Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dog Days of Christmas

A few weeks ago, I posted an appeal on Facebook for a loving family to foster my friend Elizabeth's dog Zeus for a year. Her family was moving, and they couldn't take him to their rental house. [You long-time readers may remember my pet-sitting misadventure with Zeus, that time I made him dreadfully sick by feeding him cat food and then Bill had to clean up after him.]

Well, despite my ridiculous mistake, Elizabeth and Shawn trusted me to watch him and the cat many more times over the years, and I've grown quite fond of him. He is the best behaved, most mild mannered dog I've ever seen. But when she asked me if we could take him, I said that our house is really too small for a big German Shepherd and two cats. And also, I hate picking up dog poop. (I don't think I said that part out loud, but it was a reason.)

In addition to asking my friends to take Zeus, I did some praying, asking that God would place him with a family who would love him and take good care of him, a family who would find him to be a blessing.

As the deadline approached, my prayers intensified. Elizabeth had said he'd have to go to the shelter if no one would take him, and I couldn't bear to think of that gentle dog being put to sleep. A crazy thought slowly took form in my mind, and then in my heart. What if we took Zeus? Yes, our house is small, but at age 13, he's not a wild dog--nothing like naughty Lola.

"Well, God, I guess we could take him," I said. "But if there's another family who would be better for him, I trust you to work it out."

A few days passed, and no other family stepped forward. A week before moving day, I was driving Ethan to school when I broke the rule against talking before 9 in the morning. "You know Elizabeth and Shawn are moving?"

Ethan didn't answer.

"...and they can't take Zeus with them. So he will go to the shelter unless somebody takes him."

He looked out the window.

Keeping my voice casual, I said, "So, I'm almost tempted.... I was thinking maybe we could take him. It's crazy, though, because our house-"

"We should totally take him," Ethan said, with more enthusiasm than I've ever heard from him at that time of the morning.

"But I don't know how the cats will do with a dog. You know how crazy Arwen got over that cat in the backyard."

"The cats will be fine. We should take him."

"I'll pray about it."

"We should take him."

"Have a good day. I love you."

A few prayers later, I felt a softness in my heart. Didn't God put me on this earth to love? Doesn't Zeus need my love? Three animals, two animals? What's the difference?

That afternoon, I sent Elizabeth a text: "If no one else takes Zeus, we will foster him."

"I love you!!!!!!!" she replied.

I told both kids the exciting news, but warned them that we were just the last resort. "I'm trusting God to put him with the right family. It might not be us."

"He can sleep in my room," Ethan said. "I'll have to clean it up first."

Having a dog could have some perks, I thought.

About a week later, on Friday the 19th, Elizabeth brought Zeus over, along with a big bin of dog food, his bowls, and two beds. She taught me his voice commands and the corresponding hand signals for Sit, Stay, Go, Lay, and Up.

After she'd given me all the instructions she could think of and answered all my questions, she took her leave.

Zeus tried to follow her out the door.

"Stay, Zeus!" she said, holding her palm out in front of her like a stop sign.

He waited at the closed door. Was she coming back?

Yes, she was. She'd forgotten her purse. Again, he tried to go with her. "Stay, Zeus."

And then she was gone.

When Arwen and CiCi came out of hiding to investigate, both of them arched their backs and fluffed their tails. I found that fascinating. I'd seen them arch at each other in play, but I'd never seen the puffy tails. Arwen hissed menacingly, but Zeus didn't even notice. He was too concerned about where Elizabeth had gone.

He waited quietly by the door for a long, long time. Finally, I called him into my bedroom/office, where I'd laid out one of his beds. "Come in here with me," I said. I touched the bed with my index finger. "Lay down."

He lay down and stared at me dully. Oh, such sad eyes! I felt a lump forming in my throat.



Stroking him gently, I prayed for God's comfort. "Let him feel safe. Let him feel loved," I prayed. And then I cried. Over a dog. Can you believe that? I knew that must be the Holy Spirit moving me to compassion.

As soon as I sat down at my desk, Zeus went back to the front door to wait. That's where he stayed until Allyson came home from school.

Over the next few days, the cats cautiously watched him, getting closer and closer. Here they are looking down at Zeus, who was minding his own business lying on his bed just below them.

See the ridge of hair along Arwen's spine? And CiCi's fluffed tail?

CiCi warmed up to Zeus first, touching noses with him by the third day.

Zeus warmed up to us, too. Allyson, Ethan, and a few of their friends gave him lots of attention and love. But it seemed to be my attention he wanted most, maybe because I was hard to get. He'd walk up to me throughout the day and nudge my hand with his nose. I petted him awkwardly, grimacing at the hair that sloughed off each time I touched him.

On Saturday the 20th, day two, we took our Christmas card picture in front of our Charlie Brown tree, which looked much more bedraggled this year because I haven't figured out how to keep CiCi out of it. Allyson and I were determined to have all three pets in the picture, but Ethan was skeptical. He held Arwen, the most reluctant of the party.

Allyson's friend Ellie gamely took a few shots with Ethan's iPhone while we tried to keep the pets calm. Here's one that didn't make the cut:


This was the best we could do. I figure in ten years when our clothes and hair are ridiculously outdated, I can sell this picture to a greeting card company for one of those quirky cards that people love because they can relate. Real life isn't as pretty as your average photo card....


A Christmas Miracle
Just when I was starting to think of Zeus as one more branch on our crazy family tree, the story took an unexpected turn. On Christmas Eve, Allyson and I stopped by my friend Nicole's house to drop off the aforementioned Christmas card and a little gift. As we chatted on her porch, somehow the topic of Zeus came up. "I just can't believe we ended up with a dog," I said. "I am such a cat person. Definitely not a dog person."

"My kids have been wanting a dog," she said wistfully. "Our dog died recently, and they want another one."

"Maybe you could..."

"No, I don't have time to train a dog," she said. (As a home schooling single mom with three young children, she's possibly one of the few people who are busier than me.)

"Oh, but you wouldn't have to train Zeus," I said. "He's the best behaved dog I've ever seen." I sent Allyson to the car for my phone, and we showed her the pictures I've posted above.

"Oh, he reminds me of the German Shepherd we had when I was growing up," she said.

"He's such a good walker," I said. "I bet he could be your running buddy."

"Can I come see him?"

"Sure."

"How about now?" she asked. "I want to have some time with him before my kids come back from their dad's. This could be their Christmas present."

An hour later, I was teaching Nicole all Zeus's voice commands and their corresponding hand signals, giving her all the instructions I could think of and answering all her questions. She said she would take him on a trial basis until next week, when she'll need me to watch him while they go out of town.

"Oh, I've been pet-sitting him for years," I assured her. I didn't mention the time I'd poisoned him with cat food.

And then they were gone. And I was unaccountably sad.

When I broke the news to Ethan, he took it pretty hard.

"This is better for Zeus," I said. "He'll have a much bigger house and a bigger yard, and he can get lots of exercise running with Nicole. And we'll get to see him again whenever they go out of town."

Ethan wasn't convinced. "Why'd you take him if you were so ready to give him away?"

"I was only taking him until we could find another family," I said. "I'll keep praying. If he's meant to be our dog, it won't work out for her family."

It's been a few days, and Nicole says Zeus is doing well--except that he got tired when she took him for a run. "He was all happy at first," she explained, "but around mile three he started lagging behind. I almost had to drag him home."

Poor dog! By mile three she would've had to carry me home! Maybe he can work his way up.

"Well, if you change your mind, it's no problem," I said.

"Oh, I don't know about that," she said. "Let's wait and see how he does with the kids."

I'm sure her kids will love him at least as much as mine did. So I guess that's the end of our dog story. I'll keep you posted.

In Other Pet News
CiCi has gotten into so much mischief. It's a good thing God made her so cute!

Here she is after she jumped up on the table and helped herself to a tub of sour cream:


A few minutes later, that dollop of cream on her forehead was gone. I suspect big sister Arwen might have helped her with that.

I was horrified when Ethan asked what I'd done with the sour cream.

"I threw it away, of course!"

"Why?"

"Because CiCi was eating out of it."

"So?"

I frowned at him in disbelief.

But guess what happened a few days later? I was sitting down to a German oven pancake, left over from Christmas morning, when CiCi jumped on the table and snatched it right from under my fork!

She jumped down with the pancake in her mouth, and I tore off after her. Despite her growling, I jerked that pancake back. And I ate it!!! (I can't believe I'm telling you that. You'd have to try a German oven pancake to understand.)

I don't know what I'm going to do with that naughty cat. No matter how many times I spray her with vinegar water and set her on the floor, she will not stop jumping on the table. And now she can jump up on the kitchen counters, too, which is a big problem. If anyone has any pointers, I'd be most grateful.

All Hiss
One more story, and then I'll turn in for the night.

Remember the video I posted in my last entry of Arwen going berserk over a strange cat in our backyard? I am now pet-sitting for that cat, who lives right next door. Her name is Emma, and she's very fat. She has diabetes, so she drinks a LOT, which also means she pees a LOT. But she is very sweet.

Tonight, Ethan texted me that Emma had slipped into our house when he came in. He hadn't noticed for about 20 minutes. After that, he held her and petted her for a long time. "She's so chubby and cute," he said.

I thought of Arwen's enraged screams just a couple weeks before.

"Wasn't there a cat fight??" I asked. "Did Arwen see her?"

"Yeah, but she just stood there frozen," he answered.

I guess she is all hiss and no scratch. Whew!

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