September 22, 2013

North Cairn: Refreshed by puppy love at first sight

To be honest, it was the emptiness that prompted me to let my life be overrun with chaos – namely, a puppy.

click image to enlarge

A new golden puppy owned by North Cairn.

Photo by North Cairn

I held out for two months after my 10-year-old golden retriever had to be put down, mostly unable to come to a decision about whether to get a dog, and if so, what kind. I have shared my life with goldens for 30 years, with the addition of Irish setter genes in the first dog I ever acquired. But I wanted to see if I could make it without a dog, even the happy countenance and assumed intimacy that golden retrievers almost always embody.

I have to say, life became a lot simpler, my schedule freer, my mornings more relaxed, my evenings quieter, before the new dog moved from western Massachusetts to the woods of Maine to occupy my home. I found my days suddenly swept clean of the anxieties of being a caretaker. I had so much more time and real liberation.

And I hated it.

I tried fostering a dog for a Southern rescue organization, and failed. Dogs saved from shelters – especially high-kill shelters – quite often are strays or are surrendered by people who took less-than-diligent care of them. These dogs frequently have "issues" – health problems like heartworms, skin allergies aggravated by fleas or ticks, congenital defects from accidental, imprudent breeding, psychological complications including anxiety, fear and reticence, occasionally even aggression – some of the predictable outcomes of having been abandoned, neglected or abused by the people they loved. Mere survival takes a lot of energy and exacts a terrible toll, particularly on animals who have wed their fates to human beings.

I visited many breeders and met beautiful, happy, healthy dogs – many puppies, and even a few adolescents. Everywhere I visited, I saw worthy candidates for canine companionship, but I always stopped just shy of getting a dog, because my heart was still reverberating with grief for the one I lost.

And then, almost by accident, I read about a family in Deerfield, Mass., who was going to have a litter of golden retrievers available in a month. I called and called and called, and finally, the owner – a teacher and mother who is always busy with child-rearing or teaching – surfaced and responded.

The next weekend I went with a friend to visit the pups. I could not decide whether I wanted one that would ultimately have that blocky-headed look of certain retrievers or another, a little more petite female who appeared to be the runt, but not by much.

It took another two weeks for me to twist my mind around the idea of a puppy, because, though they are charming beyond belief, they demand a huge commitment of time and energy, training and patience. I wasn't sure I had the flexibility in my life to pull it off.

But all the reasons I felt reluctant were the same as the ones that urged me toward bringing a new dog into my life, plus the major factor: Quite simply, I felt my days had been emptied of the kind of joy that a dog can bring, and that vacancy was too much to bear.

So, with a feeling of willingly jumping off a very high cliff into who knows what, I set off for western Massachusetts to pick up the small dog, who, by the way, is less little every day. It took a few days, but she finally got the name Cassie, short for Casco Bay. My life has been thrown into a turbulence of finding the right, good dog food (because there are many inadequate, even injurious, brands, breeders have told me); erecting crates of various sizes in several locations, including the car; making veterinary visits; setting up daycare arrangements; chasing off coyotes who showed up in the yard one night to pluck the golden bon-bon from the lawn; and getting accustomed to a puppy who prefers to sleep on the bed, and often, on my head.

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