This is my baby boy, Flash. Cute, huh? He has a sister, Patches, who's slightly nuts. They're litter mates, nearly six years old, Australian Shepherd mixes, their daddy being the German Shepherd next door who snuck into the yard one day, uninvited. Of the six pups, Flash and Patches most resembled the Aussie breed, leading Amy Dawn (their first mom) to take them home. They came to us, three years ago, complete with records and baby pictures.
Fifteen years ago, the Hunny and I were expecting our first child, and right about January, we decided to get a dog, to test our parenting styles and teach us to work together. A cat, bunny, fish, mice, cockatiel and a snake weren't enough, presumably because none of them were trainable. Certainly not the cockatiel. So we argued endlessly about the type of dog to get (he wanted a Golden or a Lab, and I wanted a mutt - we each had our "very good reasons"), then headed to the nearest kennel to find the dog of our dreams, a pedigreed dog who would make us happy and listen to all our commands and be a dream to house break. The good, obedient wife that I was (was? did that change?), I agreed to a Golden or a Lab.
There were no Goldens or Labs at the kennel. Lots of little drop kick dogs, which we both agreed weren't an option (my apologies to those of you who know and love and own drop kick dogs), but nothing that resembled what we were looking for. Then we saw her - the four month old Australian Shepherd who'd been there way too long. They were willing to give the buyer a big discount because of her age. We knew absolutely nothing about Aussies, had never heard of them, were told that it was a relatively new breed in the States, not yet recognized by the AKC. Also that there were far fewer genetic issues with the breed, since over-breeding wasn't yet an issue (part of our breed vs. mutt argument). She was the perfect middle ground for us, the perfect size (she was always about 60 pounds), extremely intelligent, gorgeous.
We hesitated, but asked them if we could spend some time with her. Her eyes sparkled with mischief, her nub of a tail wagged, her long legs pranced, and the ears, cocked at a jaunty angle, sealed the deal. We fell madly in love. Took her home and named her Clee-o. And learned some of our first lessons in parenting. For instance, never leave a young child unattended for more than 5 seconds. We came home one afternoon, after she'd been in our bathroom, and found the biggest toilet paper and towel mess imaginable. (That's our Tiger cat, checking out the damage, filling out reports to send back to the main office with our claim. The deductible was too high so nothing was covered)
Clee-o was an exceptionally bright dog, training us more than the other way around. We had more towels, blankets and clothing (and toilet paper) shredded than we knew what to do with. She certainly kept us on our toes. And eventually she taught us how to parent, though in some instances, it was after her death. We were privileged to have her for all of twelve years.
Honestly? Clee-o had a triple layer of fur, and was three different colors, making any carpet unacceptable. The dark carpet showed up the white fur and the beige carpet was COATED in black. One of the things I loved about our last home was the tile and my Swiffer, sweeping up that fur every single day, piles and piles of it. Hunny said for years, "We're never getting another dog! Definitely never another Aussie!" I'm not the greatest housekeeper and I'd have had to keep vacuuming round the clock to keep up with her fur, but it broke my heart to think that we might never have another.
The last year or so of her life, I started to pine for another Aussie, knowing she'd be gone. Hunny wanted none of it, so I stopped asking or even hinting. I certainly couldn't promise to be a better housekeeper (been there, done that, bought the lousy t-shirt, failed). Then Clee-o developed bone cancer in her shoulder and the vet wanted to put her down. I took her home on a Monday so we could say goodbye as a family. She was the only dog my kids had ever known.
That last week of Clee-o's life was one of the most intense I've ever known. A very good friend arranged for people to bring meals to us in the evenings. Friends stopped by to say goodbye. The kids struggled with it, but each got to love on her. I cried the entire week, heartbroken that my first baby was leaving us for good, grieving all the ways I'd failed her over the years and could have been a better mom. And the day we put her down, I was at peace. Sad that she was our first and last dog, but at peace.
The Hunny started to crumble a couple of days from the finish line, but the night of Clee-o's passing was the last straw for him. He broke down and sobbed like I've never seen a man do. The regret of how he could have loved her and cared for her better struck home. What it meant to him as a parent, how she was patient and obedient, always expecting only our love and loyalty, willing to always please - it all sunk in at once. It broke his heart. That night he began searching the online Aussie Rescue League in Florida for a new Aussie. About the time I was cleaning behind the furniture and finding piles of hair, thinking maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to leave the breed alone.
The second night we were online we found Flash and Patches. Maybe someday I'll tell you their story, about the neighbor, the gunshot wound, the abuse by the foster parent, how we came to have them. For now it's enough to know that my Hunny is a changed man and wanted not one, but TWO Aussies. And that they arrived the day before Mother's Day. Fully house broken, might I add. And that we love them whole heartedly. Triple fur coat and all.
Until I write again ...