Monday, May 21, 2012

A for Effort, B for Bathtime

Bruno is probably the most enthusiastic mimic I have ever met. He also wants to help, no matter what you're doing, and no matter that his lack of opposable digitus primi is an issue.

Take plumbing, for example. I've been gutting and reworking the plumbing in the front bathroom, replacing not only the faucet, but all of the guts, too. And suffice it to say, the architects didn't have Wookiees in mind when they designed my bathroom cabinets. So the work involved a lot of uncomfortable folding and bending and swearing and grunting. And in the midst of the foldiest, bendiest, swearingest, gruntingest stretch of work last week, all of this sudden I had this ginormous noggin in the cabinet with me.

I shooed him out with a giggle, only to have said pumpkin noggin pop right back in. So I figured, what the hey, it's not as if I could get any more claustrophobic. He watched for a minute, saw me banging and hammering and twisting on a pipe, and in defiance of all known laws of matter, managed to squeeze one of his gigantic paws into a tiny space that already included the top one-quarter of a Wookiee and a head the size of Sputnik, and started poking and prodding at the pipe along with me.


Maybe not so adorable? (Okay, just as adorable, but a little more time consuming...) I've been doing a lot of work on the yard here lately, mostly planting new grass seed in a couple of big bald spots that died in a drought the summer that Max died, and which I've never really had any reason to do anything about.

I've also been working on slowly clearing out the hedgerow at the back and sides of the yard -- which mostly consists of bamboo -- since we're planning to put up a privacy fence soon. The loss of all that wilderness, though, is particularly distressing to Bruno, who's a shy pooper, and who now has almost nowhere to hide and do his business. Poor guy gets clogged up if anyone catches him in the act, including the neighborhood puppies. I think I might have to add a canine outhouse to my list of outdoor projects.

Anyway, back to the grass -- the planting of which has required a good bit of watering, which has in turn turned half of my backyard into a muddy mess. I was working on raking it the other day, and assumed that Bruno was distracted by his ball, as he usually is when we're outside. I stopped raking for a second, though, and couldn't help but notice that the SOUND of the raking didn't stop when the actual raking did. I turned around, and Bruno was dragging his paws through the wet dirt, making beautiful little raking trails that quite frankly shamed mine.

And so began what has now come to be known as the Week of Baths. I've had to bathe the child every day for the past seven days. Twice today, because a flash flood turned the entire hard into a mud pit.

Thankfully, not all of his helpful efforts end up in such messes. As I was chopping and sawing and carting bamboo to the curb on Sunday, the missus lent a hand for a few minutes. Apparently Bruno thought she would have no clue where the limbs were to be dragged to, though, so as she picked up her first handful, he herded her to the exact same spot in the fence where I had been throwing it over. Cutest. Thing. Ever.

I've also never lived with a herding puppy before, so that's pretty new and fascinating for me.

Still trying to figure out exactly what this boy is, though. Not that it matters, but I've always either lived with AKC registered purebreds, or known the exact mix of breeds involved in my four-legged family members. I think there was some guessing on the part of the people I adopted Bruno from, although I can definitely see the bullmastiff and boxer and, now that I've spent more time with him, the staffie, but some part of me is just unsure. And I hate sounding so unsure when people ask me what mix he is. I feel like a bad dad. So I'm going to get one of those puppy DNA kits soon, just for giggles. It may end up being a huge waste of money, but both my genius virologist friend Abbie and Bruno's doctor said pretty much the exact same thing about it: "Even if it's hooey, I've spent sixty bucks on dumber things than that." So I'm ordering the kit soon! Even if it's not entirely accurate, at least I'll have papers to point to. I'll keep you guys posted.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Big Baby Steps

Yesterday was a pretty big day for me.

Since I adopted Bruno, I haven't taken him for a walk. Partly because he had a hurt foot, but I have to admit, the biggest reason is this: all the times I've walked him before were to take him back to his old home. I would walk him down occasionally, rather than driving, so that if he did break out and none of the neighbors were home so he could call for a pickup, he would at least know how to get back to my house on foot.

So, yeah, I've been hesitant to take him for a walk, because my regular walking path takes me right by his old house. And yes, I've joked before about changing my walking path, but let's face it: this is me we're talking about here. I may as well try to sit in a different chair in the den. Hell, I've been walking or jogging by Max's favorite old bush nearly every day for nearly two years now, breaking my heart every time, because... well, that's my walking path. It's where I walk.

The boy needed a good jog, though, so yesterday morning we set out. And the closer we got to his old house, the more anxious I became. How would he react? Would he make a beeline for the front door? Would he assume he was going back to his old home?

I never would have predicted his actual reaction. He was fine the whole way there -- happy, energetic, playful, frolicky -- but as we passed that house, he put his head down, deliberately refused to look at it, and pulled me by with the intensity of an overpowered freight train until we were safely past.

Which puzzled me, really. He wasn't abused there. In fact, when people were home -- admittedly not a lot, but still -- he was doted on and loved almost as much as I dote on him and love him.

When we got to the next intersection, the weirdest thing happened. He stopped (inconceivable for this child when he's on a walk!), turned around, grabbed my hand, and pulled me down to his level for a great big head snuggled. And I'm still figuring out his vocabulary, but I think he was saying to me, "Things weren't bad there, but I don't want to go back. I choose you. You're my person now."

Whether that's what he was saying or not, I grinned like a crazy person for the rest of yesterday. I also got home, pulled out my phone, and changed the contacts for his old people. They used to be filed under "Bruno's Uncle" and "Bruno's Dad." Now they're proper people names. Because he's my family now. For reals. For sure. For good.

PS: We took another jog this morning, and you know what? We went a different way.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I'm Awake

I mean that metaphorically.

The only way I know to convey how I feel -- how I've felt for the past one year, nine months, and thirteen days -- is to speak in metaphors. So you'll have to bear with me.

I poured so much of my heart into Max Bear that, when he died, I buried that piece of my heart with him. And it left this huge, raw, gaping hole. A hole I've never thought about filling. It felt futile to try. It felt wrong to try. The idea of ever adopting again seemed utterly inconceivable. Impossible. Not even worth imagining.

Which doesn't mean that I could never love another canine. I've done plenty of work with the Humane Society in the intervening time. I've gladly babysat on several occasions, for long periods of time. I adore my nephew Willoughby beyond the telling of it. My life is full of puppies whom I adore. The idea of being a dad, though? It wasn't even a possibility.

Nearly a month ago, I was driving home from my best friend's house, and I decided to take the long way into the neighborhood to get the most out of the cigarette dangling from my lip. And as I turned the corner onto my street, I nearly ran over this gorgeous -- but emaciated -- bullmastiff/boxer mix (come to find out, much later, he's got some staffie in him, too). I stopped so close to him that I couldn't see him anymore over the hood. I thought I might have hit him. So I leapt out of the car, and he ran past me, hopped into the open door, settled into the passenger seat, and looked at me as if to say, "Let's go!"

I rode around a bit, asking people walking by if they knew him, and eventually honed in on the corner where a few people thought he lived. One house was empty. One neighbor basically told me to sod off. The other two, though, were pretty sure he lived in the empty house, but hadn't seen a human there in weeks.

So I gave the two nice neighbors my phone number, asked them to call if anyone showed up, and he came home with me. The next day, I spent most of the day trying to figure out what to do with him. I called the Humane Society (the good one, the real one, not the evil douche-face charlatans at the Humane Society of the United States). They said he would be isolated for five days to give someone a chance to claim him before they started evaluating him for adoption. They asked if I would mind fostering him for five days, to keep from putting him through that. And, of course, I agreed to that. I didn't mind this sweet face sticking around for five days until we could find him a good home. Who would?

Late that night, though, I spotted a sign for him, called the number on the sign, and discovered that his name is Bruno. He had been rescued in Indiana from a situation where he was fought and kept in a tiny cage. Not long after that he moved here, and the guy who rescued him was soon thereafter sent to survival training. So while the kids went to live with the guy's brother -- with whom I was speaking -- Bruno remained at his new house, and the brother visited twice a day to feed him and check on him.

That wasn't enough for Bruno, though. He longed for more constant human contact. So he kept breaking out. He'd been in the pound twice already, but didn't learn a thing from his time in the joint.

After hearing a little more of his story, I told the guy I would bring Bruno right over, and loaded him up to get him home. And I don't know what got into me, but I lit into the guy pretty hard when I saw him face-to-face -- all but accused him of neglecting Bruno, demanded to know why he was so skinny. I got pretty grr. I shocked even myself. The guy took it well, though. He explained that Bruno had been battling a bad infection from his previous life, and was on some hardcore antibiotics. His appetite was thoroughly shot. I accepted that and calmed down.

And then a weird thing happened: when all the dust settled and it was time for me to leave, Bruno turned and kissed, like, my entire face. And I started bawling. Out of freaking nowhere. It hurt so much to tell him goodbye. It hurt worse than I could have imagined it would. Which is weird, because I didn't realize that, in the day he spent with me, I had started to fall hard for him. And I'm usually very in touch with my feelings. Annoyingly so. I don't think I have a subconscious.

Anyway, as it turns out, that wasn't goodbye; Bruno's breakouts continued after I got him back to his house.

I got a call the next afternoon: "Hey, is this the guy who was asking about that dog yesterday? I thought you took him home. He's in my yard." So I went to pick him up, and returned him back home that night. And the next day, another call, from another neighbor. He quickly figured out that all he had to do was knock on a neighboring door, and I would be there within minutes. He would sit at the curb and wait for me -- his own personal taxi service. It happened several times that week, and when it happened the next Friday, the brother asked me if I would just keep Bruno overnight, since he had plans. I gladly did. The night turned into the weekend, and Bruno didn't go home until Sunday. Then Sunday night, though, he called for another pickup.

It was decided the next day that Bruno would just stay with me until his person's training was over and he was back home, which ended up being the next Friday. And in that week, the love I felt for this boy only grew. For the first time in nearly two years, I felt alive. He did something mischievous, and I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes. The missus looked at me and said, "I can't believe you're laughing." Has it really been that long since I had?

And maybe it felt okay to open my heart up to Bruno so freely because he's just so completely and utterly different from Max. He wasn't filling the hole that Max left. But he was finding a new place in my heart, and in the process, at least healing the horrible scars around that old ragged hole.

After he went home, I went over later that night just to get a sense of his home situation, make sure he was okay, and introduce myself to his person. He explained that he was being deployed to Afghanistan, and asked me if I would adopt Bruno. And I was through the roof! "YES!" I said, with tears in my eyes.

He said he hadn't seen Bruno in weeks, and wanted one night with him to snuggle and let him know he loved him. "Pick him up at oh-eight-thirty tomorrow he said." And I was so excited I didn't sleep a wink that night.

Then the phone rang at seven the next morning, and when the first words I heard were, "I'm sorry," I knew the news was bad. The guy had talked to his dad, told him he'd found a good home for Bruno, and his dad pitched a fit. He had assumed Bruno would be moving to Indiana. He had been working on the fence, and preparing a place for him. The guy said to me, "I can't dishonor my father's wishes. I just hate that I got your hopes up."

He hadn't just gotten my hopes up. He had crushed them. I spiraled into a nasty depression. A really nasty, bitter, mean depression. Friends were worried about me, and rightly so. But I had thirty days left to see Bruno before he moved, and the guy told me I could come by any time to visit. I don't think he believed I would, but I did. Nearly every day.

Then, last Wednesday, he texted me and told me he had to go to Georgia for the day. Would I keep Bruno while he was gone? Of course I would! Some friends didn't think it was the best idea. One said I was torturing myself. But I had to spend one last day with him if I could.

Day turned to night. No call. The next day, I got a text: "I talked to my dad and he said if Bruno is going to a good home then it would be alright."

There was more said than that, I assure you. But as of last Thursday, and as of that text, I'm a daddy again.

I wish each and every one of you could meet him. Like I said, he couldn't be more different from Max Bear. And I don't mean that in a good way or a bad way. But I do think it's what makes it all okay. Max Bear was so freaking brilliant. He was a tinkerer. He built his own back scratcher out of bamboo, for goodness' sake. He was independent and not incredibly physically affectionate, although he never, ever failed to show love, usually by pressing the bridge of his snout against your forehead, since hugs were often too much for him. (Come to think of it, Max Bear was a lot like an Aspie!)

Bruno, on the other hand, is a wallow butt. He's... well, special. He's also pretty sure he's a Pomeranian, I think, and if he's not sitting in my lap, he's resting his ginormous head on it. (Right now, he weighs about sixty pounds -- up from I'd guess around 45 when I first met him -- but he's still way too skinny. His doctor thinks he'll probably weigh around eighty when he's done gaining weight. So not too too big, but still quite a lapful.)

He has sooo much personality, and his own weird quirks. I remember being puzzled when asking how he behaved when having his nails trimmed, only to be told that they had never been trimmed. His nails are immaculate, though! Turns out, he chews them himself. It's the funniest thing I've ever seen. He'll  chomp chomp chomp , hold a paw up, inspect it, and when one nail is to his liking, he'll chomp chomp chomp on the next.

He's incredibly playful, but also very quiet. He doesn't bark when the doorbell rings, although he always goes to inspect. The only time he really barks is when he sees my dope-dealing Pentecostal preacher neighbor, whom he hates for some reason. And when he does bark, it sounds like a cross between Sauron, Michael Clarke Duncan, and a Hound of Hell.

Max Bear was always so peculiar about how he laid down, sometimes taking up to half a minute to do so, twirling and patting and preparing and positioning. With Bruno, it's like his paws are four impatient school students waiting for the bell to ring. The instant he gets the notion to plop, his feet abandon the earth, and he lands with an earth-shattering kaboom. In some ways he seems so... well, dumb. And yet, in other ways he's so very trainable. I taught him to use the doggy door in about two minutes. "Shoes are not for chewing!" took a little longer, but only a day or so. If there's one common thread, it's that discipline is tough, since both Max and Bruno came from abusive situations (Bruno indirectly, but still, he's had a rough past. His face is covered in scars). If I raise my voice too much, he cowers, and it just breaks my heart.

But whereas Max's coming into my life was an act of abduction, really, Bruno's coming into my life was an act of kindness by someone who saw that we loved one another, and realized that he would have a good life with me.

I rescued Max, and he never forgot that. Never. Every day of his tragically short life, he remembered that I took him from a horrible situation.

Bruno... well, he rescued me. And I don't think he'll ever realize it.