Twice the dogs, twice the fun

BY SHERRON WESTERFIELD

Community columnist

The summer of 1997 was when I fell in love with my first dog. Me. A life-long cat person. Fuller was so named after he stole a brush and buried it. He stole our hearts as well.

Because Fuller was such a friendly and gentle creature, our five former tomcats agreed to allow him to stay on our farm. Each of them had been lost or thrown away at one time in their lives, so perhaps they somehow understood the plight of the black mongrel dog with big white feet who showed up one day in their territory.

That same summer brought us another orphan, a scrawny pitch black tom kitten. A friend had been gathering creek stones for her garden when she heard faint mewing coming from a bag partially immersed in the water. She brought us the only live kitten she found in that sack of drowned ones.

The kitten was aptly named “Zoomer” because that was the way he traveled most of the time. He had a zest for life and brought excitement to our quiet farm as if he realized his good fortune at being rescued.

Archie and Uncle Buddy assumed roles as kitty uncles to Zoomer by playing with him and teaching him to stalk and pounce. But it was Fuller who washed the kitten’s ears and provided Zoomer with a warm body to curl up with at night.

As the months went by Zoomer became a teenage tom, all legs and feet. He tumbled with and loved his cat uncles but Fuller was clearly Zoomer’s surrogate parent. I watched that dear dog sitting on the patio, his eyes staring patiently into the distance, with Zoomer frantically kneading Fuller’s chest and trying in vain to nurse him until one of them would walk away in frustration.

Having a dog was a real learning experience for me. Dr. Chuck Keiser of Heartland Animal Clinic provided expert veterinary care for Fuller, including neutering him before he could create more mixed-breed pups in this unappreciative world. Dr. Chuck taught me about the ingredients in wet and dry dog foods and helped me understand what is best for a dog’s nutrition as well as the owner’s pocketbook.

He said it’s the garlic in canned dog food that makes a dog’s breath stink. And it’s the amount of indigestible filler in dog cereal that determines the amount of indestructible dog droppings that will clutter and contaminate a yard. The less filler, the more biodegradable the droppings. That’s why the cheaper brands suggest feeding six or more cups per day as opposed to the one to two cups recommended for the more nutritious brands.

Fuller seemed to be having an identity crisis. He sat around all day with the cats, napping often as they did. There was no one to play with so he became plump and lazy. Actually, he seemed a little bored. As Fuller and Zoomer’s second summer approached, a terrible thing happened. Zoomer disappeared. Never before had he left our back yard or the company of one of the other cats. Our best guess was that some predator had dispatched him quickly and made off with him, a sad but very real possibility in the country.

After Zoomer’s disappearance, it was evident that Fuller and the cats missed him. Their youthful activity and adventure was gone. They all seemed very sad.

Then one night as we were returning home late, our headlights revealed the rear end of a small red dog trotting down the middle of the road near our front gate. He stopped to wait for us as I slowed to avoid hitting him. He was skin and bones and his expression was one of hopeful desperation.

I opened the car door and he jumped right in. Our plan was to feed him and then take him to the animal shelter in the morning. Even if he did not get adopted, that would be better for him than to wander the coyote inhabited farms or to dodge cars on the road.

When Fuller and the red dog met, they immediately greeted each other with such enthusiasm that I did not know whether they were fighting or playing. I was concerned that one would hurt the other.

To have some way of addressing the new dog other than “hey you,” we called him “Max.” Don’t ask me why. It just seemed to suit him. The cats gave Max a wide berth and we restrained Fuller on a leash that night until we could feed Max. He inhaled some dog kibble without chewing it, and then did the same with rice left over from dinner. He was so hungry that he seemed hysterical as he ate. And we made it clear to him that on our farm the cats were not to be eaten!

The next day, strong person that I am, I hauled Max to the animal shelter. We certainly did not need another dog. The shelter was full nearly to capacity and I was told they could not keep Max for more than a week. If he was not adopted by then, he would be euthanized. I left Max and headed home, trying not to imagine his fate.

I paid for a “lost dog” ad in the Advocate-Messenger and hoped Max’s owner would see it. The days slipped by and Fuller returned to lying lazily around with the cats. At the eleventh hour, I did the unthinkable. I drove back to the animal shelter and paid to rescue Max.

When Max and Fuller met again, they reared up like a pair of stallions and went at each other with enthusiasm. I realized they were not fighting but instead were playing and having a great time. Those two dogs took turns chasing each other through the yard. Fuller would take just so much aggressive play from Max before letting him know who was going to be the alpha dog.

I set Max up with a nice doggie bed from Walmart but he promptly tore it to bits and pieces later while I was in town. I wish I had that on camera. The yard looked as if it had snowed white stuffing! I laughed as it picked it all up trying to envision the fun Max must have had shredding his new bed. Apparently, he preferred to share Fuller’s bed on a pallet in the garage.

My doggie boys cracked open the protective cover that had grown around my heart after I witnessed my only son’s suffering and death in the Burn Unit. I was certain nothing would ever again make me laugh or feel happy. But the Universe had other plans for me. And my son would not have wanted me to retreat into sadness for the remainder of my life.

Today, I can smile and laugh again, thanks in part to two precious critters who found their way into my life and blessed me in ways I could not have imagined.

Sherron Westerfield is a freelance writer residing in Danville