The Story of Tonks

I was the kid who carried around a dog encyclopedia and could identify dogs based upon their breed characteristics and rattle off the ideal family for that particular breed.  My parents never gave in to my desire to have a dog, probably knowing exactly how much work a dog is and how much of it the child who begged for said dog would end up doing.  My sister and I got kittens from Santa Claus when I was eleven, which served to distract from the dog all through high school and through most of college.  When I started grad school, I felt like a cat was a good starting point, but Hubs and I always talked about when we might want to get a dog and what sort to get.

It always felt like a dog was in the far distant future, but when we had been married about a year, I started to feel a serious yearning for a baby, which I knew was NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.  This yearning combined with the chance meeting of a homeless Great Pyrenees, who had probably gotten dumped close by, to make me very interested in Pyrs.  In spite of being super hungry, the homeless doggie took food from my hand super-gently and never jumped or growled.  I cried all the way home from this meeting and insisted to Hubs that I was going to go back and get her (he insisted that I was crazy).  We didn’t actually know much about Pyrs as a breed, and based on their size, he thought there was not a chance of one of these big dogs being happy in our town house.

Luckily, I put my expert dog researching skills to work and I had the fortuitous example of our new neighbors’ dog, Sasha.  I discovered that some Pyrs are perfectly happy without a yard, preferring air conditioning and a couch to humidity and a dog house.  Another totally awesome thing about them is that Pyrs have been bred to guard livestock (from rabbits to alpacas), so they are usually great with smaller animals and kids.  They are also fairly low energy, meaning that the time commitment to exercising them is much lower than a significantly smaller, but way higher energy dog, like a Jack Russell.  Add to this that there are TONS of these dogs in rescue (based on my-adorable-white-fluffball-puppy-grew-up-to-be-a-giant-drooling-barker syndrome), and the fit seemed perfect for us.

Fast forward to early 2010.  I had been in contact with two rescue groups and combing Petfinder listings for months.  After inquiring about several other dogs that didn’t seem quite right, we got an email from one of the rescue groups about Tonks.  I went on a Wednesday afternoon to pick her up to “try her out” (as if we ever would have been able to give her back).  She went with me right away and laid down in the car like she’d done it a million times.  I got her home, she met the cats and Hubs, and the rest is history.  After weeks of energy spent searching for the perfect dog for us, my soul finally felt at peace, as though Tonks was meant to be in our family.

I’m going to leave you with our doggie wish list, which we wrote months before even hearing about Tonks:

  • Great Pyrenees (check)
  • Great with kitties/kids (Duncan intimidates her)
  • An excellent therapy dog candidate (we recently missed completing our Delta registration by one task, but we’re going to try again soon!)
  • Sweet, friendly, gentle personality (she has it in spades!)
  • A minimal barker (she definitely is by Pyr standards)
  • 2-5 years old (she was 5 years old when we got her)
  • House/crate/leash trained (yes, though she exploded out of one cloth crate)
  • Okay alone during the day (she’s extremely happy to “guard” the couch)
  • Happy inside/doesn’t need a yard (she doesn’t even like to lay around outside with me)
  • Beautiful (see below)
  • Available from rescue when we’re ready (the timing couldn’t have been more perfect)

Morals of this story:  The right rescue dog for you is probably out there AND be careful what you wish for because you just might get it!

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To Quit

It’s coming up on the competitive club Ultimate Frisbee season and I have played Ultimate since I was a sophomore in college.  In college, the Ultimate team was my family.  We ate all of our meals together, traveled together to weekend tournaments, partied together, inter-team dated and, post college, some of us married each other.  I poured the majority of my time not spent on school into Ultimate (and a lot of time that probably should have been spent on school).  My college teammates are still among my closest friends.

Coming into grad school burnt out on Ultimate, I felt certain I wouldn’t play, though Ultimate is a club sport meaning that graduate students are allowed to play on school teams.  But it’s hard to move to a new city, to have to cook your own food and clean your own stuff, to be in a “real life work” schedule that does not involve afternoons lolling about campus, and to no longer live within shouting distance of your best friends, especially when your future husband’s family has been struck by tragedy and your support system can’t support itself.  So one day as I left the student rec center and passed a field where people were playing Ultimate, I just joined them.  Finally here were people who liked me automatically because I could play the same game they could.  I didn’t have to struggle to make normal conversation, an exceptional challenge for me at that time, because I could just show my love for the game.  Ultimate and the friends I made on the school team kept me in grad school for the at least first semester.  I had two years remaining of my “college” eligibility, gladly played them out and after took on a coaching role that still fills me up.

Having been involved with Ultimate for what feels like ever, I felt excited to play on the club team forming in our city last summer.  I played into fall with women that are still great friends to me, but I really struggled with the time commitment, with the physical beating my body seemed to take no matter how conditioned I was, and with the feeling that I wasn’t really having fun.  I thought that team drama was causing my negative outlook and elimination of the drama would mean I’d be ready to play again, but in spite of really positive changes in leadership, I felt myself dreading the start of this season, having my evenings and weekends occupied, and feeling guilty for dedicating time to Ultimate instead of lab.

After agonizing over it, I made the choice not to play this year.  Post decision, I felt free, ecstatic to work in lab (!), to not have to worry about getting to practice on time, to have time to finish projects around the house, to be home to spend time with Hubs and the pets.  To quit, rather than meaning something negative or bad, meant that I could invite joy even better than I had before.  I started out feeling like I couldn’t quit something that had defined me for so long and ended up knowing that IT WILL BE OKAY.  As I try to be emotionally present in my life, in touch with what I need to truly live it, I’ve realized that things that feel like a burden probably are.  If I regret the time I spend doing something, I won’t be able to contribute as my best self, which means maybe not contributing much at all.

Duncan’s Story

Hubs and I moved into a townhouse the May before we were married in August.  One of the lovely things about living here is that we always have room for guests.  We love to host friends for a night or a weekend and we feel really lucky to be able to do so.  The summer that we moved in, a high school friend of mine was on the way through town with her husband and cat, moving from college back to our hometown.  When we got Zeda, she was described as needing to be an only cat, but she was super-interested in these friends’ kitty, and kept trying to sneak into the closed guest room to get a peek at him.

I am still in contact with Zeda’s foster mom (FM), so I emailed her and asked what she thought about Zeda potentially wanting to have a sibling cat.  FM responded that she thought a very chilled out male cat would be a great match for a brother for Zeda, she had just the cat, and was I interested in adopting him?  This cat was quite a character, and he had been living in a feral cat colony.  The usual way to manage feral cat colonies is to humanely trap the cats, have them altered, and then re-release them.  After trapping Duncan and neutering him, the veterinarian noticed that 1) he walks with a limp, due to a poorly healed break and might therefore be unable to defend himself from the other ferals and 2) his personality seemed to be more like that of a stray (lost from a home) rather than a feral (born in the wild).  They decided not to re-release him and he went into rescue.  FM said that the minute he got into the bedroom where he was staying at his first foster house, he got right up on the bed and stretched out on it (“Thank goodness I’m back on a bed!”).  I trusted her pretty explicitly after the great communication and adoption of Zeda, but with our wedding being six weeks off, I didn’t want to adopt another cat just then.  Being an understanding lady, she agreed to keep Duncan until we could come get him.

Come September, a sweet friend and I went to pick him up.  He meowed the whole way back until he fell asleep upside down.  We arrived home and started the process of integrating him with Zeda.  Getting them to smell each other was the key.  I slept in the guest room so Zeda wouldn’t feel lonely and Hubs slept in our room with Duncan.  First, we switched the rooms they were in, so they could smell each other.  Then we rubbed a sock smelling like Duncan on Zeda and vice versa.  We also let them sniff each other through a slightly open door and ended the interactions before Zeda started hissing (she always was the hissy one).  Soon enough, we felt comfortable with the kitties being together while we were home and they were getting along swimmingly, but then Duncan peed on the floor while meowing.

Coming from a home where cat pee due to health and behavioral issues was a constant, I freaked out and emailed FM.  She said that I needed to get Duncan to the vet right away because urinary problems, especially in neutered male cats, can be a really big deal.  Having never had a male cat before, I was so thankful that she gave me this advice, which the vet confirmed.  Apparently, male cats rarely drink enough water and therefore are especially prone to urinary problems like blockages, which can be really serious (even leading to death).  After a quick round of antibiotics, Duncan was back to being himself and using the box.  We got a kitty fountain that keeps the water moving, feed wet food a couple of times a week, and luckily he hasn’t had any more problems.

Zeda and Duncan were eventually comfortable together full time, and in the years that we’ve had Duncan, they have become more and more bonded.  They bathe each other and play together.  Duncan is a bit of a character, as he still walks with his limp, which we sometimes refer to as the bad-boy strut and which does absolutely nothing to slow him down, and has one folded ear, also probably from a fight with another cat.  His meow is funny and small, sort of like a little woof.  When I took him to the vet for the first time, they remarked that he was the most chilled out cat they’ve ever seen.  He’s very adventurous and likes to run out the front door to try to eat grass.  He’s a cuddler, but always on his own terms, and is another not-a-cat-person converter, just like his sister.  One of my favorite things about him is that he loves to have his photo taken, so I’ll leave you with this one, in which it’s obvious he knows both how stunningly handsome and utterly loved he is.

Refreshing

Yesterday, a friend and I went to the crafts fair together.  I love to look at crafts, admire the talent and brilliance of the artisans, feel inspired.  Amazingly (at least it felt amazing to me; it probably makes sense to rational people), there was also a booth representing the art school that I looked into attending during one of my quitting grad school phases.  I had just finished telling my friend about how I decided that what I really needed wasn’t to do art full time, but to feel balanced (as I’ve already covered here), and then we went down the next row of booths and there it was!

I exclaimed to my friend, “Here they are!”  The woman behind the table smiled and said, “Yes, here we are.”  I introduced myself and explained that I had, at one time, been interested in the Certificate they offer in Fibers, but upon exploring more of the logistics of completing the program, it didn’t really seem like a good fit for me timingwise, but the program seemed wonderful and one of a kind.  It turns out that she was the FIBERS PROFESSOR (which seems just a little bit too coincidental) and that she understood that it was a significant commitment, but wouldn’t I maybe just like to come take a few classes?  “You know,” she said, “it’s not really necessary to be enrolled full time to enjoy what you’d learn.  Maybe you’d find that it’s something you could do on your own on the side, or learn that you’d really like to pursue it more.”

So I left the booth feeling energized about the possibilities for the future and excited about the options I have really close to home.  The best part, however, is that she didn’t expect me to throw myself into creating art full time and didn’t imply that to enjoy it or be successful I needed to be dedicated to it above all else.  I think that once I’m more removed from the World of Very Significant and Important Biology Research that Could Change the World, it won’t be so surprising to meet people who don’t expect me to make their life’s work my life’s work.  Yesterday though, I was pleasantly refreshed by this lovely artist who welcomed me and valued me in spite of the obvious differences in our life path choices.

Zeda’s Story

I am obsessed with our pets.  I miss them when I’m out of town.  I talk to them like they can understand what I’m saying.  I rush them to the vet at the smallest sign of a problem (an expensive, but comforting, habit).  Each of them came to us through rescue organizations.  Each of them had to be unwanted by someone else so that they could come live with us.  And thank goodness that they were because each of our two cats and our dog are totally amazing.  They know they’re safe with us and so their “person”alities can come shining through.  I decided to write this series of posts introducing each of our animals to let everyone know that there is absolutely no need to ever buy an animal from a pet store or a breeder.  There are millions of animals of all ages and breeds (both mixed and pure) that are in shelters or foster homes just waiting for someone to give them a home, and the good majority of them are totally fantastic.

Zeda (pronounced Zee-duh) was born sometime in 2001.  I am not sure if she was adopted as a kitten, but I do know that she and her brother lived with a single woman in the midwest.  Around the time they were four or five years old, their owner went on a trip and got too sick to come home.  The person who had been looking in on the kitties presumably tired of caring for them and LET THEM OUT OF THE HOUSE.  In WINTER.

I am not sure what the thought process behind this action was, but probably even if I got a detailed explanation, I would not understand.  Luckily, Zeda and her brother were picked up by Animal Control that spring, after an estimated three months living outside.  Luckily (again), someone realized that they were Siamese mixes and/or Siamese Rescue checks shelters and both Zeda and her brother were brought into a foster home.  Each kitty was adopted separately and Zeda went to a house that already had two cats.

One of the main benefits of adopting from a rescue organization is that most of them have you sign a contract when you adopt saying that if anything does not work with your newly adopted animal, you can return it to the rescue.  They would rather you give the cat back to them than do something else (i.e. let it out of the house).  In Zeda’s case, we got REALLY lucky (third time!) because her new family did not take the time to properly integrate her with their other cats.  Zeda went back to Foster Mom’s (FM’s) house and back on the adoptable listing.

At this point in the story, it was 2007, and I was moving to start grad school in August.  I had a sweet studio apartment with a great pet policy to live in and I needed a kitty.  I grew up with Siamese cats and I’ve always thought they have the best personalities, so I checked out the available cat listings from Siamese Rescue.  Another great thing about rescue groups is that they usually know A LOT about the animals that they have rescued.  If an animal has been living in foster care, then the FM can tell you things about personality, litter box habits, phobias, and how they get along with people and other animals that a shelter might not always know.  I inquired about three cats and Zeda’s FM got back to me super quickly.  Zeda sounded perfect and I was able to officially adopt her the day after I moved in.

After a month or so of being a scaredy cat and hiding behind the litter box, Zeda started to show her personality.  A cable guy that came once right after I moved in and again six weeks later remarked on how much friendlier Zeda became in that short time.  It’s as if she finally understood that she was with her forever person and didn’t have to feel sad about being given back by the first adopters any more.

Zeda’s a surprising cat in that she likes to greet people and demand petting by climbing onto laps and nuzzling hands.  She got me through the first year of graduate school by greeting me at the end of each day, obviously glad to see me.  She is super vocal, with a very distinctive chirpy meow, to people and to Tonks.  She has never scratched or bitten anyone.  She likes to play with wand toys, look out the screen door, and eat yogurt.  Many a self-professed “not a cat person” has met her and admitted to probably being able to like cats if they were all as great as Zeda.  Not all cats are as great as she is; we are thankful every day that she’s ours.