It’s World Animal Day, when we’re supposed to be kind to animals and work to improve their lot in life. This is a good thing, because animals are generally pretty awesome and they often need our assistance. And it’s made me think about the latest animal addition to our family, who arrived a dotty and dishevelled old lady via a couple of rescue organisations. Five years on, she thinks she’s died and gone to heaven, while my other half is convinced he’s possibly in purgatory but hopes there might be a special heaven waiting just for him.
‘Poor Old Misty’ * came to us five years ago, after a pretty rough start to life. She and about eight other female dogs like her were seized by the RSPCA from a miserable existence locked up in pens on a pig farm, spitting out hundreds of puppies for a ruthless puppy farmer. It has to be very miserable for the RSPCA to be able to seize dogs, so the mind boggles. She then went to Golden Retriever Rescue (GRR) organisation for a bit of a clean-up, some temporary love and attention, and a search for a new home.
* AKA: Misto, the Great White Shark, Grizelda, Gandalf, Doormat.
When we adopted Misty, she came with a warning. She was a damaged dog and might take some work and readjustment, but we thought we’d manage. Our own olden goldie, two years younger at seven years, would help in the process. In fact, it was a requirement she go to a house with canine company. She was extremely anxious, and cowered when you approached her. She was completely untrained, didn’t know how to sit, or about houses or beds, and didn’t know her name. Add to that arthritic, pretty deaf, terrified of enclosed spaces, and totally sketchy. She spent months hiding in a corner of the family room on her new bed and didn’t even want to go outside. On her first short walks around the (very small) block, she dragged her front paws along the path and her front section was all floppy. We think it was because she never had any exercise so had no muscle tone whatsoever.
She’s still as slow as a wet week, but five years on she’s more sprightly than she was, despite the developing arthritis and encroaching years. In fact, she’s a transformed dog. Now she welcomes guests to the house, sits at my feet, nudges us for pats, can even trot, especially when there’s food on offer (retriever, remember), and has a constant smile on her face. Which is just as well because that allows her to show off her beautifully and recently cleaned gums and teeth, restored at about the same cost as a short cruise. She still utterly shadows her bestie, Mookie, and gets agitated when she’s not with her, but she’s generally as happy as a pig in mud – as compared to as miserable as a golden retriever pelting out puppies in a pig farm.
Doesn’t that sound all mushy and gooey? Just how happy she is, how changed her life is? We should be so pleased at the difference we made to her life. And yes, indeed I am, but I haven’t mentioned yet the damage she’s unleashed on our house in her moments of anxiety, and the fury she has caused Mr T, an otherwise calm and placid man, or the rug that’s been peed on a dozen times, the indelible stain on the timber floor, or the antique French rush-seated chair that was chewed mercilessly.
And then there’s the garden. Oh the garden! Who knew that those meticulously trimmed box hedges growing for 10 years would make such good arse-scratchers to run herself down again and again, or that garden beds can make such wonderful, filthy trenches on rainy days, or that each freshly planted shrub would be so tantalising to either dig up or lie on, or there is such joy in exposing tree roots by digging. And how on earth does this decrepit thing that can hardly get out of her bed possibly jump over (sometimes through) those suffering box hedges into the gardenia bed to dig up and chew half the plantings, and … I must stop, I’m feeling stressed.
The other thing that I hadn’t quite appreciated that fateful day when I checked out the GRR Facebook page was how much more difficult it would be to house two big dogs when you go on holidays rather than one. Normally M1 would take our dog, and vice versa, for holiday stays. But when there’s suddenly three big hairy mutts in a small house with two small kids, it’s a bit more difficult. And Misty is a tad wary of son-in-law. In fact, they have a bit of a chequered past.
I think the nature of their relationship was sealed the day Misty first went over to theirs for a weekend, quite early in the piece when she was still adjusting. Misty was wary of all males back then, perhaps because they were the source of violence to her in the past? And when she was at yet another location for a weekend, she was very anxious. Actually, a bit psychotic would be more apt.
He tried to get her in the car, she wouldn’t go. He tried to get her to go in their yard, she took off up the road in a panic. He raced off after her in the car (this is a dog who can hardly walk yet disappeared out of sight in a crazed run) to discover she’d jumped into the car of a random neighbour and wouldn’t get out. When he finally got her out to the screams of the neighbour and her kids, white dog hair flying everywhere, he lifted her into the back of his car. She was scared. She scratched him trying to get out. And scratched the car.
– What’s all these pellets in the back of my car? Are there dog biscuits spilling somewhere? Ahh, not biscuits. It’s shit. She’s poohing everywhere.
Meanwhile his wife has arrived to try to help and we’re in Queensland at breakfast receiving a blow by blow description by text.
– Just so you know, he announced to his wife, I can’t hear. Anything. (That’s code for ‘my blood pressure has increased to such ridiculously high levels that it’s about to explode and I have completely lost my auditory senses as a result.)
For someone who suffers hypertension, this is not a good thing.
We felt his anguish, but we were in hysterics nonetheless.
Misty’s relationship with the son-in-law has been polite but somewhat strained ever since. And it certainly doesn’t help that Misty recalls her anxiety when she visits and takes it out on their garden. It’s this stress thing, but it’s very bad for gardens. Always the garden.
Despite this, occasionally she has a moment of glory. This same dog that years ago cowered in fear when you approached her allows the small toddler to clamber all over her, rest on her, and dress her in necklaces and tiaras. I think it’s the practice from having had dozens of litters.
And last week, when the visiting three-month old was having a complete meltdown and howling on the floor, completely broken hearted and alone in the world when even his doting mum needed just a minute’s respite, Misty roused herself from her deep snooze in the corner to go to his aid. She lay down quietly right in front of him and touched him with her nose, and he stopped crying, fascinated. Then she continued to sit with him. Heart explosion, as my daughter described the moment. I’m not sure all was forgiven, but she earned some brownie points that day.
This dog who we thought was on her last legs when I did my ‘good deed’ all those years ago keeps going from strength to strength and looks younger by the day. I think she has completely forgotten the misery of her past existence and intends to live in her current state of Nirvana for at least a few more years. In fact, I reckon she might even hit 16, much to Mr T’s chagrin who was hoping to replant the pock-filled hedges before then. It’s also why we’re considering buying a Kombie-type van so she and the gold one can come with us in style when we hit the road for our long road trips. Two smelly, hairy dogs in the back with us? Mr T is indeed a patient man. And Misty has become one lucky dog.
Happy World Animal Day. And remember to be kind to the hairy ones in your life.