She is the MOST beautiful puppy, the sweetest, the very best dog that has ever been born. She makes people on the street weep with delight. You won’t be able to stop petting her and playing with her. She is a silly, mischievous puppy but also brilliant and wise and just so SWEET. You will just have to take my word on this. She puts me in a good mood no matter what is going on–all that unconditional love, it is absolutely intoxicating. When I go to get her in the kitchen every morning, light radiates from the crate, I swear it. She is goodness itself, she is pure joy, pure love. She is hilarious, she is adorable, she is the second coming of Jesus, or maybe Buddha.
Okay, I am ¾ kidding. (She has, though, actually brought strangers on the street to tears–twice.) But bringing this dog into my home at this time of life has been SO much bigger than I ever would have predicted. Monumentally wonderful. In my late fifties, happily married with adult children, I get to fall in love again. And the best part is that my husband Mitchell is every bit as besotted, we are both walking around grinning stupidly, stunned and thrilled by this unexpected turn in our lives. And if you are not an animal lover, ok, I realize I might sound a bit crazy to you, and you might not continue reading this, and that’s fine, and I am sure you are a very nice person and all, but please know we probably won’t be close friends.
When I had my first daughter Holly I saw the world, pretty quickly, separate into parents and non-parents. I realize now that I let myself be completely consumed with child raising. There is so much written about the first months of having a baby, and so much of it is about the sleep deprivation and sore nipples and the loss of self. But honestly, even though I had all of that, I remember, mostly, just feeling high. High from all this new love energy around, the love I had for Holly, the love she had for me, the love Mitchell and she shared, the love Mitchell and I had no longer just for each other but for this other person, this human we had made. It was mind blowing. Child oriented doesn’t begin to describe our house, especially after we had our second daughter Lily three years later. That seemingly endless (while it was happening) period is so embedded in my brain that it is only relatively recently that I have stopped, subconsciously, scanning a floor for random (and painful!) Lego pieces before entering a room barefoot. And while we knew, of course, that Holly was the most beautiful and gifted and endlessly entertaining baby and toddler EVER born, we also knew it wasn’t cool to talk that way. Because our friends with, um, lesser babies, might get jealous. Ok, to tell the truth, I hated braggy parents well before I became a mother and made a promise to myself that I would never become one. So, although I could occasionally slip in the bragging department about both my children, it was usually in front of my own parents or my husband, so that was allowed, even encouraged. And I honestly did find other people’s children endearing and adorable and entertaining when I had gotten enough sleep to notice.
But with this new puppy, I am sorry, but all bets are off. I am like Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch, except with an understanding that doing that makes you look like the crazy person you are. But I do want you to know, heck, I would sing it from the rooftops if I could, how amazing this baby animal is, what she has brought into our lives. I don’t stop strangers on the street but if I am out with her and you happen to run into me walking Poppy and make the mistake of petting her, be prepared for some TMI about the best dog that ever lived. What’s funny is, this almost didn’t happen. And, like many things that work out in a way that feels inevitable, it definitely didn’t happen in a straight forward fashion.
After our last dog, our beloved Golden Retriever Phoebe, passed away in our kitchen a couple of weeks shy of her 14th birthday, we knew we needed a bit of a doggie break, and we took one. But after about six months I started getting the itch. Mitchell, a lifelong dog lover, became very close with our cat Leo, and was, for the first time, putting the whole thing off, and even questioning if we should get another dog, for many reasons. The most compelling was that he now has some pretty challenging health issues which sap his strength and energy, and play occasional havoc with his balance. On top of all of this, he has found out that he is mildly allergic to dogs, an allergy that wouldn’t be much of an issue in a healthy person but might weaken him somewhat. The doctors advised a low energy, hypo allergenic breed. So we looked at “doodles,” both from breeders and in shelters but our vet wasn’t sure they were the right breed for us, as they can be a bit hyper. So then we looked into Portuguese water dogs, as there happened to be a female in the neighborhood who was pregnant. We happily went and met her and her owner and thought she was a lovely dog (later we found out that this breed can be high energy, too) but it turned out to be a false alarm, she wasn’t pregnant. Hmmm….I started researching Golden Retriever Rescue organizations. I was open to other breeds but just so comfortable with Goldens, and I knew from experience that most female goldens, after the puppy time, were pretty mellow. Yes they shed a lot, but I am armed with a furminator and a vaccum cleaner with a hepa filter. (See? TMI) They have become ridiculously popular and such a cliché, I almost apologize for having had, um, six in my lifetime. But I got my first one when I was four years old, (a second when I was ten), so for me it almost felt like dogs themselves were synonomous with the breed. And did I mention that when I met Mitchell he had a seven year old golden? (How many 30 year old guys have had a dog for seven years? It was the best possible character recommendation.)
So back to the dog search. Just as I was about to get serious in terms of a rescue, a picture popped up on my Facebook feed of a gorgeous female 5 year old golden retriever with her owner, a woman around my age. An old LA friend of mine who moved up to Carmel many years ago had put the picture up with this caption, “my breeder Lisa needs a home for this lovely 5 year old dog! Contact me if interested.” So I called her, turned out my friend’s dog (a beautiful big male)) was from this breeder, and the breeder was ten minutes from our house. Long story somewhat shortened, Lisa simply had too many dogs (this wasn’t her full time gig and she had to leave them for periods alone) and friends and family had talked her into the idea that if she could find a loving home for this dog (her name was Hope, what kind of a sign was that?), she should consider it. She had three adult Goldens and was planning on breeding the youngest soon and on keeping one of those puppies, so it was just going to be too many dogs. However, she would only do this if she knew Hope was going to a good home, so we first had to pass muster. (We had passed the first test by being recommended by our friend.)
We met Hope and then had a home visit from Lisa, which went well on both sides. Mitchell and I thought Hope to be a lovely and sweet dog, and took her for the weekend. I took her hiking, I took her to my vet, I spent hours and hours bonding with this dog, fantasizing of how great our lives would be with her, how, in a way, we would be each other’s savior. She would get all this great one on two exercise and attention and love and we would skip the exhausting puppy time. But then….Lisa, her voice breaking, called to say that she had spent the day with her sister at the animal hospital who suddenly lost HER one and only golden retriever unexpectedly and asked if she could take Hope and Lisa couldn’t say no. I cried a bit but I understood, I truly did. And what I said to Lisa was, the reason you wanted us to take Hope was the reason I am crying a bit, because you knew we would love her and we already do. So, Lisa came to the house, TOOK HOPE AWAY (okay, I am allowed one Hope pun) and everyone was sad. At the time she said to me, “I will be breeding Grace (her lovely three year old English white Golden) and if it all works out I want you to have a puppy. “ Both Mitchell and I, after getting disappointed by the neighbor’s dog’s false pregnancy and then losing Hope (okay, did it again unintentionally), were a little too raw to agree to a puppy at that time, but I said to Lisa, let us know how it goes. And so she did, with text announcements of the pregnancy and the birth and early pictures of the enormous (12!) litter, 9 of them girls.
And then history repeated itself. When Holly was seventeen months old, a neighbor’s Golden Retriever had a large litter of puppies. It wasn’t a breeder, but her dog did mate with a fellow Golden and she wanted to give the puppies away. Mitchell’s dog (the one he had when I met him) died shortly after Holly was born and with a brand new baby we had been dogless for well over a year. We weren’t sold on the timing, but on our walks we would end up at the neighbor’s house….I have a very clear memory of Holly sitting in their kitchen with ten little puppies jumping all over her. If joy was a sound, it was her giggling. We ended up taking one of the puppies, she grew up to be, well, Holly’s best friend and eventually Lily’s playmate, too. But that experience of visiting a growing litter of puppies for the early weeks of their lives, it was precious and unique and I didn’t think it would happen again. Until it did.
So, at Lisa’s urging, Mitchell and I, as well as our now grown daughters who live in the same city, made regular, pretty much weekly visits to this litter, once again sitting in a kitchen (and later a back yard) and letting puppies climb all over us. Sheer bliss. And then we chose Poppy, partly because she had a birth defect (a large hematoma that took weeks to shrink and has left her with some extra, stretched out skin on the top of her neck) and we saw how hard, in the first few weeks of her life, she had to fight to survive, to move her extra heavy body around, to leave her mother and litter mates to go see the vet for check ups. There was just something about her spirit that called to all of us.
So now we have become one of those cliché empty nester couples who are obsessed with our dog. Pictures of her monopolize my instagram. Even our daughters roll their eyes when they come over and see how much we dote on Poppy. I have never raised a puppy without children in the house, it is a very different experience and I will have a very different relationship with this dog.
Now that she is past the little puppy phase, I feel, how odd is this, that someone is taking care of me. I read somewhere recently that dogs can smell when you are in a bad mood, and I don’t doubt it, sometimes I think she knows how I am feeling before I do.
Because our household is no longer the chaotic and noisy place it once was, chock full of humans and all their drama, this dog doesn’t have to get in line, we are much more connected than I have been with previous dogs. She is the first thing I think of in the morning, she and I already have our little rituals and routines that structure my day and even my life differently than it was before. And of course I feed her and pick up after her and walk her and take her to the park and all of that and yet somehow I feel like she is watching me, making sure I am ok, kind of like a smaller version of Nana in Peter Pan. Her presence in my day is simply the most gorgeous gift. And a gift that is shared, she and Mitchell have their own relationship and rituals, and we do things together with her. When Holly comes over she claims, “Poppy likes me best.” And when Lily comes over she knowingly says, “Poppy likes me best.” I just nod happily each time, there is enough Poppy to go around. After virtually a life time of having dogs, I really shouldn’t be so surprised, and yet it amazes me, amazes both Mitchell and me, just how much we love her. That we had all this surplus love in our hearts to give that we didn’t even know was there, and how good this all feels, once again having extra love energy in the house.
One of my little rituals with Poppy is to explore these zig zaggy stairs on the hill behind our house every morning after her breakfast. It takes about ten to fifteen minutes, just enough to stretch our legs and greet the day. Sometimes I am in my robe with a mug of coffee. She exuberantly rushes out ahead of me but then turns and waits until I get to her, then runs off again, then turns and waits or even circles back. She started doing this at three months. She may be checking that SHE is ok, that I am there for her, but it also feels the other way around, that she is checking on me. We watch out for each other, which seems likes a pretty good definition of great love to me.