Monday, July 11, 2011

The Hounds of Mysticville

The dogs of Mystic add charm to our seaport—and my beagle/basset hound loves to add his to the mix. Every afternoon Bailey pulls me toward downtown Mystic hoping for pats from the tourists and treats from the usual shop keepers, such as Riverdog Kayak Rental owners, Suzanne and Pete, who sit under a tent on Cottrell Street with their kayaks and their lazy greyhound, Jordon.

Jordon, a former racer now serving as the Riverdog Kayak mascot, doesn’t mind sharing his treats with Bailey and the other dogs who stop by to say “Hello,” but he does draw the line at sharing his bed, which takes up half the tent. Although Jordon is only interested in meeting other greyhounds, such as Nick who was recently adopted by Patch blogger Nicole, he does at least understand Bailey, who is also a “rescued” dog—like many of the dogs trotting proudly beside their owners in Mystic.

My husband, Jim, and I are Bailey’s third owners. Our oldest daughter, Jackie, saw Bailey’s soulful, houndish face on Craiglist, and thought he was just the dog to cheer us. She spotted Bailey online mere hours after we had to put down our first family dog, Riley.

Jim and I had never considered owning any dog, especially since our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, was disabled and required a lot of care. Our saga into the dog world began as it does for most parents:
"Mom, can I have a dog?" Jackie asked when she wassix years old.

I cringed. The dreaded day was here - all kids inevitably ask for one. And why wouldn't they? Movie dogs like Lassie drag you from burning buildings and keep you warm when you're lost in a blizzard.

"No, you can't have a dog," I said, bracing myself for the age-old argument.

"Why not?" she demanded. "I promise I'll take care of it!"

Sure, I thought, knowing like all mothers that I'd be the one walking it in the pouring rain. "The truth is," I said, "we just can't risk a dog around your sister." Elizabeth, three at the time, was quadriplegic from cerebral palsy and I worried she would be unable to defend herself from a dog that might playfully nip at her.

Jackie's continued cries for a dog inspired a promise: "Jackie," I said, "I do want you to have a dog, but only if it'smeant to be. So...if God brings one to our door, then you can have it.” That was how I got my childhood beagle, Donald Dog—he just showed up at our door one day. If that happened again, I would call it “a sign” that the dog was meant to be for both Jackie and Elizabeth.

Six years and several dysfunctional, alternative pets later, Jackie hadn’t given up hope that a dog would show up at our door. At the age of 12, during Christmas vacation, she told us that if one ever did show up, she would name it Riley after the dog in the movie, "Homeward Bound II."

Unbelievably, a few weeks after this discussion, a big, brown female puppy, shivering cold, wet and dirty, tried to jump into our car as we were leaving the house to go out with friends. Although her condition and an aluminum dish in a nearby snow bank indicated she was probably a dumped, unwelcome Christmas present, I ran "found" ads, put up posters, and called the police. No luck—Jim and I would have to honor our pledge to Jackie.

Jackie wouldn't name the puppy Riley because she only knew male dogs by that name, so she called her Gabrielle--Gabby for short. Although Gabby was cute and friendly in public, at home, she was a terror. Not only did she urinate all over our new wall to wall carpets and chew on everything, she was a nipper. She playfully attacked all passing ankles and grabbed Elizabeth's feet dangling over the couch with her razor sharp teeth. I worried about Elizabeth’s safety constantly--yet how could I break my promise to Jackie? Perhaps she'd agree to upgrade the dog for an older, calmer one?

Moments after that solution occurred to me, Jackie started screaming from the laundry room, "Dad, get Gabby off me! She's attacking my feet again."

That's it. Without saying a word, I picked up the phone and dialed a local animal shelter. "Help! The puppy we took in a month ago is driving us crazy. Can you find her another home?"

"Puppies are easy; I can find her a home within a week."

"Do you have an older, calmer dog? I have a handicapped child, so I really must be certain."

"As a matter of fact, I have a big, fat, lazy male Lab-mix, who wants nothing more than to lie on a couch all day. He's not only a couch potato, he's the whole sack of potatoes!"

"Perfect! What's his name?"


"Riley! You're kidding me! Hold on to him. We'll be right in!"

Jackie felt sad on the trip to the shelter with Gabby on her lap, yet awed by the name of the dog we would be bringing home. "Mom, that's got to be a sign."

She was right. And it was a good sign. Not only did Gabby find a good home within the week, but I realized immediately that Riley was the perfect companion for both of our daughters.

As soon as he got settled into our house, I patted the couch next to Elizabeth, letting him know he was welcome to join her--and he did just that. Though they couldn't have been more different on the outside--he a 100-pound, black bear of a dog, and she a pale, 40 pounds--they had a lot in common. Like Elizabeth, Riley was considered a misfit because he couldn't do much. He didn't know how to fetch, play with a toy or chew on a rawhide, but he did know how to jump on the couch and keep Elizabeth warm without stepping on her. And Jackie finally had a dog to pet, hug, and take on hiking trips. It became my pleasure to walk our carpet-friendly couch potato--even in the pouring rain!

To see photos of my girls with their dog, Riley, and an excerpt of my memoir, Anything But a Dog!, which includes CMV (cytomegalovirus) prevention tips, visit my website at:

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