Archive for May, 2011

The Darwin-Nutmeg Adventure

Spring is off to a cold, slow start here—well, it was until I returned from a weekend in D.C. to hot and stormy weather that makes me long for the tundra. But not really, because I do like being able to go outside for more than thirty seconds at a time, even though my eventual retreat is now forced by stickiness rather than by the threat of frostbite. The crab apple trees in my yard still haven’t come into full bloom; they’re finally beginning to open almost two weeks later than last year.

Last week I drove to Milwaukee—essentially, it turned out, to buy new drinking glasses. I went only because I wanted something different to do; I’ve been a bit restless waiting for spring. Recently, I decided that I needed an African violet to put under my bell jar (like any elegant Victorian lady).  I stopped at every Home Depot in Madison and between Milwaukee and Madison and failed to find even one living specimen; eventually, one turned up at a local grocery store. But the violet, as you will see, isn’t the only addition to the landscape*:

Yes, that’s a dog. And his name is Darwin, though I wanted to name him Nutmeg—not only because I find food-based pet names kind of hilarious, but because it also fits the literary pedigree of my cat herd. Sir Walter Scott gave a dog named Pepper to the Wordsworth family during a visit to Dove Cottage. This was not, however, as charming a gesture as it might seem; apparently he had quite a surplus of dogs, and named them all according to their coats. The Wordsworth Pepper was just one of many Peppers; Scott also had quite a few Mustards, Gingers, and so on.

Even before the addition of a Darwin-Nutmeg, animal-free space in my house was already at quite a premium. Now, the floor is littered with fuzzy things:

I had kind of been thinking about getting a dog for a while, though always with the idea that it’s not practical now, in this small house and with three or four cats (one of my cats is on loan to my mom as a companion to her kitten). A couple of months ago, Ricky and I were on the way to a friend’s house when a small dog ran in front of our car; I spent half an hour chasing her across the neighborhood before cornering her in a garage. The owner of the garage in question was surprisingly fine with finding me crouching next to her minivan. That same night, we managed to reunite the escaped “Trixie” with her family; I was, however, a bit sad to see her go.

As you may have guessed from my decision to drive an hour to buy drinking glasses, last week was kind of crummy for me; when Ricky arrived, it didn’t take much to convince him to go “look” at the shelter dogs, just to cheer me up. May 5th, it turns out, is “Cinco de Meow” at the shelter; apparently, $5 cat adoptions are quite the draw. We walked through the kennels at the shelter looking for small fuzzy dogs; almost all of them were on hold, ready to be adopted soon. I fell in love with an eager, sociable Pomeranian called Dolly, but she was scheduled to go home that day. I convinced Ricky that we should wait an hour to meet with the rather unpromising “Jabba” mostly so that our visit wouldn’t end without me getting to pet a fuzzy dog (which was really the primary goal).

Jabba was shy and depressed; he had been there for several weeks and met several families who decided not to take him home (small dogs generally come and go faster than that here). Still, after a rushed visit with him at the shelter (“Cinco de Meow” must go on), we decided to put a deposit on him so that he could be tested the next day with a shelter cat to see if he might be able to join our herd. I didn’t sleep much that night; I was really worried about making a mistake and throwing our feline household into chaos. The next day I taught my last class and packed to go to D.C.; we still hadn’t heard from the shelter about the cat test by the time I was getting ready to go through airport security.

But then, my flight was delayed and I was rebooked on one two hours later. Ricky and I waited; finally, the shelter called. The cat test had gone well; Jabba displayed no aggression. We decided, rather nervously, that Ricky would drop me off (again) and then head to shelter to pick him up—mostly because we learned that the shelter gives you 30 days to see if a pet will work in your household. Ricky was halfway to the shelter when I passed through security to find that my rebooked flight had been canceled; the only option was to try again in the morning.

When we got to the shelter, I was shocked to see that Dolly—the Pomeranian I had fallen for—was still there. Apparently, her adopters had backed out right after we had left. Dolly was with a potential adopter  so we decided to wait a bit and see what their decision would be. They seemed to be falling hard for her tail-wagging charm; after about half an hour, it looked like her adoption was a done deal (though she would still need to be tested with their two dogs). So, we met again with Jabba—he was still shy, still depressed, and still not that interested in us. But he was better, and I think we both began to feel that a shy dog might be the perfect fit for us—and that we might be the perfect fit for him. We took him home, armed with all kinds of reading materials about how to handle a nervous dog, how to build his confidence, and how to get him to bond with us.

All of this worrying, it turns out, was unwarranted. Darwin (Nutmeg) has made himself totally at home—sometimes we wish he would go back to being a little more shy. The cats are taking him in stride (probably because they’re twice his size). He’s a delight.

*I was going to crop the Target bag full of trash out of this photo, but I left it in because, as a friend recently remarked, it’s kind of funny that I fuss and fret over every inch of my house and then just hang a plastic bag on the doorknob. I used to have a trash can under the sink; my broken, leaky garbage disposal has made that impossible.

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