It is raining outside, and Hanna is pouting in the foyer, all stretched out on her favorite rug with her paws extended toward the door as if it might magically open to a day of sunshine and fun. There are trails to be blazed, ducks to be chased, children to be slobbered on – there are a hundred better things she could be doing – if only the rain would stop.
As I step over her eighty-pound body for the umpteenth time, carrying laundry downstairs, she lets out a low moaning grumble. Laundry is boring at seven years old. Housework is drudgery. That early morning walk was so long ago, and way too short. She misses the farm, where the only animal on leash was the horse. Her twenty-foot leash is so limiting. She’s tired of her bone. She would like to play with the stuffed mallard, but no one will throw it for her. The annoying vacuum cleaner has disturbed her peace more than once, not to mention the mopping of wood floors, which only makes them more slippery. And what’s up with making vegetarian enchiladas for lunch? It’s Sunday, there should at least be a chicken in the pot, with one nice liver specially sauteed for the best and most patient dog in the world.
Her big brown eyes relay her disappointment, and I feel a twinge of guilt. I throw the mallard up the stairs. She stares after it woefully. I forgot that the floors are still damp, and the rugs haven’t been set out. Hanna won’t walk on damp floors, and she will barely walk on the wood floors at all, skipping instead from rug to rug like a bearish ballerina. It’s just one of Hanna’s many peccadillos. . .like refusing to enter a bathroom, having to walk out of the kitchen backwards, putting the full weight of her big head on my shoulder when we’re driving, and “speaking” in a hybrid tongue of grumbles and moans.
Every eight weeks Hanna goes to the groomer to get her nails done and her coat trimmed and conditioned. Every eight weeks, she immediately rolls in duck shit, leaves, and mud to gain back the smells that were stolen from her. She laughs when she does this – and I’m not anthropomorphizing. She seriously laughs, with her big tongue hanging out one side, her eyes squinted, and her head thrown back in doggie bliss. When she does this, I don’t think about the $80 I just spent at Diva Dog, I think about how very lucky I was to find her.
At six-eight weeks old, Hanna was left tied to a tree behind a Wisconsin animal shelter. It had rained and thundered that night, and when staff members found her late in the morning, she was shaking uncontrollably from cold and fear.
The shelter volunteers spent about a month nurturing Hanna into physical and emotional health. Being in the general shelter population with the other puppies and dogs caused Hanna to feel over-anxious, and she cringed when strangers came by and tried to engage her, so the volunteers kept her with them in the office to work on her social skills and brought her into their homes at night.
When she was about twelve weeks old, Hanna was adopted by a family that had a five year old girl. Two weeks later, she was returned. The family said Hanna bit their daughter’s hand. Shortly afterwards, Hanna was adopted by an older couple – and quickly returned because she didn’t get along with their cats. She was then adopted by a dog trainer who trains service dogs for the blind as a vocation. He adopted Hanna as a personal companion, and the shelter was hopeful that this adoption would stick, but two months later Hanna was brought back with a long list of complaints. She growled at people, didn’t get along with other animals, and was willful, stubborn, and seemingly incapable of bonding.
Our meeting almost didn’t happen. I went to the shelter soon after my beloved min-pin Duncan died of a brain tumor, and as anyone who has loved a dog knows, there is no replacement for a cherished pet – there are only others you might be also be able to love.
I have never been a breed person. Looks, age, size, and pedigree never mattered to me, and I don’t think any of the above assure a great companion. Like human relationships, there just has to be a spark – a mutual interest and connection that forms the basis of friendship. If you have that with a dog everything else, including training, is easy. So, when the shelter director asked me what kind of dog I was looking for, that’s what I said – I wanted a dog I connected with.
There were about twenty dogs in the shelter, and I took every single one of them out for a brief walk outside, which I’m sure drove the volunteers crazy, since their procedures required them to check each dog out of its kennel and then monitor the interactions between prospective adopter and adoptee.
After giving each dog a few minutes to sniff the grass and engage in other important dog business, I invited them to play with me. Several of them were so disinterested, they didn’t even seem to notice that there was a person at the end of their leash. Others played, but with minimal interest, and some played too aggressively.
I had been at the shelter for the better part of the day, and was about to leave empty-handed and feeling Duncan’s loss even more acutely when the director said, “Well, there is one other dog, but she’s had a few problems, and may have to be euthanized.” As she was explaining Hanna’s tumultuous past, she walked me into a cold, sterile room with one lone and sad looking dog behind the bars of a metal kennel – like an inmate on death row.
Maybe Hanna knew I was her last chance. Maybe we just clicked for some mysterious reason of personality, but from the moment that kennel door opened and she flung her then sixty-pound self into my arms, she was mine and I was hers.
She won’t walk on wet floors, but loves to splash through muddy puddles after a rainfall. She removes kibble from her bowl and eats one piece at a time from the placement. Every night, she curls up next to my chest for the obligatory petting session. When I am done, she heaves herself up and falls in a sighing heap at the foot of the bed. She will not play with anything rubber or durable. She prefers fabric toys she can really sink her teeth into. She knows when it’s my day off, and gets excited when she hears my car keys. On days I work, she doesn’t respond to the sound. She hates tap water and will drink it only in a pinch – but I have to prevent her from drinking out of the duck pond which, to her, must taste like some sort of ambrosia.
She has never bitten anyone, but her speaking can sound a little frightening to people who aren’t used to a dog who talks. And – whatever her experience with the five year old was – Hanna loves children. She loves to go to the park and be chased and fawned over by kids of all ages.
And she’s protective. She watches repairmen like a hawk, and scowls at salespeople and Jehovah’s Witnesses who dare to ring the bell. Yet when friends come over, she very politely exchanges affection, and then lies down and sleeps her way through human conversation.
There will be a late afternoon walk, through the trails and all the puddles she could ever want. And of course there will be chicken for dinner. How could I not?