Monday, March 20, 2017

48 Hours of Hazel

I'd been hearing about Puppy Yoga for a little while, and it sounded like the best thing since sliced bread. Apparently, from time to time down at the Subaru dealership, they hold a yoga class during which tiny adoptable puppies are released to run around among the participants. I can't imagine any stronger incentive to do yoga. So when one of my friends suggested that we try it, I told her that I was totally in.

It started out inauspiciously enough. I didn't get enough sleep the night before, and I was so befuddled that I couldn't find anything that morning. I misplaced an iPod somehow and couldn't find the yoga pants that actually fit me without sliding down my body every time I moved. I also forgot my water and my hair tie, so I was painfully thirsty from the time I arrived and my hair was hanging in my face or plastered on my neck through most of the class. 

The actual yoga was . . . okay. I've done yoga before, but by no means am I particularly good at it. I usually take really easy beginner classes. This, however, was strength yoga, by about the third time we got into plank pose and held it, every muscle in my body was like, "no." I kept falling out of poses or having to lapse back into child's pose. 

However, the puppies provided the perfect distraction. The room was filled with the pitter patter of their wee feet as I struggled to force my body to hold each position. When I couldn't hold a pose anymore, I used them as cover, coming down onto my knees to pet them. From early on, they congregated around my mat, so much so that the other participants started laughing and commenting about it. I moved and twisted in a sea of wriggling, wrestling, snarly, barking, happy puppies. I thought to myself, this must be what Heaven is like. 

In the midst of my downward facing dog, an upward facing dog licked my nose. Sweet little brindle baby that she was, I couldn't even be mad at her when she started chewing on my hair. Her collar told me that her name was Hazel. All of the other puppies liked me, but Hazel seemed especially fond of me. She laid down on my mat under my belly while I was in a table top position, and on the backs of my legs while I was in child's pose. This interfered somewhat with my ability to do yoga, but hey, I wasn't doing that well at it, anyway, so who cares? 

We stayed for a second class, and Hazel and I continued to make friends. Every time I put a limb down on the ground, she positioned herself on top of it. After a while, she was chasing some of the other puppies away from me. Everything about her demeanor kept telling me that I was hers. Who was I to argue?

After the class, all the puppies were swept away for an adoption event in a different part of the dealership. It was called Pets and their People, during which there would be a buffet, mimosas, and people bringing their pets to walk around and get coupons and freebies from local pet-related businesses. My friend and I went over to see what the fuss was about. 

The event was a blast. There were dogs everywhere, plus food from Sonny's Barbecue and even two small ponies! Live music was playing as we selected a free cookie from a booth. I almost forgot Hazel in all the shenanigans.


"I kind of want to go visit her," I confessed. My friend agreed that she also missed playing with the puppies. We decided to go find them. Why not get in a few more puppy cuddles before we hit the buffet? I told myself this was a good chance to drop in on Hazel and at least say goodbye.

Famous last words.

From the moment they put Hazel back in my arms, I knew I was doomed. She made these soft, sweet little grunts as she settled, and then those breathy, whistling noises that dogs make when they're happy. Then she nestled up against me and went to sleep. That warm weight in my arms felt so right. I didn't know how to let her go. So I didn't. I let her sleep in my arms for about twenty minutes while I dithered over what to do about my burgeoning love for this puppy.

You can't afford another pet, I told myself.

You managed for quite a while to afford a $150-a-month comic book habit, a little voice inside my head responded. When you really want something, you make it work.

Yeah, but what if Bailey doesn't like her? I countered. How big is she going to get? Will I be able to handle the both of them at the same time?

As soon as I heard myself start asking the volunteers these questions, I knew I was quadruple doomed. If I was motivated enough to try and figure this out, I was probably going to end up taking her home if their answers were even halfway convincing. The people from the Leon County Humane Society told me that Bailey would probably be fine with her because she was a girl, and so young that he would be inclined to be tolerant. They weren't sure of her breed, but their best guess was bull dog and hound, and they figured she would end up being about 40 pounds. They assured me that the first 14 days of the adoption were a trial period, during which I could bring her back and get a refund if she and Bailey didn't get along. 

Moments later, I found myself handing over my card to pay the fee.

I can do this. I told myself.  I can make this work. I always have in the past. I got Molly when I was 19 and I didn't know my ass from a hole in the ground. I managed to raise her by myself and keep her alive for almost 14 years. And Bailey was a lot to handle, and so sick when I first got him. He almost made me lose my mind with his stubborn beagle ways, but I got through it and now he's such a good boy. If I could do those things, I can make this work. Bailey will enjoy having another dog to play with. At 40 pounds, they'll probable play well together because they're about the same size. And because he won't give me any trouble, and I can concentrate on training Hazel.

By the time I walked away with my armful of puppy, I was convinced that this was the best thing I'd ever done, and I was deliriously happy. She was perfect. This was going to work. 

It wasn't until I was in PetSmart buying Hazel her bowls and toys and collar that I had reason to question my decision. A lady walked by and complimented her, saying how pretty she was. She said she bred dogs like Hazel, and she could see that my girl was going to be big. Maybe 50 to 60 pounds.

I'm sure she didn't mean to sew the seeds of doubt, but there they were, and boy, did they blossom quickly. I couldn't imagine having a 50-to-60-pound dog in the apartment with my 36-pound beagle. Especially not when said beagle has a weird reaction to dogs who are bigger than him. He gets nervous and scared, and usually either barks at them or hides from them, whichever seems safest. And the thing was, nobody ever promised me she wouldn't get bigger than 40 pounds. That was just their best guess. The only way to know for sure would be to take her home and see what happened. 

Bailey will get used to her, I told myself. If he learns to love her as a puppy, he will be okay with her even if she gets bigger than him.

Only, when I introduced her to Bailey back at home, things did not go as well as I'd hoped. Beagle Bailey is a sweetheart, and not at all aggressive. That he might hurt Hazel was never my concern. He was curious when I put her down in front of him. His tail wagged as he went nose-to-nose with her, sniffing her over. For her part, Hazel showed little interest in him. As I sat down to watch them interact, she walked away from him and climbed into my lap, claiming me. He sat back to stare at her as if seeing her in a new light. It was as if a speech bubble had appeared over his head that said, "Who the Hell do you think you are? Interloper!"

Nothing that happened thereafter assuaged his concerns that this puppy was here to replace him. I tried to include him in whatever we were doing, but she was only two months old and needed a lot of attention. I tried to put her in the big bathroom so that I could play with him, but she cried, and that made him nervous and upset. He wouldn't play while she was crying, and he wouldn't play when she came out again. As soon as she was back in the living room, she'd claim me, and he would slink away. Every line in his body spelled out his feelings of dejection and defeat. 

At night, when I laid down, Hazel was right there. She was a born cuddlebug, desperate to be in contact with me at every available moment. There was never room for Bailey beside us, so he would sigh and go lay at my feet, looking forlorn and heartbroken. He didn't even try to join in the snuggling. During the day, he didn't sit beside us on the couch while Hazel was cuddling against me. He wouldn't play with me, and he wouldn't eat his food. He just shut down. He had been the center of my world for almost 4 years, my only baby, the one I sang to and lavished attention on. Suddenly, here was this new puppy, sitting on my lap watching TV with me and sleeping beside me. Hazel and I existed in this happy little bonding bubble, and Bailey was no part of it. And he wanted no part of it. He just wanted me back.

Meanwhile, while I knew having two dogs would be difficult, but the difficulty went way beyond what I'd expected. When I'd been thinking about juggling the pair of them, I had put Bailey on a mental pedestal. He's a very good boy, and after almost 4 years together, he understands what I want from him pretty well. But he's also a beagle, which means that he's crazy stubborn and a slave to his nose. It's always been the case that when I walk him, if I let anything distract me--my phone, my iPod, whatever--he takes that opportunity to try to drag me where he wants to go, be it into the bushes, down a steep hill, or over a stone wall. It sometimes takes me hauling on the leash with both hands, or throwing it over my shoulder for leverage and walking in the opposite direction to bring him back into line. I wasn't thinking about that  at the adoption booth when I imagined Hazel, Bailey, and I happily walking together.

The first time I tried to walk them both, I knew I was in trouble. Bailey was off like a shot, taking advantage of every moment I spent distracted by Hazel to pull me wherever he wanted to go. He is freakishly strong for his size, and he's not exactly slight. Without both hands to control him, I floundered. He would charge ahead, and Hazel would drag behind, and I'd be in the middle, feeling like I was being drawn and quartered. I could get him back under control, but it distracted me from her, which meant that I occasionally turn around just in time to see her  pick something gross up in her mouth or almost step on something sharp. We narrowly avoided disaster on more than one occasion, and I kept thinking, "I won't always get this lucky. Eventually, someone is going to get hurt."

The next day, I tried walking them separately. This turned out to be a spectacular failure. When I left with her, he cried like his heart was breaking. I could hear him all the way downstairs as I walked Hazel into the grass. When I came back and put her in the bathroom to walk him, she noises like she was being murdered. The only reason this didn't result in someone complaining about me to the apartment complex office is because the apartment below mine is currently empty. It won't always be. In fact, several people had been by to look at it. I became apprehensive about whether or not I could keep them from making a fuss every time I tried to single one out for special attention.

In the meantime, I had forgotten how draining it is to have a new puppy. Getting up at 4:00 a.m. to make sure she doesn't pee in the bed. Then back up at 8:00 a.m. because she needs to go again. I tried to take a shower with her closed in the bathroom with me to keep her from fussing, and she fussed anyway and tried to climb into the tub with me. I ended up getting out with shampoo still in my hair to hold her and calm her down because she started howling.

Every time I came home, I'd have to run into the bathoom pick her up and run her outside to keep her from messing in the house. Once, I was gone too long and came home to colossal piles of poo and a puddle of pee in my bathroom. While I was trying to clean it up, I left the room for more paper towels and came back to a puddle that Hazel couldn't have made. She didn't have anything left to pee out! Bailey was in the corner, looking guilty.

Oh God. This was too much. I had counted on him being good and not needing as much attention while I got her on track. I didn't think he'd start acting out. I couldn't handle it. 

I had made so many miscalculations. I hadn't thought about how difficult Bailey was to walk, and how Hazel would eventually be just as big and possibly stronger. I hadn't thought, when I was thinking about how I made it through Molly's puppyhood and Bailey's puppyhood, how much harder it is to be at your wit's end with a puppy when there's another dog who also needs you, adding another layer of anxiety to the equation. Add to that that he wasn't taking things well and was feeling left out, and basically by the end of the next day, I felt like I'd made a mistake.

Bailey did eventually start playing with her. Sometimes, I thought that he even seemed to like her. But he didn't like her with me, and the look in his eyes whenever I picked her up, sang to her, or played with her told me that this was the worst thing I'd ever done to him. And I thought, It's kind of the worst thing I've ever done to myself. I can't handle both of these dogs, and it's actually going to get harder in some ways when she gets big. I don't even know how big she's going to get. I don't know why I didn't think that through more. And I can't stop largely ignoring poor Bailey while she's so small because she needs so much attention. If I keep waiting to see if it gets better and it doesn't, it's going to be that much harder for all three of us. Especially for Hazel, who won't be as small and appealing to most prospective adopters.

So I ended up doing one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. When Hazel's foster mom called to check on her, I admitted that I'd bitten off more than I could chew. I told her my beagle wasn't adjusting well, and that I had recently realized that I wouldn't be able to take them both to Jacksonville with me once a month to visit my family. It wasn't going to work out. 

She was so nice about it. She told me it happened, and that finding the right fit for a dog was important. She told me that she cried after Hazel had been adopted because she missed her, and she still had Hazel's sister, Opal. She lives on 5 acres of land with 5 other dogs, and Hazel and Opal sleep in the bed with her at night. She reassured me that Hazel could absolutely come back to her home, and she promised that she'd find Hazel a new owner. She pointed out that Hazel was sweet, smart, cuddly, and pretty, so she had excellent prospects. 

I drove out to the Leon County Humane Society the next morning to execute the surrender paperwork. I asked them to keep $150 of the adoption fee to use toward Hazel's care. Then I went home and walked Hazel and Bailey one last time. We sat in the small dog park at my complex, and they both sniffed around and laid down in the sunlight to chew on pieces of mulch. When I got them home, I pulled Hazel into my lap, where she immediately nestled against me and went to sleep. I held her while Bailey laid on the floor some distance from us, staring at me and crying softly in a thin, nasal whine. Then I packed up Hazel's things and took her to meet up with her foster mom.

I hated that drive. I kept looking over and her, thinking that if it had just been me and her, we would've made it work. That she reminded me of Molly, who I lost to cancer four years ago. That she was the cuddliest, friendliest, smartest, sweetest little thing, and I wanted her in my life so badly. 

But I also knew I was doing the right thing. I couldn't handle both dogs. I should've realized that with Bailey being Bailey, if I ever did the second dog thing, it would need to be one that would definitely be smaller than him, one I'd know for sure I could always control while I was wrestling with Bailey. Maybe a slightly older dog so that he wouldn't be demoted from the center of the world to barely existing in it on account of the puppy needing all of my attention. And because he's always been particular about his companions, I should've taken him to pick out his sibling and not chosen her for him. If he liked the other dog enough, the way he adores his friends, Riley and Banksy, he might've been happier to share the spotlight. I should've planned this. I should've been more careful. I got swept away by a pretty face.

When I pulled into the parking lot to make the exchange, Hazel's foster mom swooned over her the harness I'd bought her with the black polka dots and the pink bow. She chuckled over all the things I'd bought her as she loaded them into her car--the toys, the treats, the food, the bed.

"Somebody went overboard," she said.

"I always do," I replied.

I really feel like she recognized that I loved Hazel, but couldn't keep her. She understood, and she didn't judge. She reassured me again that she'd get Hazel a home, and even told me that she'd text me with updates. "You're part of her rescue story now," she said. As I sat in my car next to hers, getting ready to pull away, I looked over and saw her holding up Hazel, nose to nose, talking to her. Then she kissed her on the nose and settled her down in the seat.

Hazel's in good hands now. And even though I drove away crying, feeling like there's a Hazel-sized hole in my heart, I'll never be sad that I had her. She was special, and I'm glad that she was mine, even for a few days. I have no doubt that someone else will one day know the joy of loving her, and this person will be able to give her everything she deserves.

Meanwhile, this guy has been positively glowing ever since I came home without the puppy. He's usually an inconsistent cuddler, sometimes wanting to, sometimes not, but he's been curling up next to me every time I sit back on the couch, his head resting on my thigh. For him, all is right with the world again.