost? By 10 pm, our bedtime, the decision was made: Sasha would stay and as soon as I finish recovering from my sinus infection and can drive again (no driving while under the influence of these pain pills!), we have to go to the vet (she has bad breath, too, and she won't let us touch her ears), the groomer (funky doggie smell!), and the pet store (collar, leash, jersey) with a stop at the kiosk where doggie ID tags are made.

Sasha needs us and, I am sure we will soon discover that, without knowing it, we needed her, too.