Friday, September 28, 2007

Not a Keeper

When my in-laws brought the little black dog home and opened the pet carrier, she jumped into Mom Z's lap and sat staring into her face, tail happily wagging. My father-in-law said, "That dog's a keeper!" And so a name was found.

After Dad Z passed away, Keeper provided some noise and life to the quiet house. She was good company. Whenever we made the drive down to Corpus Christi to visit my mother-in-law, Keeper kept my sons amused all weekend.

If she was under a blanket and they touched her, a rumbling came from the covered-up lump. If they continued to poke her, the growling would become more menacing until finally, with a loud bark, she'd threaten to bite.

The strange thing was that if the blanket was suddenly yanked off of her, she'd look up with innocent eyes, as if to say, "what? It wasn't me!"

When Mom Z had to move temporarily into a nursing home last year, my sister-in-law went to the house every day to feed Keeper. When we visited, we took the dog with us to the nursing home so she could see her "mama".

One weekend, I went down to Corpus alone to visit Mom Z at the home, and stayed at her house. Keeper kept me company and rode along as usual when I went to see Mom Z. On Sunday, I packed and stacked my things by the door. Finally, I was ready to carry everything to the car. I found Keeper curled up next to my suitcase. Her ears perked up when my keys rattled and she jumped into a sitting position, tail wagging, big brown eyes hopeful. I just couldn't leave her behind.

It was only temporary, after all. Mom Z was recovering from a leg amputation (!) but-after physical therapy- would eventually return to her own house. We brought Keeper back and forth to Corpus to visit her mama at the nursing home, but when the weekend was over, she returned to our house with us.

One morning my husband called from work. Mom Z had suffered a stroke and was being transported to the hospital. Before he could even get on the road to Corpus, he got a call that she had died.

Life can change in an instant. One day she was working, living on her own and the next day she was disabled. Now, suddenly, she was gone.

After the memorial service, we packed some mementos from her house and carefully placed her ashes in the car. As I walked around, I realized Keeper was following close behind me. I picked her up and held her close. "Guess you belong to us now,' I told her.

Back at our house,when someone played the "under the blanket" game, the sounds Keeper made were the sounds of Grandma's house. And when she hopped into my lap, staring at my face with those big, thankful eyes I thought about Mom Z: the smell of her good cooking, my kids on the floor counting the change Grandma saved for them and above the noise of football on TV, the latest news about her friends. Grandma and her house. It was all there in Keeper's face.

A few months passed. Keeper got along just fine with our dog, Sparky. But she started to become possesive of me. She followed me like a shadow around the house all day and growled quietly if anyone else tried to pet her. We thought she was afraid they were going to take her away from me. We laughed it off. She was all talk as far as we knew. She had never bitten anybody.

One night this past June, Keeper was sleeping on my bed and I bent way down to scoop her up, putting my face close to hers as I told her it was time to move. Suddenly, she was all teeth and snarls, attacking my face. I screamed and fought but couldn't get her off. My son ran in with panic in his voice, "What is it?!!" and then ran to get my husband.

And then I was holding my face in my hands, sobbing as blood splattered on the floor on my way to the bathroom. We went to the Emergency Room and I came home with my face bandaged. No need for stitches, thankfully.

We had to put her to sleep. It was hard to do, because after the attack she was on her best behavior, acting extra-cute and contrite. We were told by my doctor to wait 10 days to watch her for signs of illness, just to be sure that I'd be OK. So two weeks after we put our beloved Sparky down, we laid Keeper to rest.

No more soft, warm fur curled up against me on the couch. No more greetings at the door. Our two-dog home is now strangely quiet and lifeless. A big box of a house, full of silent furniture. I miss those silly dogs every day.


I wasn't going to post the photos of my face all bloody and swollen after the attack because...well, I look really bad! But then I thought a little gratuitous gore might get me a bit of sympathy. ("Oh, poor Caryl! Look how she's suffered!") Yeah, like that. OK, bring on the sympathy:

It's funny, though. Ever since the swelling went down, I think I look better than I did before the attack!

And my breasts got bigger, too. Go figure.


jaybszoo said...

Hells Bells, maybe I need to get attacked in the face by a dog. Your after shot looks beautiful. ;)

I really do feel bad that you had to go through all the suffering, it's bad enough that he bit you but putting down an animal is horrible too. :(

Jennifer said...

Aw, what a sad story, Caryl. And here is your sympathy - my God, Caryl! You poor thing! The pain & suffering! Ouchies!!

My husband's dog once bit my ex-boss in the face. It was a strange set of events that set that into motion, but it was satisfying for me on some level.

Tojo said...

A very well-written, moving piece. Thanks for that.

And your reward... "Oh dear heavens, I cannot fathom what you've endured! I hope that if I were faced with such adversity, that I could emerge as triumphant as you."

Sunny said...

That happened to my Grandparents. Was Keeper an old dog? It's possible that Keeper was in the beginning stage of doggie dementia. With kids in the house, it's best not to have a dog like that in their company.

My Grandparents had a poodle that was like Keeper in that when bedtime he got really grumpy. He'd retreat behind the couch and if anyone put their arm on the back of the couch and he could see it or if you tried to look at him he'd growl like a rabid beast. The rest of the time Fluffy was the sweetest dog. He never bit anyone either, even when Grandpa would drag him growling and spitting from behind the sofa to put him into his real dog bed. When Fluffy was about 13 years old, he went into one of his growling rages, but this time something snapped; he emerged from the back of the sofa and attacked my cousin who was only 12. Required some stitches in his arm. Fluffy was taken to the vet and pronounced to have a form of dementia. They put him down. My Grandfather never got over it, he loved that cranky poodle. You did the right thing.

Coming out looking like Jennifer Love Hewitt not a bad side effect.

caryl said...

Sunny, I'm sorry I didn't see your post sooner! I think you're right. We were never sure how old Keeper was because she was picked up on one of those "adopt a pet" days at the Pet Store. She sure was starting to act nutty.