Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Mario with Dux
In our former lives, my husband used to be a cop.  He trained his partner (a German police dog, Dux), with such distinguished effort that they won the gold medal in the California Police Olympics.  Dux and Mario’s team would be called out to find suspects at large, and to sniff out hiding offenders.   They were a team, partners to the core. 

 By the time we married, Dux was a normal part of our lives, but now with arthritis and hip dysplasia (a common concern in aging German Shepherds).  He was our pet instead of a part of the force.  For Dux’s retirement from the force, Mario had a portrait taken that was framed and hung in his office.
Shortly after retirement, Dux had to be put to sleep.  It was like losing a family member for Mario, and he swore to never again bond with another dog. 

Three years later, I took the kids for pony rides at a local park and saw Tasha, a half-Malamute, half-pitbull mix that was on display near the pony rides as a cooperative effort with the SPCA.  The kids fell in love with her and so did I.  Problem was, so did a few other families.  It looked as if Tasha’s adoption day would happen that day and we would miss our chance.  The kids whined all the way home, begging me to bring Mario back, in order that Tasha could work her charm on him... and we did.  A week later we brought her home after we passed the adoption screening.

Vince with Tasha
Tasha was more than a dog- she was part of our family for 14 years, growing with us and our kids.  In 1999 she began to show signs of the same hip dysplasia that Dux did, and Mario took her to the vet to prevent the inevitable.  The vet honestly told us that the humane thing was to put her to sleep and spare her from the possibility of a painful end.  We didn’t.

A year later, Tasha was using only three legs and couldn’t make it up the stairs.  When Mario took her to the vet for her final visit, we hardly slept the night before, Mario especially.   My tough-as-nails husband  took her in, said goodbye, and cried all day, vacuuming up any remnant of her memory.  Our daughter came home from school, took one look at her dad and wailed in grief, knowing that he had made the decision.   The rest of the day she spent holed up in her room, crying.  I sat in shocked grief, playing solitaire on the computer, deaf to the wailing family around me.

For eight years we were dogless, as Mario swore that the grief of losing another dog would most likely kill him.  We moved to Africa, and began our lives here, so filled with activity and friendships that we hardly noticed that we had no pets for the first time in our lives. 

Slowly, the feeling of homesickness set in.  After the honeymoon period of full-time ministry wore off, I desperately missed my family.   While we communicated by phone, our physical touch and closeness was gone, and on most days, I pined for our grown children and their kids.  I would watch TV and feel so lonely, even though I was married to the most wonderful friend I ever could hope for.  I felt like a part of me was dying.

Zuzu ben Dog Breath
One day, while shopping at the local thrift store for a lamp, I decided to see what else they had.  Since the local thrift store just happened to be at the SPCA, “what else they had” was a kennel full of rescued dogs.  In the kennel I saw a smaller version of Tasha.

As soon as I passed the cage, we saw each other.  She ran up to the gate, looking at me as if she recognized me.  I looked at her in the same way.  Instead to the larger breed, this one was a small one: the description said simply “ Xuxia -Min Pin X J/R”.  The attendant told me that her name was Xuxia, (ZOO-zee-yuh) andhad been left by her family who moved overseas and was  a cross between a Jack Russell Terrier and a Miniature Pinscher. 

I had no respect for Jack Russells- every single one I met had been a high and mighty, unfriendly yapping little thing.  This one seemed dominated by the other breed – the miniature pinscher.  I went home and read about both breeds.  I found out that the  Jack Russell among  the dogs with the highest amount of intelligence and the most territorial – hence my previous perception of them.  The Miniature Pinscher was originally bred to chase out vermin, but was enormously playful. 

I went back to see her the next day. 

Xuxia recognized me immediately and was impatient for me to open the door (the rules were you were not allowed to touch the dogs).  I asked her (out loud) if she wanted to go home with me.  It was the wrong thing to do.  She squealed and danced and barked...and I began to cry. 

I came home to ask Mario about it.  He looked at me sideways, and said “Absolutely not.”
I began a sentence I thought I never would: “I need a companion.  This dog needs us...will you please just go look at her?”  I showed him my research on the breeds, I asked for his grace to accept another one into our lives.

After three or four days, he caved.

Who's tougher???

The following week (after passing another adoption screening) we brought her home and named her “Zuzu” – the name of George Bailey’s youngest daughter in “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

She was everything I wanted in a dog.  A neurotic, possessive, skittish ball of joy who, I admit, had a yapping bark and was extremely territorial.  In addition, she sniffed out every mole on our property, dug it up and shook the life out of it.  She took long, beautiful walks with me and curled up next to me during my reading time, or TV time. 

Still, she yearned for more. 

When we bought her a squeaking toy that looked like a hot dog, she licked its face and lay on top of it.  When we took it away, she barked until we gave it back.  The vet said she had probably had a litter of pups that had been given away too early – we agreed.  He suggested getting another dog.

We began visiting the same SPCA to shop for a companion for our neurotic Zuzu.  With all of the compatibility tests we did Zuzu saw each dog as a threat to her relationship with us.  We finally decided to adopt a puppy (something we had never done).  

The puppy we adopted from down the road, our car mechanic had two min pin mixes who had a litter.  Mario chose the tan one and we brought her home a week later.  The puppy was a nameless, almost faceless delight who came home barely larger than my hand.  Zuzu took to her  in about a week, and then claimed as her own.  She would become angry when we held her, but taught her everything she knew:  how to heel, how to catch, how to bark at threats...and the killing of moles seemed to come naturally.  We named the puppy Peaches.

Today I came home from the gym and the little schnitzels were waiting for me to walk them, even though it is about 1000 degrees outside.  As I hooked their leashes into their collars, they yapped with such utter excitement that it made me laugh.  Such idiot dogs...

Such beautiful, joyful, loving, life-saving idiots.