It’s been five weeks as of yesterday since I said good-bye to Foxy. I can finally think of him now without a sword instantly piercing my heart. I think now that I’ll be able to elaborate on my post about how he exited my life by describing how he entered it. I need to tell myself the story as well, so that I may appreciate how much I miss him and how deeply he affected my life. It’s a happy story with a sad beginning, because Foxy’s entrance into my life really began with the loss of a cat named Splash.
Splash came into this world right in front of me. His parents and their human mom, Hannah, came to stay with me one summer while Hannah was looking for another place to live. One morning, Splash’s momma, a sweet black kitty names Sybil, came meowing up from underneath the covers, where she had slept with me for most of the night. Where she had been laying, I felt a wet spot, and somewhere in my bleary brain, it registered that she had just broken water. I hollered for Hannah, and quickly grabbed an old basket dog bed with a nice cushion in it and coaxed Sybil into it, whereupon she gave birth to three kittens. Splash arrived first, followed by his sister and his brother, who ended up being called Velcro. I could write an entire story about all of them, but I’ll save that for another time. By the end of the summer, Splash and Velcro decided to stay on with me, and the rest of their family moved into a new home.
Velcro and Splash lived with me through several years in Boston, a year in Cambridge, and finally, made the move to Rhode Island when I came here for graduate school. The year they turned fifteen, they both began to get sick. It would turn out that both of them developed pancreatic tumors. For Velcro, this resulted in brittle diabetes, for which I had to give him insulin injections twice a day, ultimately to little avail. For poor Splash, the tumor inhibited his pancreatic enzymes, without which he could not metabolize his food. He began to lose weight until finally, he was down to about half his former healthy size. I’d given him enzyme supplements, but they hardly slowed his deterioration. On December 31st of that year, I knew he was at the end of his options. And so, with a very heavy heart, I drove through a snowstorm and brought him to my vet, Hank, who waited for me to arrive on that New Year’s Eve afternoon to help me say good-bye to my sweet, gentle Splash. Needless to say, I did not feel like celebrating that night.
New Year’s Day dawned bright and cold, and the big, beautiful yard I shared with my landlord and landlady was blanketed in white. Their young dog, Amiga, a mostly black German Shepherd female, came over to visit as usual, looking for her pal Splash in his usual rocking chair. She searched the house fruitlessly and finally sat down, puzzled, next to me and Velcro. “Splash is gone, Sweetie,” I told her sadly, and let her outside, where she made an inspection of the snowy yard in case he was hiding out there somewhere. Later that day, Bill, my landlord, and I noticed she was romping about with a fuzzy, reddish-brown dog who looked like a small wolf crossed with a red fox. Bill went out with cookies in hand, but neither of us could get Amiga’s new friend to come up to us. He didn’t run away, but he stayed just out of reach. We had never seen him in the yard before and wondered who he belonged to. “I’ve seen him at the cemetery,” Bill told me, “where we take Amiga to run. He plays with her there, too. He must live around here someplace and just found his way to our yard.”
Over the next few days, Amiga’s mystery pal became more of a mystery. We were able to determine that he had begun spending the night in the yard, sometimes at my end, sleeping on my compost pile, sometimes at the other, underneath a stand of large blue spruce trees. He did not appear to have a collar or a tag. Bill and Shireen and I discussed his fate, and decided that I would try to feed him and perhaps get him into the house and safety while we tried to find out where he came from. So began my new morning ritual. I bought a bag of dry dog food, and each morning, I’d go out to the back yard and try to tempt this shy little guy I’d taken to calling Foxy into eating out of my hand. He would not come up to me unless I kept from looking directly at him as I crouched with my arm outstretched. Then he would come up and gently nibble crunchies from my hand, sometimes drinking from the water dish I put out near him, until he was satisfied. I would stay for a while, quietly crouched, talking to him softly. After his first few meals from me, he trotted about five feet away, turned his back to me and sat down, silently guarding me as he kept a lookout for interlopers. By about the third day, he let me pat him with one hand, and on the fourth day, he actually rolled over on his back and let me stroke his soft, double-coated belly. I knew that was an important signal of trust and submission. Once or twice, I almost got him to trot into my house with Amiga, who would pop over for her daily visit. But Foxy would only come up to the door frame, never putting a paw all the way inside.
Meanwhile, Shireen encouraged me to think about adopting him outright. We called the local pounds and shelters and no one was looking for him or any dog like him. One afternoon, the animal control officer came by to see if she could identify him. “Oh, yes, I remember him,” she told me. “We rescued him six months ago, right before the Fourth of July.” Apparently, a local college student had called the pound at the end of June, saying that a dog he thought had belonged to two female students who’d left school for the summer had been abandoned in a nearby playground. The dog was too timid to come up to anyone, or the young man would have brought him to the shelter himself. The animal control officer set up a Have-A-Heart trap, and caught him soon after. Three days later, he slipped the collar they had placed around his thick ruff at the pound and trotted away. “By all means,” she told me now, “please try to get him inside and adopt him. The poor guy was only about six months old when we had him, and he’s been a stray all this time. It’s amazing he’s still alive. We could never catch him again.” Later that day, she came back with a huge bag of dog food and an igloo-shaped dog house.
It took me ten days to get Foxy to come close enough for me to get both my hands on him at the same time. But at last, I was able to pick him up and carry him into my house. After I closed the door and placed him gently on the floor, he pressed himself against me, trembling fearfully. I stroked him and talked to him in my most soothing voice for a full five minutes. Whatever had happened to him when he was living with those college students, it hadn’t been good. It broke my heart, as it always does, that anyone would abuse or neglect such an animal.
Splash’s brother Velcro decided to trot over to see what was going on. He and Splash had known Amiga since she was a puppy, so Velcro was pretty dog-savvy and did not hesitate to investigate our visitor. Plus, I sometimes wonder if perhaps he and Amiga had had a chat during one of her visits about this homeless dog-dude who was her new best friend. However he figured it out, Velcro took one look at Foxy and decided he was okay. He moseyed right up to Foxy, his fluffy silver tail straight up in the air in feline approbation, and touched noses with him. I have to admit, I was half afraid that Foxy might regard Velcro as a possible meal. But perhaps Foxy, too, had chatted with Amiga about Velcro, and was advised that if he played his cards right, he might get a new home out of the deal. Whatever prior animal communication took place was beyond my understanding, but what I understood very clearly was, from that moment on, Foxy and Velcro were bosom buddies.
One of the things that I realize now as I look back is that I have never once decided to go out and find a new pet. Every pet I’ve ever had has found me in some way, showing up in my life at some serendipitous moment. And every pet who has been an adult animal when he or she has moved in with me has exhibited nothing but gratitude for being given a new and permanent home. Foxy was the first such animal I’d adopted as an adult. Despite his dubious first home, and the harshness of subsequently fending for himself for six months, he’d already proven himself to be a gentle, albeit cautious, little soul. When I brought him to see Hank, Foxy had every intestinal parasite possible, but he did not have heartworm, thank goodness, or rabies or distemper or any other problems that we could find. The GI worms were quickly taken care, and I had Foxy neutered and vaccinated. From then on, he positively glowed with health.
He let me brush his beautiful double coat, which grew more lush and soft by the day. He already knew how to sit, walk reasonably politely on a leash, and ride in a car. But every day, he would betray the previous treatment he’d received as a pup in behaviors that had become reflexive. When I came home from work and entered the house, Foxy would cower just behind the nearest doorway, expecting punishment. When I picked up an umbrella or a curtain rod or any other long, narrow implement, he would run away and hide. Yet he was always sweet and well-behaved with me, never troublesome or mischievous. He loved other dogs and was completely socialized to them. Never in his long life did he ever try to bite anyone, nor did he ever demonstrate fear-based aggression. But as far as human strangers were concerned, we were all guilty until proven innocent. He would back away from anyone he didn’t know, studying them from a safe distance until he decided whether they were trustworthy. It took him a while to make new human friends, and it always took him a little time to get reacquainted with friends he didn’t see very often. But once he decided you were a pal, you received his unqualified loyalty and affection.
For me, he reserved his most thorough study, a process which occupied a full year. During those initial weeks, his cowering and hiding when I came home would pierce my heart afresh. But little by little, we built up a bond, and soon he was waiting for me with Velcro just inside the door each day, wagging his plumy curved tail and grinning his wonderful doggy grin. He taught me much more than I ever taught him — including how good he was at catching muskrats! But that’s a story for Chapter Two…
You can read my previous story about Foxy at: The Thing To Do
Please click on the post title or the comment link below to post a response.