After twenty years, you’d think I’d know the guy.
“You can’t be getting depressed and miserable every time a puppy goes to its new home,” Dirtman warned over a year ago when we were contemplating breeding our Australian Shepherd Zsa Zsa. “Otherwise, forget it.”
Dirtman doesn’t often scold me. He knows better. But he also knows dog-related matters cause my brain to switch off and we’d end up running a stray dog farm. I am not permitted to walk through our local humane society kennels. He screens any phone calls from Aussie rescue or any other breed rescue that has me on their soft touch list. And forget Pet Smart on Saturdays when the A.S.P.C.A. showcases the adoptable dogs.
He certainly doesn’t “get” why, with four dogs, I’d want more. We planned to keep one bitch from Zsa Zsa’s litter, but it was part of our breeding program. Why would it upset me to see the rest of the little poop-factories hit the road?
So I knew I had to steel myself when it was time for Zsa Zsa’s puppies to go to their respective homes.
Fortunately, most of the litter of eight was spoken for even before they were born. Four were headed to Europe and one female of my choice was being adopted by a couple from Maryland.
“We are selling the other two,” Dirtman reminded me sternly as I admired Zsa Zsa for coming up with the two spare. “One bitch. We agreed.”
I pouted. How could I choose who would stay and who would go? Wasn’t this like Sophie’s Choice?
“You can’t do this with every litter,” my friend Karen warned. She is an experienced Aussie breeder. “Can you imagine if you kept more than one out of every litter you whelp?”
The first to leave was a male blue merle named Sarge, ironically the first puppy I’d bonded with. I had secretly planned a campaign to keep him. That is, until Karen let me know she’d heard from a woman looking specifically for a blue merle Aussie to replace one that had died. Off went Sarge to my birth state of New Jersey. Exit 79.
I bid him goodbye, but not without tears and Dirtman repeating his lecture. He took me out for calamari at Sal’s Italian Bistro (Edinburg, Va. – the valley’s best kept secret), not because calamari is a substitute for a life with Sarge, but because Sal’s calamari has the power to reverse any negative emotions you may feel (oh yeah, it’s that good); and because when I am sad or mad or annoyed or slightly miffed, people have learned to feed me, which is why I look the way I do.
A week later the Maryland couple came to pick up their red-tri puppy. Perhaps I would have cried. But when they arrived, they showed me the special collar they’d bought for her (green, since red-heads look so good in green). They showed me the several sizes of crates they’d bought to allow for her growth, all padded with lambs wool. They showed me the huge basket of toys they’d bought for her. It was like Little Orphan Annie finding her Daddy Warbucks and Miss Farrell.
So there we were, one puppy left to place. This one happened to be the first one born, delivered on Dirtman’s lap on the way to the vet because, while the birth sac had broken, the puppy wasn’t coming out. He’d stick his paw in, pull his paw back; he’d stick his left paw out, he’d pull it back in. We gave him the call name of Hokie (officially: Gnome Hill’s Paperback Writer).
Finally Karen called with the news that a man from Michigan was looking for a male black-tri Aussie. They had a fenced yard (a requirement in our contract), not very big, but he’d promised long walks. I didn’t choke up. I was a breeder now and this was business. I proudly went to tell Dirtman.
He was sitting in the living room with our puppy, Abby, in the crook of one arm, fast asleep. In the other arm was Hokie, gazing up at him contentedly. They were watching football.
I told him about Michigan and the yard and the walks. He scowled. “Hokie won’t be happy there,” he growled.
Hokie eyed me leisurely, one would say almost smugly.
“Is Hokie going to be happy with anyone who calls?” I asked.
At least he had the decency to look sheepish – Dirtman, I mean.
Hokie? He looked right at home.