Given the charged political climate and the fact that I’m still not quite recovered from the post-election catatonia I was plunged into after last Tuesday, I thought this month a little change of pace might be in order. As anyone who reads this blog has no doubt gathered by now, I’m very fond of the four-leggeds who walk among us — particularly my dog Killian, who will turn ten next month. I was running an animal rescue in Oregon when Killy’s mom arrived, very pregnant, and I’ve had the boy ever since. The following is a story I wrote for my nieces, about the unique circumstances surrounding Killian and his sister Adia’s birth and first year. Adia has sadly passed on since we wrote this, but I love the fact that her strident little voice lives on in this piece. I hope you enjoy!
“It all began on a cold day in December, when Mama was in Oregon – ” Adia begins.
“That’s not how it started,” Killian interrupts. Killian is the bigger of my two pups, but he is not the most vocal. His brow is furrowed with concern; Killian likes things to be exact.
We’re settled in the living room to tell this tale, and naturally Adia – being the more extroverted (“you mean she’s a blabbermouth,” interjects Killian, at which point a brief skirmish breaks out) of the two has decided to kick things off.
“It did so start there,” snaps Adia. “Just let me tell it.”
“It started in California,” whispers Killian to me. I nod. He has a point.
“We weren’t even born when California happened,” Adie says. “How can I tell a story we weren’t there for?”
“Mama says our dog-ma came from California,” Killian says. He sits up, becomes very serious, and begins. “Our dog-mama, Rainne, was a stray dog in the city of San Francisco. She came to the Oregon farm in a van, and she was sick with coughing and if Mama and the other rescue people hadn’t sent for her, she would’ve been killed.”
“And we would’ve died, too,” says Adie. Clearly, she has come to agree that this is a better place to begin the story.
“Mama Rainne came to the rescue in Oregon with thirty other dogs,” Killian continues, “so it was very loud and crowded and scary. Those other dogs were all going to other rescues, so they could get adopted into nice homes. But our people mama met Rainney and heard her coughing, and she said,” Killy looks to me with baleful brown eyes, “What did you say, Mama?”
“She said, ‘There’s something special about this girl – let’s keep her here, just ‘til she feels better,” Adie interrupts excitedly.
Killian nods. “Yeah. That’s what Mama said.”
“But she didn’t even know we were in Mama-Rainne’s belly yet, because Rainney was so skinny. And then, we almost didn’t make it anyway, because Mama’s friend Dave took Rainney to the vet to get her fixed. And they would’ve done it – ”
“Even with babies in her belly, right, Mama?” Killian says.
“Sometimes that’s what has to be done. And that’s how it would have happened that day,” I agree gently.
“But Rainney was coughing too much, so the vet said he couldn’t do it that day. And then it was another two weeks before they could get another appointment,” Adie says.
“And by then it was too late!” Killian adds.
“And that’s when we were born,” Adia finishes triumphantly.
“Would you like to tell that story?” I ask Adia, who nods seriously (she’s never shy to tell a story) and settles on her dog bed with her paws crossed delicately in front of her.
“Then,” she says, “We got born, on a cold day in December when Mama was just getting over the flu, and she had a flight to Maine later that day for the holidays – ”
“And there was a sixteen-foot Christmas tree lodged in the front door!” Killian interrupts.
“I was getting to that part!” Adie says. “Tell him to stop interrupting.”
“There’s plenty of story for both of you,” I say. “Why don’t you tell about the day you were born, Adie, and Killy can tell us the next story.”
Adia nods her approval of this plan, and Killy sighs. He circles twice, lies down, and rests his chin heavily on his paws as Adia continues.
“Anyway,” she says, “there was a sixteen-foot Christmas tree lodged in the front door, ‘cause Dave wanted to get the biggest tree he could find, but it wouldn’t fit through the door! And Mama got up that morning to take a bath and Mama Rainne was staying in a kennel in Mama’s office in the next room, ‘cause they knew we would be coming any day. So, Mama was soaking in the tub when – ”
“She heard us crying!” Killy interrupts, his tail swishing with excitement.
“That was the best part!” Adie snaps. Then there’s another tussle that I have to break up, before each hound re-settles on their respective pillows.
“Now, where was I?” Adia asks.
“We just got borned,” Killian says.
Adie rolls her eyes at me, and continues. “Right, we were born,” she corrects Killian, “And it was Killy and me and our sisters Hannah and Tally, and our brother Connor.”
“Only we didn’t have any names yet,” Killy says.
“No,” Adia agrees. “We didn’t have any names, and we couldn’t walk, and we couldn’t even open our eyes, because we were such tiny babies. I was the littlest, and Killian was the biggest. And then, just when all five of us were born, Mama had to leave so she wouldn’t miss her plane. So, she kissed all five of our baby heads, and she kissed Mama Rainne, and said, ‘Good job, Rainney Girl. You rest now. I’ll be back in two weeks, to help you with these guys.’ And then she left.”
“We don’t remember much of what happened after that,” Killian says.
“Because we were too little,” Adie adds. “But Dave and Pop – that was Dave’s dad – pulled the tree in the front door with a whole lot of work, and they set it up in the living room and decorated it with dog toys, ‘cause there was so many of us. We ate and slept, mostly, until Mama came home.”
“Then we opened our eyes,” Killian says. “But we waited ‘til we heard Mama’s voice. And the first thing we saw when we opened them was our people-mama, holding us.”
“That’s the first thing you saw,” Adie corrects him. “The first thing I saw was Tally, chewing on my ears. But you were in Mama’s arms the day you opened your eyes. And that’s why you’re still such a baby man when it comes to Mama.”
“I’m not a baby man,” Killy says indignantly. “I just know the people I love, and I don’t love the people I don’t know. Besides,” he lowers his voice, looking at me with an all-knowing dogged glint, “Me and Mama have a special bond. She knew I was hers, from the very start.”
It’s true, actually, that I knew from the start that Killian and I belonged together. For one thing, he cried copiously whenever I was away from him, but would settle down the moment I picked him up. There was just an energy that came from Killy, even as a pup, that spoke to me.
“What about me?” Adie demands. “Didn’t I speak to you?”
“You never stopped speaking,” Killy says. Before another fight erupts, I interrupt.
“You were too busy causing trouble and fighting with your brothers and sisters to waste too much time on me in those early days,” I tell her.
“’Cause you were a troublemaker from the start,” Killian says.
“There was a lot of trouble to get into, though,” Adia says, rather than arguing the point. “There were goats and cows and cats and llamas and chickens and rats and… Who wouldn’t get in trouble, with all that? On our very first walk around the house, we learned all the crazy things going on in our world. Before that, we’d just been safe and secure in our kennel in Mama’s office. But then, we started meeting our pack.”
“It was a really big pack,” Killian says.
Adia agrees. “At first, Mama and Dave were careful about who they introduced us to, ‘cause some of the animals there didn’t like puppies so much. We met Grandma Spoon first – ”
“We loved Grandma Spoon,” Killian says, his eyes taking on a distant cast.
“We did,” Adie says. “Grandma Spoon was an English – ” she looks at me and whispers, “What was she, Mama?”
“Spoony was a prize-winning English mastiff who had been a gift to Dave,” I say.
“Yeah,” Adie says. “That. She’d been a mama before, so she knew just what to do to keep puppies in line. Everybody loved her – even kittens. She taught Rainney to be a good mom, since Mama says Rainney was practically a puppy herself.”
“Then we met all our aunts and uncles,” Killian says. “Buck and Linus and Cheesecake and Tiger.”
“And Donna,” says Adia. “And Louie!”
“Some of them were afraid of us – especially Louie,” Killian says. “Even though he looked big and tough, he was gentle as a kitten. Me and Adie and the other pups would chase him and chase him, and he would just hide. Then when he laid down, we’d find him and cuddle up next to him like he was our mama.”
“And we met the goats, too,” Killian continues. “We’d have picnics with the goats.”
“On the farm,” Adie explains, “There was a house for the people and for the dogs, and there was a barn, and there was a cat house.”
“And lots of land,” Killian adds. “Tell them how much land there was, Mama.”
The farm was set on sixteen acres in Estacada, Oregon – about thirty miles outside Portland. We had a pasture and barn for the farm animals, and a three thousand-square-foot home that Dave and I shared with his eighty-five-year-old father and about twenty dogs, four degus, a parakeet, a Moluccan cockatiel, and a bathroom full of kittens. The cat house was a huge garage that held about thirty rescued cats, most of whom had come from a high-kill shelter down in California.
“It was a lot of space,” Adie concludes. “And once we were big enough, Mama and Dave would take us on picnics. They’d carry all five of us pups out into the field with some lunch and we’d play in the Oregon sunshine, and wrestle with each other, and explore.”
“And sometimes Butterfly the goat would come and say hello,” Killian says. “She was an old lady goat, and she loved to nuzzle Mama and chase after us pups.”
“We loved our picnics,” Adie says.
“Except for one day, when the dinosaur tried to get us,” Killian says. “That wasn’t a very fun picnic.”
“She wasn’t really a dinosaur, though,” Adie says. “And she didn’t mean any harm – right, Mama?”
I shake my head.
Lucy just looked like a dinosaur, but in fact she was an ancient, tumor-ridden bulldog/Sharpe mix that Dave had rescued from euthanasia in a shelter back in California. She’d been a breeder for years, until she couldn’t handle another batch of pups – at which point, she’d literally been tossed out of a moving car, not far from the Merced County shelter. Dave brought her home and entrusted her care to Pop.
The old girl was too decrepit to move much, but she always got a spark under her when she smelled babies that she thought might be in need of mothering.
“That day when we were out in the field,” Adie picks up the story, “Old Lucy hadn’t been farther than a few feet from the house in months. But when she heard puppies crying, she came plodding out to the field to find us.”
“Mama got real upset,” Killian says. “By that time, Rainney’d had enough of us, and so she wasn’t around much – we only had our people-ma to take care of us. She said, ‘Go on home, Lucy – these pups already have a mama.’ And she picked us up and moved us farther into the field. But pretty soon, along came Lucy, plodding along to try and rescue us. She got Tally in her mouth and started to carry her back to the house, and Mama had to go and save her.”
“Tally cried and cried,” Adie says. “She was awfully scared of Lucy.”
Not everyone was scared of Lucy, though. We started out keeping a parcel of sick kittens in the bathroom adjacent to Dave and my bedroom. When it became apparent that it wasn’t wise to have wild kittens at large in the middle of the night when one needed to use the facilities, we transferred them to a room that Dave painted a vibrant violet. We added a Buddha, a mattress, some plants, and a fountain. Dave called it our Tranquility Room – the perfect spot for kittens to grow into cats. Unfortunately, Spoony decided that the mattress in the Tranquility Room was the perfect spot for her, and the fountain ideal to slake the thirst of a hundred-and-fifty-pound English mastiff. She would periodically nose her way into the room – which wouldn’t have been a problem, had we not shared the house with several not-so-kitten-friendly dogs.
One day, Spoony managed to get back into the Tranquility Room while Dave and I were out shopping. When we returned, we found kittens – mercifully unharmed – scattered throughout the house (the non-kitten-friendly dogs were all kenneled when we were gone). Unfortunately, one kitten — a little tabby named Taz — was nowhere to be found. We’d turned the house upside down when Pop emerged from his room.
“You missing someone?” he asked. When we told him that we were, indeed, one kitten short, he gestured us into his room.
There, sleeping cozily on top of Lucy’s gargantuan belly, was Taz.
“She brought him in while I was washing up,” Pop said. “I didn’t know where you wanted him, and he didn’t seem too concerned, so I just left ‘em.”
We never again doubted Lucy’s good intentions when it came to the babies she so desperately seemed to want to mother.
By now it’s dusk. We’ve had our dinner and our walk, and Killian and Adia have stopped their spatting and are curled up together on the day-bed. I ask what story we should tell next.
“The move, of course,” Adia says, as if I’m a little daft.
“Yeah – the move,” Killian agrees. “That’s a good story. We can tell about getting the bus and how Dave ripped out all the seats so we could fit our fridge, and what happened to the cows, and the school and – ”
“You’ll spoil it if you tell it all now,” Adie says indignantly. “Later, we’ll tell about the move.”
I agree: the move is the next story.
Jen Blood is author of the USA Today-bestselling Erin Solomon mysteries and the newly released The Darkest Thread, the first novel in the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries. You can learn more about Jen and her work at http://www.jenblood.com.