Every girl wants a puppy. Sometimes, it’s a fleeting dream. Other times, it is a non-negotiable need. For me, it’s the latter.
We had a “dream dog” for many, many years. Her name was Maddy.
Maddy was one of those once-in-a-lifetime dogs. Looking back, I should have been able to predict that from the moment we first met.
Maddy wandered into our lives quite unexpectedly. One day, she and her brother wandered into Daddy’s factory nestled in a tiny town in the middle of Tennessee. She padded in, quietly, I imagine, and introduced herself.
Spotting a stray dog was no unusual sighting in the factory; sometimes, they camped out in the culvert below. Owners simply let their dogs roam around, having litters of puppies, and letting those puppies have puppies in the most shockingly laissez-faire manner.
But this was no ordinary duo of puppies. He, brown and white, she, black and white, both, remarkably tiny, they made their mark with ease. But it was when Dad sat down to work at his desk that she wandered in and sleepily settled down to doze on his feet that Maddy-the-dog firmly became a member of our family.
Maddy began life at The House Between the Cowfields just as quietly as she entered the factory. Despite the excitement she set racing the hearts of my brother and I, she was a calm, relaxed puppy from the get go.
This was a joy. It meant that Maddy, smaller than Dad’s work boots, happily flopped into any position you chose. No matter how she was held, prodded, poked, or otherwise tortured, Maddy remained a delightfully-yielding bundle of warm, pink skin and soft black-and-white fur.
She happily trotted after Chance, our grumpy-but-loved fox terrier, and soon became a devoted follower of Momma. When Momma got up, so did Maddy. When Momma settled in to a chore, Maddy settled into a nearby chair. When Daddy arrived home, Maddy was there with a bark and a waggily tail. When Brother marched with purpose through the brush to build a fort, Maddy bounded along beside him. When I snuggled in a sunny chair to read a book or doodle an afternoon away, Maddy followed, too.
It seemed Maddy knew just when she was needed. She’d find the family member who’d scraped a knee, was shedding tears, or flopped down, exhausted. Always, a happy face, a breathy pant, and a wagging helicopter tail offered freely as solace.
Maddy became a comfort in storms. After periods of inevitable family tension during our teenage years, adoration of Maddy was a unifying force, a comfortable, familiar love that bonded us together. My first night away at college, I wept, not for my fellow two-legged pack members, but for Maddy’s paws and the smell of her fur. When I’d return home again, she was the first to greet me.
Maddy aged. She did so gracefully and slowly, so much so, that it seemed I’d blinked and suddenly her fur was speckled salt and pepper. Another blink, and here were sagging jowls. A rest of the eyes, and now our spry puppy was clumsily staggering to stand, gingerly navigating stairs, and cautiously leaping up onto beds and sofas.
Nearly a year into marriage, we got the call. It was time to say goodbye to the most beloved dog of my life. We’d known the time was coming soon. Momma had knelt beside her days before and whispered, “Promise to tell me when it’s time.” Maddy kept her promise, faithful as always, and we knew.
It seemed the wound would never heal. Coming home to visit Momma and Daddy brought me to tears when the porch stood empty, no wagging tail to give a friendly, “Hello.” Mom and Dad felt the empty vacuum when they opened the door to an empty kitchen upon arriving home. We talked about her, and cried every time.
Then came some smiles. It took time, but soon there were Maddy tales told with a grin, and just a little mist in our eyes.
It was time for Mr. S and I to welcome another four-legged friend into our hearts. And we found her sooner than we’d expected. Friends told us they’d found a family who needed to a home for their sweet, nearly-a-year-old beagle.
We met that sweet dog soon enough, but this time around, it wasn’t quiet. Maddy had softly padded in, Lucy raced to us and let out a SNORT! Then another. And then we were bombarded with an endless series of sniffles and snorts. This was the first indication that we had a very different dog on our hands. We had ourselves a hound dog who couldn’t smell a thing thanks to year-round allergies. Little did I know I’d become so accustomed to removing trails of puppy nasal drip from an unwilling snout, scrubbing snot trails from furniture, and explaining to neighbors, “No, she’s not choking on her collar. She always sounds like that.”
Hazel-eyes, chocolate, mocha, and vanilla fur, and silky floppy ears were a fast delight. And as much delight as we found in her, she found in our things. Socks, police badges, baseboards, and more all fell victim to her needle-like puppy teeth. We affectionately named her “The Carpet Shark.” Any item she encountered was soon to be another victim. We’d declare that, “The Carpet Shark has struck again.”
Then came nights yowling in her crate, sneezes that made us literally jump, snoring that was supernaturally bigger than her tiny frame, and attitude.
Attitude might be an understatement. More like MADittude. See, Lucy has been convinced that she is the queen from the moment she arrived. Try to get this tiny girl off a pillow, and she’ll growl, snap, and howl. Want the item you know is not safe for her to eat? To save her life, you’ll endure hackles and growls. And, if you dare to persist, a chomp to the hand.
I was horrified. We had opened our home ready to love another precious puppy, expecting some chewing problems and potty accidents, yet we were living with a regular case of Jekyll and Hyde.
In my horror after nursing a bite with water, soap, and ice, I found myself in tears, longing for Maddy’s calm, submissive loyalty. How could I live with a possessive, hyperactive, loud, snotty dog when I knew what life with a great dog could be?
Slowly, it has dawned on me. I have to learn to love this dog. And I had to treat this dog the way she needed. Soon, she was banned from our furniture, made to wait for her food, and flipped onto her back immediately after displaying signs of aggression. The season of tough-love boot camp has begun in the Stewart household. I often chuckle and think of the humiliation of King Nebuchadnezzar as told in the book of Daniel when I hold onto hope that this lowly placement will ultimately save her.
Still, there is fear that she’ll never change in this heart of mine. But one look into her soulful beagle eyes reminds me that it’s worth the fight.