Saturday, January 12, 2013

Dog People

I've heard it said that there are dog people and cat people. I really don’t fall into either category and neither does my husband. We happen to live by a dog park and most Saturday mornings as we jog by, we always remind each other that we would never do that--take a dog to play at the park. We always wondered how that could be even remotely fun. We didn’t understand dog lovers. How could they keep a plastic sack in their pocket anticipating a dump of poop and then pick it up and carry it with them until they found a trash can. We didn't get it at all.

Although, the January Annie turned ten, she became a dog person. She seized so violently one time in the E.R. at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, the nurse in the room ran out with panic. Annie’s temp spiked to 106 degrees, she nearly choked on vomit, and her blood pressure dropped dangerously low. That E.R. visit and resulting ICU stay in the hospital confirmed her love for dogs. The hospital had a volunteer therapy dog program where dog owners would bring their very well-trained canines to visit the sick kids. “Rocky” visited and Annie fell in love. He approached her bed and rested his head gently in her lap.  My husband and I were not so sure about the cleanliness of the whole experience and again found ourselves exchanging glances at the usefulness of a dog.

Annie persisted in her love for dogs though, all she wanted for Christmas that year was a dog. We told her no.  There was no way.  We weren’t dog people. We didn’t do dogs. We told her she could visit other homes with dogs, but dogs really weren’t for us. She asked Santa to bring her a dog. He did—a beautiful, large stuffed dog with a note attached around his neck, apologizing that The North Pole only made toy dogs. He hoped she would be able to love this perfectly clean, non-shedding, non-pooping, stuffed dog.  She accepted his apology and named her new pet Daisy.

Daisy became her companion on her seizure days. When Annie turned eleven, her seizures were less intense. The daily medication she took seemed to help.  We also had “rescue medicine” that we could give her at the first sign of a seizure.  Often, she spent a seizure day on the couch in a drugged haze, sleeping. Daisy became her pillow, and something to hang on to. I loved Daisy. She was pretty, stayed fluffy, wasn’t noisy and didn’t mind if I threw her in the washing machine every once in a while.

Annie and Daisy tired and sad from a day of seizures.

Daisy came with us to the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit when brain surgery became a possible cure for Annie’s seizures. Annie suffered for two days, seizing over sixteen times clinging to Daisy during the worst, and then eventually snuggling with her when the worst was over. And when the worst really was over, hospital volunteers brought a therapy dog into her room again. It entertained her with tricks and made Annie smile.  Annie left the Unit with one request- if she was going to have to have brain surgery, she wanted a real dog. We told her we would think about it.

And then hoped she would forget.  

She had surgery a month later. The first two weeks of recovery were hard. She was in a lot of pain. The doctors had us imagine being hit on the side of the head with a baseball bat to get us to understand  how much pain she was in.  Despite all that though, she didn’t forget about wanting a dog. We tried distracting her with a new Ipod touch- just for her. She could play with that we hoped--maybe download a dog app.  She set up a Pinterest account instead and pinned pictures of puppies. She sent us emails with links to websites describing the characteristics of all types of dogs.  She was relentless--reminding us that we said we could get a dog if she had the surgery. I reminded her that we said we would think about getting a dog-there was a difference. Michael bribed her with the nicest laptop computer possible if she would stop asking for a dog. She would not budge.    

Michael and I finally had to make a decision. Could we do it? Could we become dog people? Could we really let an animal live with us? We debated back and forth, enumerating the pros and cons. He tried to push all the responsibility to me, “if you get her a dog, I don’t want anything to do with it,” and I shifted it back to him, “if you cave in and get her a dog, you will take care of it,” until we finally agreed that if we were going to get her one, both of us would have to help her take care of it.  We would try to find her one and surprise her Christmas morning.

I started searching Craig’s list and emailed a few people that were giving away their dogs. Two never replied and one already had found a new home. I didn’t want a puppy. I had read enough about the training of a puppy to convince me that an older dog would be fine. 

Two weeks before Christmas, we still had not found a dog.  Hannah and I were at the mall doing last minute shopping and passed by the puppy store. We decided to pop in and just see. I really had no idea how much puppies were, and thought maybe I should be more flexible with the possibility of a puppy. They had little yellow labs, little poodles, little pups of every kind that were absolutely darling.  No prices were listed. I guessed they couldn’t be more than a couple hundred dollars.  A store clerk offered to show us one if we wanted.  We agreed and he took us to a small room to wait.  We hoped he brought us the one that looked like “Lady” from Disney’s  “Lady in the Tramp.” 

Instead, he brought a little brown hound dog-equally as cute. He jumped around and skittered through our legs. I was fascinated by it and I thought this was just what Annie needed to help her continue to  get better.  The clerk left us alone to play with the dog for a few minutes more. We imagined him under the tree with a giant red bow around his neck. He was super cute- the perfect Christmas surprise. When the clerk came back into the room, I asked how much. If it was reasonable, I was going to buy it.  

“Dogs like this one?” the clerk said, “run about $899.”  

I hid my shock, “Eight hundred ninety nine dollars? How about the puppy that looks like Lady?"
I hoped they were cheaper.

“Oh, the cavalier? They run about $1700.”

Just as he said that, the little hound dog pooped in the corner of the room. The clerk grabbed for paper towels and air freshener, before we got a whiff of the aroma, but we already were headed toward the door. I'd rather buy a laptop. 

One week before Christmas, still no dog was purchased or adopted. Michael and I decided to take a trip to the humane society.  They had a branch at the Biltmore Fashion Square Mall called Petique.  It sounded so upscale,we hoped to find “Lady” there among all the mutts. No Lady, but they had a six-year-old Cairn Terrier mix named Diamond.  He was house broken they said, and good with kids. He looked a little shabby, not quite what I was expecting at a store in the Biltmore, but definitely in my price range--35 dollars. We explained that he would be a Christmas surprise for our 11 year old daughter who was recovering from brain surgery. They really encouraged us to have Annie meet him first. We let go of the Christmas surprise idea and agreed.  We left him there and headed home to tell her the news-- her parents were officially, trying really hard to become dog people and had found a dog they could tolerate, they hoped.  

Diamond. I had to hold his face so we could get him to hold still for the picture.

Oh she was happy! So happy! I took her back that very night to Petique to meet Diamond. We played with him in a room, he ran around in circles and kept sniffing under the door. Annie kept calling for him, but he never came.   They reassured us that he would warm up in time. I kept convincing Annie that it was a great dog, really only to get the whole process over with. I couldn't  tell what she thought. She mentioned that he wasn't soft.  I reassured her that we would bathe him and make him pretty. She hesitantly agreed and we started the adoption process.

I filled out an application and questionnaire about our home. They wanted me to answer questions about behaviors the dog might have that would prompt us to return the dog to the humane society. Excessive barking? I marked yes. Peeing in the house? Yes. Chewing on furniture? Yes. Disobedient? Yes. The list went on and I continued to check every box yes.  I handed the questionnaire back to the clerk and she looked it over.

 “You know, you might not be ready for a dog,” she kindly explained, “that is what dogs do.  That’s what they are.  I’m going to let you think about this and keep Diamond here.”

"Oh." I said, feeling a little confused. Annie wasn’t really saying anything. She didn’t seem upset that we were leaving without Diamond, she actually seemed relieved. She later told me that she liked Diamond, but he wasn’t quite what she expected. She wanted a dog that would come up to her and be by her side like the ones at the hospital.  She was okay that there would be no dog under the tree for Christmas, she was just happy that we were going to get one soon and had me promise that it would happen before her birthday at the end of January.

We promised. We started looking at different type of dogs.  We had our friend Heather bring her cocker spaniel over, our friend Hayley  brought her chihuahua over.  Annie adored them. She kept an eye on the humane society database to see if a dog she might like would be turned in. I started looking on Craig’s list again.  

Annie and Tilly

My friend Cori happened to hear a conversation I was having about our search for a dog last Sunday at church. She told me she had a yellow lab that was about 8 years old if we wanted to borrow him and see if we liked that type of dog.  I called her the next day and arranged a play date for Annie.  She brought Jackson over and we kept him at our house for about six hours. He followed Annie everywhere and she loved it.  He only barked when the doorbell rang, he obeyed my first “no” when he tried to come up the stairs and was really quite pleasant.  Annie fell in love with him and after we walked him home that night, we knew that was the exact type of dog we wanted.  Cori had got him from a lab rescue and told us the website. I went home that night and filled out their lengthy application.  This time I knew the right answers.  I wouldn’t be bothered by barking, but hoped that one could be trained to bark less, I knew dogs pooped and would be okay with an accident or two, but was requesting an older dog, that would be calm and obedient, just like the one we had borrowed. 

Annie and Jackson the day he visited. She said she was in heaven.
(Noise cancelling headphones have helped a ton with all the commotion in this house)

The next day, school started back from winter break. Annie felt ready to give it a try. She was eight weeks from surgery. She still had double vision, but it wasn’t as bad, and it didn’t seem to bother her as much. She hated loud noises, but I sent her with ear plugs to help. She knew there would be crowds but was prepared to deal with it.  We picked up her friend Morgan before school so she wouldn’t have to walk in alone. It was an exciting morning getting ready for school. A new year! A new brain! No seizures! Our life was finally normal. I watched the girls bounce down the sidewalk together excitedly chatting away and I happily headed home.

Annie and Morgan

Two hours later I received a call from the school nurse.  Annie was crying.  She had a severe headache and she was sending her home.  I jumped in the car and had a thought: call Cori and ask to borrow Jackson. Then I talked myself out of it. I didn’t want to bother her. I arrived at the school and walked straight to the nurses office and found Annie inconsolable   Her eyes were swollen, she was so upset. She explained that she was trying so hard to concentrate on what the teacher was saying that she couldn’t keep up and when she tried to tell the teacher she couldn’t speak and it scared her.

 Borrow Jackson, I thought again. 

Annie buried her face into my jacket and we quickly walked out to the car together. 

“Would you like to see if we can borrow Jackson again today?”  I asked her as she buckled up, noticing that she was starting to calm down. She nodded her head "yes."  We called Cori, explained our situation and she said to come on over.  When Jackson hopped into the van, he   nuzzled Annie's cheek right away. She smiled and told him hello. He followed Annie inside and sat on the floor beside her. I sat down close to her and Jackson looked over at me. I swear his eyes said, “let me help you.” He turned back to Annie, and rested his head in her lap just like the dogs at the hospital did.  He never left her side.   

I didn’t call Cori until about six that night. She joked that I was plotting a dog-napping and I laughed and said I would if she’d let me! I explained to her how comforting and compassionate he was today, that I really was grateful for his help. I promised to bring him home around seven. I hung up and couldn’t believe those words were spoken by me - a non-dog person.

I went downstairs to check on dinner, and about fifteen minutes later, the doorbell rang. Cori and her husband and their three little kids, about age 5 and under were standing on my doorstep. She caught me by surprise, maybe I misunderstood about bringing the dog back. Did she say she was coming to get him?

“We have something to talk to you about.” She said, and rushed on, “we think you need Jackson, and we want to give him to you.”

I didn’t understand at first what she was saying.  I was still trying to figure out why she was there because I was planning on getting in the car in just a few minutes.

So she said it again, and her husband too, “we want to give you our dog, you need him, Annie needs him.”

I don’t know if I talked, or if I could. I think I said, are you sure? We can’t take your dog. He’s yours. And I just remember her saying, “no, Annie needs him and he’s yours.” 

I know I stumbled over a few more sentences, the realization of this gift sinking in by the second. At that point we went into the kitchen and told Annie.  I think she was as stunned as me.  Tears welled in my eyes, in Annie's and in Cori’s too. 

She was giving us her beloved Jackson. Her family dog for the last seven years-just like that. She said she hung up the phone with me, and knew Jackson could help Annie. She just knew and she wanted to do it. 

They gave us Jackson. 

I am still teary as I write that sentence. 

I will be forever grateful for her kind, kind heart.  Annie does need Jackson. I need Jackson! She needs the extra security he provides while she is still trying to gain her own back and I need his help. 

I love this dog.

Annie never made it back to school last week. She came down with a sore throat and a cough. So her and Jackson hung out on the couch together. I have been able to talk to him more and tell him thank you. I think he hears me and tells me he's happy to help. He babysat for me so I could go run some errands.  Annie feels safe with him here. She is going to sleep in her own bed for the first time tonight since having seizures, with Jackson of course. 

I can't believe I am going to say this but, we are dog people now and we absolutely love it!  I proudly tucked a plastic sack into my pocket as we headed over to the dog park this morning.  Annie had a sack in her pocket too. I get it now. I was ready to put whatever I needed to into that  plastic baggie.  We all took turns holding onto his leash and laughed and played like an All-American family, with a dog.  

We are dog people. No, I think it's even better, we are dog lovers.   

Everyone with Jackson, on his first trip to the dog park!


Lauren said...

<3 <3 Corey and Ryan told me all about Jackson. What a great story! So happy for Annie!

Mama Rachel said...

What a tender experience of unselfish love and compassion! I totally cried. :'-)

Sarah Mickalson said...

I was wondering how Annie had been doing these past couple years! Ryans had a few seizures, not really bad, and we are getting him tested. Labs are great dogs!

Nichole and Jeremy said...

Awesome! Jeremy loves dogs! He is happy to have more friends of a canine nature in the family! So happy for sweet Annie!

Rene Allen said...

Tiffany, what a sweet,wonderful story.

David Merrill Family said...

Tiffany~ Jill told me about this post. I just cried....for Annie and Jackson and your kind and generous friends. You were already a great family and now you are a great family with a great dog!

beckadee said...

Tiff you are such a beautiful writer. What a great story. We Smith's (being the dog & cat lovers we are) always wondered why the Down's kids had more children than dogs, ha ha. We got to meet Jeff & Jami's dog at Christmas. Glad you are all seeing the light. So happy for Annie & Jackson! You have amazing friends for such a beautiful, unselfish act.

Rachelle said...

I am so happy for Annie and your whole family. You don't know me, but my husband, my two boys and I were the foster family for Jackson (his name was Tovree then) when he came into the Rescue. I received the link to your blog and story today in my email from DLRR and I had to come read the whole story. We love to hear how the dogs we foster are doing and yours is such a wonderful story. It gives us great joy to know that Jackson has gone on to give such happiness to both his families. We wish you all the best and are sure that Jackson is happy you are now dog lovers, too.

The Teeples Times said...

That is the sweetest post ever - I bawled! I am so very happy for Annie and Jackson. That was the most precious story - thanks for sharing.

Cathy said...

Tiffany, I'm so glad I was able to meet you at the AZ American Mothers Gala. I sat at your table.

What an incredible story. I understood every word you said about not being a dog person. My husband was the same way. I am the same way!What a story of love. Thank you for sharing it. May I link your story to my blog? I would love to share it.

'Chelle said...

I am Jacksons Grammy. . Cori is my daughter and her children are my grandchildren. We love Jackson. I remember when she first got him it used to be a joke. First get a plant and if its still alive after a year get a dog. And then, after a year if the dog is still alive, then you can go on to having children. Ha ha.
I am a small dog person myself, my favorite is miniature schnauzer's. I have allergies, (they don't shed )and I have medical problems as well. We had my little Angie for 15 years, we lost her last January. You cannot guess the joy that she has brought me and the comfort.
I remember how Cori's children were so good with Jackson. Cori's Annie's job was to feed him. I can't remember Ryan's job, maybe to keep his water dish full? But he was just a great dog.
I remember Coru telling us the story about your Annie. And how you were borrowing Jackson to see if his breed was a good fit. The way she put it was, they're taking him for a test run, (or maybe it was a test drive. Ha ha) which ever, I thought it was sweet.
I remember Cori telling me, that one night she went into her room and it was like a voice told her, Annie needs Jackson. I hope she doesn't get mad at me for saying this, but she broke down in tears. She told her husband Bryan about it, and they talked. And they decided, that it was best for Annie. They discussed it with their children, and for some reason, I'm guessing God stepped in, they understood and were fine with it.
And you have already read the rest of the story. They love when Jackson comes to visit, or they get to visit him.
I have been a dog person since I was 13. I believe they are little miracle workers. God put them on this earth for a reason. And your Annie is why Jackson was put here. We love you Jackson. You're doing your work here on this earth. Hugs

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