Sunday, March 28, 2010

Puppy Therapy

When we decided to breed Spray, I kept the news fairly quiet. I knew my family and some friends would think I had gone around the bend. I didn’t want to hear the criticism and comments I would get about how I didn’t know what I was doing, that my life was busy enough without adding to it.

But I wasn’t prepared for the day a friend laced into me about how irresponsible it was considering how many rescue dogs need homes, so I was surprised one again when she was one of the first people to ask to visit the puppies when they were only a week old.

She still believes in rescuing dogs – she has two - and I agree with her on principal, yet can’t rescue because of family allergies. She now visits regularly. She can’t get enough of them and is almost as sad as I am about them leaving. She appreciates the way we’ve taken care of the puppies. Watching them spend their first weeks in a home where people love them showed her how well adjusted these pups will be.

She’s not the only one who comes over for a puppy fix. There is constant traffic in our house. I didn’t realize when I agreed to breed Spray, that I was opening up a therapy center.

My younger daughter said it best, “Whenever I’m sad, I just pick up a puppy.” I can sit outside and watch the ten pups chase and tackle each other and my worries about classes, unsold puppies, hearing from colleges, go away.

When I took the puppies on the puppy road show – to the vet, my therapist, my daughters’ schools and my husband’s workplace, I was amazed to watch grown men crumble, high school football players lie on the floor begging to have puppies crawl on them, and listen to the squeals. I’ve never heard so many squeals. Squeals are non discriminatory. Adults squeal just as much as children.

I’ve had visitors who just want to play with the puppies and visitors who want to look at them because they might buy one, but in the end, leave with a good puppy fix.

New owners have revisited their pups to bond with them and enjoy our canine circus.

My daughters’ friends have adopted their favorite puppies – one loves Pocahontas, another loves Henry, and another covets Rafiki. They return frequently to visit them and can’t get over how big they grow from visit to visit. I think these friends are going to miss the puppies too.

One of my daughter’s friends sat on the floor with the puppies and said, “This makes me so happy.” Another said being a child or a puppy would be awesome. I think being a puppy is better. Puppies don’t worry about how they’re doing in school, or whether their friends like them. Puppies just play and if raised in a good home, are loved for just being cute and cuddly.

One teen visited and crawled into the puppy playpen with them. A little boy came over with his mother and grandmother and got cornered by the pups as they tried to pull the string of his sweatpants. He raised his hands in the air and sang, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” On a warm day, a 10-year-old arrived in shorts to be attacked by scratching puppies. She just laughed and ran around with them.

I know I’m loved when they greet me in the morning and when I return home from school or errands. They bark and clamber at the gate or pen walls. Their teeth and nails bite and scratch in excitement. They run en masse to the back door when we open it for them to pee and poop on our back porch and they chase their mother as a group.

They can’t help but make me smile and even the most doubting of family and friends are caught off guard when the puppies make them smile and laugh too. For a few minutes all’s right with the world.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Anticipating Good-Bye

My daughter is going away for a week’s vacation tomorrow. In addition to being delirious with excitement, she can’t bear the thought that she’ll be missing the last week all the puppies will be with us. Two are leaving the day after she returns.

“Take lots of pictures and videos for me,” she said.

Friends are calling as they realize the puppy show is almost over. They want one last visit. A family who fell in love with Zazu, but isn’t ready to take a dog into their life right now, wants to know when they can say good bye.

When I’m at school teaching, I’m thinking about the puppies and what they’re doing at home, wondering if someone is taking them outside to play – they love romping in the leaves and chewing on sticks, which as I discovered isn’t so great on their tiny digestive systems.

I’m panicked I haven’t done enough with them, haven’t taken enough photos or videos, haven’t spent enough time cuddling. At least we’re keeping one – Esmeralda.

When my husband asks our daughter for “face time” to watch movies – their favorite pastime, I sense the same panic in him. How many more movie nights do they have before she too is gone?

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that saying good-bye to the puppies brings up the next good-bye coming in our life – sending our oldest off to college. I’m worried I don’t have enough memories stored up.

Just like the puppies, I forget sometimes that she too has an adjustment ahead of her. I can’t bear the thought of the puppies’ first few nights in the new homes adjusting to lives on their own. I see them confused, unsure, crying for their littermates. Just like the puppies will have to adjust to life without each other, I worry about separating my two daughters.

I want to go with them, (and her) hold them in my arms and tell them everything will be okay, that they all have good, new homes with people who love them and want them very much.

But I can’t.

I know from the excited emails I’ve received from future owners, just how welcome these puppies are going to be in their new homes and how well adjusted they’ll become.

When I mention to friends how much I’m going to miss them, many say I’ll be less tired, and I’ll get over it fast. Our breeder and neighborhood friend who helped birth the puppies have assured me that my sadness will ebb when I’m no longer tripping over puppies or picking up poop.

It’s the anticipation of saying good-bye that’s killing me.

But as friends remind me, the anticipation is worse than the inevitability. An old high school friend who reappeared in my life this year via Facebook sent her oldest off and messages me frequently to say I’ll be okay. An email from a friend who had kids at home for 35 years – six of them - didn’t think she’d survive her last one leaving, and she’s fine, she writes.

Maybe I’ll be happy my house is less messy without the puppies and I have more time to devote to my work and sewing projects. Maybe I’ll find I have more time to devote to me next year when my daughter is gone, and her room is clean, but I know I’m going to miss all of them.

In the meantime I’ll play with the puppies for the time I have left with them. I’ll be around for my daughter when she comes home from hanging out with her friends.

The puppies and my daughter will adjust – I have faith they all have good homes waiting for them. And my husband, other daughter and I will adjust – I have faith in us too.

And, we’ll also have Esmeralda to keep us company.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

First Home

Five of our ten puppies have homes. Two others are under serious consideration. Prospective buyers are now puppy owners. Names have been changed. Simba will be forever know as Henry for Henry the Navigator. Scar is moving to Connecticut and will be know as Nauset. Meeko will remain close by in Newton as Charlie. Two of the three girls are staying in Cambridge – one with us; the other with a friend.

As I watched the new owners bond with their puppies, I was both proud of how well the puppies reacted to the new people in their lives, but I also wanted to grab them, and say, “wait, I’m your #1 human”. We’ve been really careful in making sure the right puppy goes to the right home and have even gently turned away people who we didn’t think were right for the breed.

Portuguese Water Dogs are more than energetic. They can tear your house apart in the matter of minutes if left unattended or not trained properly. They are social dogs who want to be busy all the time. They need exercise and jobs to do and want and need to be with either other dogs or people all the time.

Once we establish that a PWD is the right dog for the people looking, then we need to make sure the puppy they think looks cute also has the right temperament for their lifestyles. Calmer puppies often do better with families and in urban environments while frisker puppies would have more fun in rural settings and with people who have more time to train them and maybe even involve them with agility exercises. It’s all about the fit and not so much the look.

Looks can be deceiving. Just as puppies can seduce you with their big eyes and soft hair, colleges and schools with brand names often woo students and parents with their reputations. Sometimes, however, a puppy with smaller eyes or a less well known school with better programming for specific kids might make a better fit.

Learning differences ran rampant in my family and I watched my siblings first struggle in schools where they didn’t fit and then succeed in schools with proper programming.

So I was on the lookout with my own kids. When the time came to move one of them from a more traditional based school, it was easier to do knowing how successful my siblings had been. Separating our daughters – sisters who actually liked going to the same school - was sad. But moving one to a progressive school where within the first two weeks she said in the car one day, “I’m smart Mummy,” showed me that fit trumps looks.

So with my puppies, my husband and I are looking for fit. A veteran breeder told me recently she doesn’t even let her clients choose their puppies. She matches temperament with living situations and if the clients don’t like her selection, they go elsewhere.

I’m surprised by how much I care about the homes our puppies are going to, by how much work I’ve put into the matching and how much I want the puppies to be happy and well taken care of.

So far, I’m confident with the matching we’ve encouraged. I know the puppies will struggle at first as they separate from their 9 siblings, mom and four humans, but they’ll bond well with their new owners and their new homes.

In less than three weeks, they’ll be gone. No more poop to pick up, no more pee to wipe up, no more sticky floors to walk over. I can put my front hall rugs back and throw out the rug in the back room. No more feeding ten puppies three times a day.

No more puppies to watch romp together and nap together. No more puppies to cuddle up with while watching TV. No more watching them drag a shoe across the floor, or bite one of their sibling’s ears.

They’ll be playing in someone else’s home soon, but even when they’re in their new homes where they’ll fit and be loved and cared for, I know their first home will always be my home.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


A few years ago, my stepfather gave my daughters a foozball table for Christmas. We thought it would make our house more fun for their friends; our house would become the go-to place for teens.

When I was a teen, we had a ping-pong table and a bumper pool table in our home. While the ping-pong table rarely was used in the freezing cold playroom on the third floor, the bumper pool table was used frequently in the front hall.

But my house is smaller than my parents’ home, so we attempted a foozball table, and a wide screen TV. It didn’t really work. One daughter goes to school in a different town so her friends don’t come over often. The other daughter’s friends hung out for a while after play rehearsals on Saturdays, but rarely used the foozball table.

Had I known all I needed were puppies to make a go-to house, maybe I would have gotten a second dog years earlier and bred her sooner too. Now we are that go-to house, both for my kids’ friends and mine. I’ve never been so popular. We moved the foozball table to my husband’s study where it lies on its side waiting to be resurrected. The centerpiece to the backroom is now the puppies’ playpen.

The best part of this new found popularity is that I don’t have to be super embarrassed about how messy - or smelly - my house is. I have an excuse for why it smells like a kennel and the floor’s sticky. It really hasn’t ever smelled that bad before, but it is usually pretty messy and I’m usually pretty embarrassed by it.

I was raised by a neat freak who somehow made me feel insecure if my house wasn’t up to her standards, which it never was. To avoid feeling embarrassed by my mess, I simply avoided having people over. I was convinced a proper hostess had a clean and proper home. I’m just not a good housekeeper. I don’t care enough. I work. I’m too busy. I have two kids. I have two dogs. Actually I have 12.

She’d freak if she saw the ten puppies living here and the amount of pee and poop my family and I wipe up constantly. The bigger the pups get, the bigger and more frequent the poops.

While I love watching the puppies play and interacting with them, one of my favorite times of day is after they’ve eaten, played themselves out and are napping one on top of the other. I rest when they rest, just like when my daughters were babies. I used to think I’d be so productive during naptime. I’d write the articles I had due, do the laundry, and clean the house. But all I really wanted to do was sleep alongside them.

When friends visit, I also don’t have to worry about entertaining them. They’re over for one thing only – to see the puppies. Sometimes I offer tea or coffee; sometimes I forget, but either way, they don’t seem to mind and I don’t feel too bad, they’re being entertained by puppy antics.

At one point last weekend, we had 11 people and 11 dogs in the back room. It was noisy and fun. There was a puppy in every hand.

The weeks are more quiet, with fewer visitors. My daughters focus – sort of – on their homework and rehearsal schedules. I focus – sort of – on class work for school. My husband relaxes from his long days where he focuses at work. The puppies play around us.

The weekend is here again. We’ll celebrate my younger daughter’s birthday, watch my older daughter in her last high school play and in the midst of the busy weekend, we’ll welcome more prospective buyers and friends in to see the puppies. I won’t have time to clean a lot, but it’s okay, sometimes even go-to-houses are messy.