Going to the Dogs

The Next Family

By: Shannon Ralph

My family now has a dog. Laughing audaciously in the face of all logic and reason, we adopted a one-year-old lab mix from a local rescue organization a couple of weeks ago. It was one of those things we decided to do in a fit of unbridled optimism. Now that I think about it, I am doubting that decision. Ruanita initially brought it up. It was her idea, but I kind of ran with it and probably pressured her into it. That seems to be our protocol these days. She has a crazy idea, shares it with me, then quickly dismisses it as ludicrous. I, however, having the seed of lunacy planted in my head, latch onto it and convince her that it was a perfectly wonderful and sane idea. I think that perhaps the partner, three young children, the de facto single parenthood five days a week, the job I barely tolerate, and the cunning and nefarious cat who sheds clumps of fur the size of small rodents all over every surface of my house are not enough for me. I obviously need to add more chaos to my life. So let’s get a dog! Of course, that is not the rationale I used to encourage Ruanita to adopt a puppy. Instead, I explained that it would be good for Lucas’s anxiety. The children needed a pet they could play with—our cat certainly is not a fan of the kids. I expounded on the studies I had read that showed the health benefits for children raised with pets. I told her that people who own dogs live longer lives. In the end, she bought my random and varied reasoning, and all five of us schlepped all the way to the outermost suburbs of Minneapolis one rainy Saturday to adopt our beloved Stella.

Stella is a phenomenal dog. She really is. She is a yellow lab mixed with God-only-knows-what. She looks like a yellow lab, only much smaller. She only weighs about thirty-five pounds. She has an amazing temperament. Playful outdoors. Mellow in the house. She is super sweet with the kids.  Sophie, in particular, hugs and kisses on her at least a hundred times a day. And Stella—even when looking less than enthusiastic about Sophie’s affection—will tolerate her with complete gentleness. She loves to sit in Nicholas’s lap to watch television. He giggles with glee when Stella climbs on top of him, despite being about ten pounds heavier than he is. And Lucas? My anxious child who I thought would be calmed and subdued by the presence of a dog? He thinks Stella smells. He will pet her, but only while holding his nose. Apparently he is a cat person. Who knew?

At only a year old, Stella is still a bit of a puppy. She chews constantly. She has yet to chew on anything other than her own toys, for the most part. Actually, she did maul a couple of Sophie’s smaller stuffed animals, but I think that was more mistake than malice. They did look quite similar to her own stuffed toys. In the couple of weeks that we have had Stella, we have spent a small fortune on dog toys. Small toys. Large toys. Cheap toys. Expensive toys. Toys especially designed to be “rugged” and “tough”. It matters not. She shreds them all and disembowels their innards in a matter of mere seconds. The toys erupt into a pile of stuffing and thread on my living room floor. We clean up the evidence of her unprovoked massacre and move on to the next toy with high hopes that it will be the one to defy Stella’s bite. Alas, we have yet to find a Stella-proof toy. We’ve also tried buying bones and rawhides for her to gnaw on, but she simply buries them in our back yard.

In addition to destroying any and every toy we buy for her and filling our yard with bone-filled holes, Stella is not making friends with our snooty next-door neighbors. We have three middle-aged single women living in the house next door to us. I am not sure their arrangement—who owns the house and why they all live together. I am quite certain, however, that they are not fans of our children. Nor are they now enamored with our dog. To our surprise and dismay, we adopted a puppy who suffers from separation anxiety. For the most part, we are home most of the time. We work opposite schedules, so one of us is usually hanging out at home with the kids. Occasionally, however, we do venture out of the house. On weekends, in particular, we try to get out fairly often. Initially, we left Stella in our bedroom with the door closed when we were gone, figuring there was little she could destroy in there. However, she managed to shred one of our blinds trying to get out of our (second-story) window to find us. She also gnawed on the molding around our bedroom door. Eventually, we concluded—for the safety of our belongings and our sanity—we would need to crate Stella when we left the house. Despite our best efforts to create a positive association with the crate—feeding her there, filling the crate with toys, treats, etc—Stella is simply not a fan. To say the very least. As a matter of fact, she begins shaking uncontrollably, drooling, and yelping within seconds of us walking out the door after crating her. Saturday, we put her in the crate as we prepared to go out to dinner. By the time we got to our minivan parked in front of the house, Stella was making noises I had never heard a dog make in my life. She was not barking. She was wailing. Crying. She sounded eerily like a child, rather than a dog. A tortured child. Our neighbor, who had been working in her front yard, gave us a disapproving glare and marched into her house. I went back into the house to try to calm Stella. I gave her another treat. Then I shut the windows, as to try to block the noise from the neighbors. We couldn’t miss our dinner date with my sister, so we eventually drove off, hopeful that Stella would calm down quickly. When we returned a few hours later, she was lying quietly in her crate. Exhausted, but ecstatic to see us return.

I have been reading on the internet about what we should do to help Stella with her separation anxiety. Apparently, crating a dog with separation anxiety does not help the situation. However the alternative is not a very attractive one—destroyed furniture, shredded blinds, and the possibility of our dog plunging to her demise from a second-story window. I read that medication may provide some relief. Leave it to Ruanita and me to adopt a dog who needs tranquilizers to live in our house. Perhaps we should be the ones on medication? Why did I have to encourage Ruanita to get a dog? Why couldn’t I just keep my mouth shut? Of course, I quickly fell in love with the dog and I have no intention of getting rid of her. But come on, do we have bad luck or what?!

On a somewhat related note, Ruanita recently mentioned that she was feeling a tiny twinge of a desire to have a fourth child. Repeat after me. Shannon, shut your mouth. Shannon, shut your mouth. Shut. Your.  Mouth.

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