The canines named below are not fictional!
WONDERDOG'S TENNIS BALL
Baron was our Superdog, a combination of Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, and all the canine perfection that could be packed into a mostly lab pound-puppy. I’d driven past the animal shelter on the way to work, and fallen in love with the black-haired, brown-eyed pup. My young son and husband brought him home, much to the delight of our diapered daughter.
Baron became a member of the family who continued to amaze us all. He acted on stage with my budding actress daughter, won dog agility contests for my son, & happily went aboard our boat to fish with the family. Yes, he caught the bad guys who tried to break into our house and even caught the crooks who tried to break into our neighbor’s. He jumped on the trampoline with the children, swam with the family whenever we hit the beach or pool, and everyone who knew him--friends, family, strangers off the street--fell in love with his big heart.
Yes, Baron was the perfect pet except for two things. One, he hated UPS trucks (*see below) in "his" driveway, and two--he grew old. I remember the first time someone knocked at the door and he didn’t play sentry. The three of us looked at him, and said, "Baron, go see!" He politely wagged his tail, watched to make certain our other two dogs followed the precise procedure he’d taught them, then lay his head back down with another wag. We got the message. Baron had retired.
But he was still our Wonderdog, the favorite among all the abused, abandoned and pathetic animals we rescued. Dogs, horses, cats, birds, chinchillas, guinea pigs; we had them all. No one could equal Baron--even in death. When I suspected the time had come to end his suffering, and told him we’d take him to the vet, I saw huge tears fall from those big brown eyes and roll down his grayed muzzle.
Baron didn’t come home, and the four of us went into mourning. Deep mourning. The other animals were no consolation. If one of us called Baron out of habit, or forgot and filled his food bowl, we all fell apart. The children stayed home from school. I ignored the home office. My Navy husband bit the bullet and went to work. We couldn’t eat. We couldn’t function. Our Baron was gone forever, or so I thought.
I started seeing him about the house, lying in his favorite places. I thought I was losing it until I heard the same from my daughter. She was especially hit hard, for she had no memory of life without Baron like the rest of us. She didn’t know whether to be frightened or not.
"Baron knows we aren’t ready to let him go," I told her. "So he’s staying with us until we are. Don’t be scared." She felt comforted by his presence. I did, too.
We continued to see Baron resting but watchful, as he’d spent his elderly years, all throughout the house. He never appeared when we deliberately looked for him, but only during those times when we’d slipped back into our old "with Baron" lifestyle. Like doing laundry, or homework, or talking to him when one of us was alone. He appeared as solid, as normal as ever. Only when our other dogs appeared, or we realized that this was a phantom instead of our beloved family pet, would he vanish...only to reappear later.
Months went on. The tears started to dry somewhat, yet our phantom dog remained with us. I suggested to the family that we get another lab to replace Baron. My daughter broke into tears. No labs, she said. No Baron Juniors. "How about another dog?" I suggested.
She thought it over, and agreed if she could have the final choice. The next weekend we planned to visit the shelters and find a third dog to add to the menagerie. The search lasted weeks, not a weekend. My son gave up and refused to look any more. My husband swore a two-county search was enough. We weren’t hitting a third. I told my daughter this is the last day we look, then that’s it.
She found her dog. At least, an excuse for a dog. Tivvy the terrier had belonged to a woman whose male friend had beaten the little thing, left her with broken ribs and tail, then thrown her into the ocean to drown. The woman had tearfully rescued her pet. When her excuse for a boyfriend forced her to choose between him and her pet, she left her beloved dog at the shelter. Tivvy was terrified of people, especially men. She had a pot belly and atrophied muscles from no exercise, and smelled from urinating all over herself in fear whenever anyone approached.
My daughter swore Tivvy was the one. My husband and I tried to talk her out of it. The shelter woman said the terrier had been spoken for and the new owners were already here to pick her up. My 13-year-old daughter broke into tears and begged to at least hold her. The sympathetic shelter worker went to get the dog. My husband gave me the "no way" look. My daughter begged and cried some more.
Here came Tivvy, resisting the leash. Shivering and terrified, she defecated all over the carpet, wet herself again, then ran straight into my daughter’s arms; such a total opposite of Baron that even I couldn’t find anything attractive in the beast.
My daughter sobbed, "Please, she loves me--can’t I have her?"
I knew what was coming. Four pairs of canine, child, worker, and husband’s eyes looked toward me for the deciding vote. No one wanted to be the villain in this piece.
Well, I am a mother after all. I spoke directly to the shelter woman. "You know, I work at home. This little animal obviously needs around the clock care and attention. She’ll get it from us."
The shelter lady nodded happily. My husband sighed. My daughter squealed with joy. Tivvy piddled some more. The other couple went home with another dog. It was meant to be...but no one except my daughter seemed happy about it. Not even Tivvy.
Tivvy’s first four months with us were a nightmare. She lived, slept, ate, and yes, peed and pooped under my daughter’s bed, only coming out when I coaxed, or when my daughter came home from school. She was afraid of everything and everyone. My son, another big hearted animal lover, couldn’t believe that Tivvy feared him as well.
"She’s no Baron," he said. Everyone agreed, except our daughter. "She’s perfect. She just needs time." She walked her and bathed her and cuddled her whenever she could get her out of hiding. Baron continued to appear when we missed him the most, especially when Tivvy rejected us again and again.
Then one day, something happened. The light dawned in this poor little terrier’s head. She wasn’t in hell anymore. She had nothing to fear. And overnight, things began to change. Tivvy became my daughter's loving shadow. She started trusting me and my son and husband, and began to join our other two males in play: Oscar M. Weiner dog, rescued from the Tijuana alleys, and Striker, our German Shepherd. Tivvy made friends with Taja, the abandoned kitten my daughter had brought home; cat and dog both curiously investigated the rodent cages. Tivvy even learned to use the dog door and relieve herself outside most of the time, much to our relief.
She still ran and hid at every strange noise or shadow, but slowly her true personality began to emerge. The atmosphere lightened up. My son brought home a "free" black lab puppy we named Buddy--the most brainless canine I’ve ever known but with the biggest tongue and heart a dog could have. The children were happy. My husband was happy they were happy. But I still missed my Baron.
I’d been the first one to see him as a little puppy, and I’d been the one to send him to the vet on that last day. Unlike anyone else, I’d spent 24-7 with Baron. I couldn’t let him go. Face it, the two new dogs Tivvy & Buddy had attached themselves to the kids. Striker definitely favored my husband. Oscar, our wary, suspicious Mexican street dog, refused to be cuddled. Lying at my feet was usually as good as it got.
I looked at Baron’s pile of tennis balls, the only things he refused to share with the pack, and held one in my hand. Even with Baron dead, I wouldn’t let the other dogs touch those toys. They were holy relics... But should they be?
I picked one up and threw it down the empty hall, just as I’d done thousands of times for Baron. Tivvy popped up from underneath the couch and chased it with unrestrained joy. She actually brought it back to me. I couldn’t believe it. I held the ball in my hands, and she barked, urging me on. She’d never barked before, this timid, frightened little excuse for a dog, yet she was barking now. I threw the ball again, and again, and again.
She retrieved it until she was breathless, then hopped into my lap, ball in mouth, and let me hold her and cuddle her, another first. My daughter said later Tivvy became my "Grand-dogger." She was right. Tivvy now generously shares herself with us all.
I never saw Baron again after that day with Tivvy and his old green tennis ball. Our loyal friend finally went to whatever reward The Creator has in wait. I know it’ll be a good one. Baron chose to stay until we were ready to let him go. I finally said good-bye, a hard thing to do. After all, he was our miracle dog who, even in death, chose his family over the peaceful rest he so truly deserved.
Today, I smile every time a UPS truck* drives up, and the other dogs go berserk, for Baron passed on that canine vice. Even now, I marvel that Baron pulled off his spirit-dog trick.
Hard to believe. But then, he was--and always will be--our Wonderdog...
(SEE TIVVY ON THE APRIL AND SEPTEMBER PAGES OF THE CALENDAR, & BARON ON THE HARLEQUIN DOG BOOK PAGE!)
Tivvy recently celebrated her "sweet 16" birthday! Life is good!