Sunday, December 13, 2015

The New Puppy

Dylan and his new pup, 8-week-old Ryker, on December 9, 2015.

I decided about 4 years ago that I did not want any more pets to be responsible for. I plan to retire in May 2017, and then I want to be free to travel, whether I travel alone or whether I have a permanent "significant other" in my life by then. Having to make plans for the care of a cat or dog in my absence does not fit into my plans, and I'll never be one to enjoy traveling with animals. I can't "get away from it all" if I have to take it all with me!

Don't get me wrong, I love animals. As a teen, my dog Belle slept in my bed. I was the worst about always begging for a new puppy or kitten. I loved horseback riding and dreamed of having my own horse someday. And I've always been a cat person. Since I was a toddler, we've nearly always had at least one cat in the home. At one point, as a mother of young children, I had five cats! They are great mousers for those of us living the rural life.

I also believe that having pets to tend can help children learn responsibility, as well as to love and care for needy creatures smaller and weaker than themselves. My children were active in 4-H Club for a long time, and over the years we've had dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, fish, sea monkeys (triopps), a turtle (who unfortunately died young), and we even fostered guinea pigs and a chinchilla over various school breaks. Pets have provided great experiences for my kids.

Nonetheless, I was ready for a new chapter in my life, unencumbered by the extra responsibility for little creatures dependent upon me for their every need. I made it clear to my kids that once our final surviving cat--raggedy 10-year-old Gimli--passes away, this home will become a pet-free zone!

Not that it stopped them from begging, of course. Both of my sons have pleaded with me continuously to relent and let them get a puppy. Well, since their stepdad and I split up two years ago, anyway.

Mary and Ryker on the night he joined our family.

By the time I made the no-more-pets decision, Sarah was married. I soon sent our dog Diego to live with her and Chris, because my then-husband Ed was abusing him. The last straw was when Diego, who was terrified of thunder, panicked during a storm one night and scratched at the front door to be let in, which enraged Ed so much that he punched Diego hard, straight in the muzzle, and then rammed his face into the metal door. That night I cried myself to sleep. I never want to see such a look of pain and fear on the face of a sweet, loving animal like Diego again. Even our two cats, brothers Gandalf and Gimli, fled Ed's abuse. Gimli returned, pretty beat up and worse for wear, several months after Ed moved out, but we never saw Gandalf again.

At this same time, Jacob was almost midway through his mission in Northern California. When he returned in November 2012, no one talked about getting another pet because none of us wanted to subject another innocent animal to Ed's violent temper. In fact, after spending his first three months at home knocking himself out trying to be his stepdad's friend, Jacob finally admitted defeat and fled himself, first to Winslow, then to Cottonwood, and then all the way back to California in his ongoing attempt to escape Ed's far-reaching verbal and emotional abuse.

Sarah gave Ryker his first bath on Friday night after Dylan's Polar Express play. 
Ryker was not a fan of the whole bath thing.

Fast-forward to July 2013. Ed assaulted Dylan and me (because he didn't approve of where I'd parked my car after church); I called 911; Ed was arrested; he accepted a plea agreement to avoid prosecution; and then he divorced me because "You don't call the police on family!" (But I guess it's okay to pick up your wife and throw her across the room...) In August, Jacob moved back home; in October he met Danielle; and eight months later they were married.

And meanwhile my boys kept begging for a new puppy. Jacob finally got his pup a few months after he and Danielle got married, when they adopted their little pooch, Lucky. But Dylan still felt bereft without a doggy of his own.

After his bath, Ryker was all sweet-smelling and fluffy.
The bath water was muddy-brown before the bath was over!

Despite all the pleading, I stood strong and kept saying NO for two years...right up until this past Wednesday. I was teaching my 5th period class when Dylan walked in and sat at my desk. I asked him why he wasn't in his class (he's a math aide during that period). He said he had permission to come talk to me about something, and had I seen the text he'd sent me? I hadn't; I had heard it chime when it arrived, but I'd been in the middle of 4th period's lesson and forgot to check the text when class ended.

Clearly, my mostly-freshman 5th-period class was far more interested in what my senior son wanted than in continuing the lesson, so I had him bring my cell phone to me. The text he'd sent me featured a cute black-and-white puppy and said, "Mom I'm getting a puppy. Look at how cute it is!!!" Within minutes he had my entire class begging me to let him have the adorable puppy. When your children and/or students sense that you're wavering, they start circling like sharks scenting blood in the water!

I told Dylan to go back to class and we'd talk about it after school. He tried to plead his case some more, but I told him firmly that I would not make this decision under pressure while at work. So he left and I continued teaching, but I think we both knew I'd relinquished the fight. That puppy was going to be ours.

Sarah and Dylan rub Ryker dry. Dylan was still wearing his stage makeup.

I did try to talk Dylan out of it. I reminded him of crying, yapping puppies and sleepless nights; frequent trips into the chilly outdoors and accidents on my carpets to be cleaned up; chewed up shoes and frustrating hours of behavior training; and the ongoing costs of dog food and veterinarian visits. But Dylan insisted he was up to the job, would cover all costs and handle all clean-ups. And so I gave in.

The new puppy came from Dylan's friend Angelique, whose dog had delivered a large litter of puppies on October 16th. She remembered the date because it was the night our arch rivals, Show Low High, had slaughtered us on the football field. Now her family was trying to find homes for the pups, and Dylan was more than willing to be part of the solution. That very same night, with my permission, Dylan met Angelique at the school and followed her to her home on the nearby Apache reservation to pick up the puppy with one blue-ringed eye, which he had selected from Angelique's pictures. Her family encouraged him to take two pups, but he was wise enough not to press his luck!

All warm and dry after his bath, Ryker cuddles up with Mark on the couch.
And we discovered that the streak on Ryker's face is actually white rather than gray!

And so the new puppy I'd sworn to never welcome was welcomed into our home after all. At first, Dylan considered naming the pup Miracle, since it seemed like a Christmas miracle that Mom finally said "Yes" to a puppy. Then his friend Jake suggested the name Ryker, and that's the name that stuck. Ryker quickly captured our hearts, an affectionately chubby little butterball who was just one day short of eight weeks old. It was love at first sight for all of us.

It was also much tougher than my son expected. Despite my warnings, Dylan had still believed having a puppy was all about cuteness and cuddles and fun. Then on Friday morning, after two sleepless nights, Dylan told me, "Mom, I'm starting to think getting this puppy was a mistake." "I warned you," I said. "I just feel like I don't know what I'm doing," he confessed. "Welcome to parenting," I said unsympathetically.

Ryker checks out Saturday morning's snow. He liked it!

I considered our options. Ryker was still tiny enough and young enough to be adopted by another family. Sarah was already head-over-heels in love and would have taken him in a heartbeat. Despite Dylan's efforts to stay on top of things, I wasn't enjoying the soiling of my carpets. And one morning we found little bits of black rubber in the living room: part of the sole of Mark's flip-flop.

Still, I felt oddly reluctant to part with the puppy now that we'd begun to bond. Not to mention the financial investment. We'd purchased Ryker his own $70 playpen to keep him safe when we were all away at work and school for hours. He adjusted to it very quickly. He is young, but he's a smart little guy.

In the end, though, the deciding factor was Dylan and the life lessons of pet ownership. You don't make a commitment and then just walk away when it turns out to be tougher than you'd anticipated. If you do, you miss out on the reward that comes at the end of a job well done. And you run the risk of becoming a self-absorbed quitter who seeks immediate satisfaction rather than the deeper contentment that comes with seeing a commitment through to the end, no matter how difficult the trials along the way.

And thus, Ryker has stayed. It's only been 4 days, but accidents on my carpet have already become rare. Dylan has been wonderfully responsible about cleaning up all messes. Everyone is more aware about keeping things up off the floor that we don't want chewed. Dylan understands that a puppy chewing and biting is normal and healthy (especially when he's part pit bull), and all one has to do when one is tired of those sharp little teeth gnawing on one's hand is to offer a chew toy as an alternative to one's tender flesh. Sleepless nights will fade away as the puppy matures, sleeping longer and developing better bladder control. And Ryker is a very intelligent, energetic young pup with an extremely sweet, trusting personality. He will learn quickly.

In the end, after all the puppy piddles and sharp little puppy teeth and chewed shoes and middle-of-the-night yipping and hyper-vigilance required to raise a baby of any breed, Dylan will know the joy of a well-trained dog who loves his master unconditionally, with complete and utter loyalty. And that's what it's all about.

Back inside the warm house, Ryker grabs a bite to eat.
December 12, 2015

And there's the famous blue eye, as of this afternoon.
December 13, 2015

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