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The girl with the harlequin mask

Janie, last August, 2009

The only one in the house who might not have a clear sense of what’s going on at the home for wayward dogs is Jane. In fact, she’s quite a vagrant herself. She’s a foster dog, too, in a sense, a foster-gone-bad… if only loosely defined. Jane belonged to Kim, my 16-year old niece from Alabama, for the first 6 months of her life. She was loved and well cared for during those first impressionable months but somewhere along the way Jane had a bad experience with another dog. She continued on her road to adulthood with little tolerance for other dogs, especially high energy, bouncy dogs who move fast and bark. And if they’re female, forget it. She likes order. She commands respect. She insists on being the leader. She’s really kind of a diva.

I didn’t want to keep her. She wasn’t my dog. But with Kim’s inevitable life changes Jane became a nomadic canine in search of a new life. At the tender age of six months, she was most likely headed for a life behind bars at a Huntsville, AL shelter… and I suspect that it wouldn’t have been a long life. Jane is, well…typical. There are thousands of dogs who look a lot like her. I’ve even heard there’s a name for dogs like Jane: sato or street dog. She’s smallish and lean, fawn colored, friendly-but-not-too-much, sleek and… well, ordinary.

Yet, to me, she’s utterly charming, mostly because she is naturally adorned with an exquisite harlequin mask. Kind of Shepherd-like, but not really. She is of no particular breeding and, I envision, was born under a bush somewhere on the outskirts of Hazel Green, Alabama. And then there is that curly tail. That tail looks strangely like a question mark, which is perfect, since she lives with a couple of Unitarian Universalists who puzzle over most everything. But I don’t think that clever, inquisitive tail would have been enough to sell anybody on a dog, particularly a frightened, emotionally scattered one.

Oliver

Oliver

Talk about pulling your energy inward… I don’t think Jane was capable of that. Her energy was all over the place and so was mine when she arrived in Deerfield, NH on December 31st, 2007. John and I, and Jazz, had just lost our beloved 9 year old dog, Oliver, unexpectedly, to cancer on November 16th of that year. We thought Oliver was fine. He’d had some health challenges but we thought we were on a path of healing. But we weren’t. You can’t predict these things. We really thought he was fine. But he wasn’t. And, when we received his diagnosis, we made a decision to let him go just a few days later rather than let him suffer for two weeks. We held a beautiful service right here at our home and invited many of Oliver’s closest friends. We lit candles and sat in a circle around him. Dr. Elizabeth Birnie and Oliver’s favorite vet tech, Deb, gently sent him on his way. I held him until I felt his energy leave his body and begin to hover over us. Then that same energy scattered and was everywhere. I’m convinced that most of Oliver’s energy is down by the pole lines on Thurston Pond Rd. Anyone who knew Oliver and can’t feel his energy down there in the tall grass is kidding themselves. He’s there. You just have to stop and listen and feel.

I didn’t have the energy to get through Thanksgiving, just five days later, that year. I was incapable of making even small decisions. Which place mats should we use? I’m not sure. Shall we have frozen corn or canned corn? I can’t answer that. What do you think about this serving platter? Looks okay. Looks fine. Sure. Go with that serving platter. John picked up all the slack. He prepared the meal and entertained the one guest we had invited. I spent most of the afternoon in the basement, laying the thin dark green carpet I’d chosen for the floor a few weeks prior.

I think Oliver had reserved some of his energy for Jane. A friend told me once, “They always send the next one.” In fact, I’m convinced Oliver knew about Jane all along. He knew her timeline, the urgency. Her days were numbered, probably. He made a quick exit. And that’s that. Dogs don’t live on our human timeline. They have their own. It’s terrible and horribly sad, but Jane was out of time. Like it or not, with Oliver’s passing, Jane is coming here. To be given away once she gets here. But that doesn’t happen. The story goes on and the details aren’t important.

Jane is a stunning reminder of what happens when you pull your energy in, listen to that small, still voice, and act accordingly. So that things work out. She was a scared puppy, frightfully scattered, and needed parents and a fun loving and forgiving dog to help show her the way. And that’s what she got, and more. Structure, boundaries, good food, plenty of exercise, mental stimulation and challenge, a sense of belonging, security, excitement, rest, companionship: Jane has all of that. We’ve loved her for nearly three years. As a result, she’s sweet, well adjusted, kind, gentle and pretty doggone healthy, both physically and emotionally… except she has this low tolerance for the crazy antics of other dogs. Give her a good stable dog who’s in control of himself and his surroundings and she’s pleased to follow. I like that about her.

I almost like that about her.

Janie behind the gate

Well, it’s time for Janie to give back a little and cut this foster dog, Aaron, some slack. Although the two haven’t officially met, I’ve been treating Jane (and Aaron) for good, calm behavior on alternate sides of a baby gate. I’ve been marking a “look” with no growl for the past 3 days. Although they are always in separate rooms, Jane is aware of Aaron’s presence. In fact, she’s checking him out. And, he’s quite calm around her, though he’s a bit confused by her growls. Those growls spook him a little. I knew they would. In the next day or so, she needs to know what’s going on. A meeting. As my friend and colleague, Kendra, would say… “We need to have a conversation about that.” Aaron and Janie need to have some kind of a canine repartee. And neutral territory would be great, but that’s really not possible. Hopefully Oliver will be in on it… perhaps lend a little of his universal energy.

Quite honestly, this is not easy and there are no clear answers on how a meeting will go. Despite all we’ve accomplished with Jane, you just can’t bank on her behaving kindly. And, I’m not ashamed to say, I like that about her, as well.

I almost like that about her, as well.