Raising six Jack Russell puppies in the house as if each is the most special dog on the planet has proven to be an enormous commitment that paid huge dividends in laughter, fun, tenderness, love and pure joy. Jacks have a reputation for being maniac, hard-to-handle, out-of-control dogs; I was determined to make sure each one of OUR puppies lived up to the reputations set by first our beloved Otis and now their mother Poppy, believing that a dog’s successful adaptation to his environment has as much to do with how he is socialized as his genetic makeup.
Otis came to us at age two with no social skills whatever, and transformed himself into the “downtown” dog who came to work at our bookstore and had the run of the block so long as he never set foot in the street. Everyone knew him, brought him cookies, and tattled on him when he tested the limits and crossed the street. They missed him as much as our bookstore when we moved the business home. He lived to be 17, and people still ask after him, two years after his death. Though Poppy is bossy, territorial and intolerant of strange dogs, she makes up for her “bitchiness” with intellect, love of play, intuitive sensibility, devoted companionship and amazing ability to mother and mentor her offspring. Did I mention she catches mice and other pesky rodents, kills bugs, and keeps deer and feral cats off our property? Her innate sensibility leads her to chase raccoons off carefully, so as to avoid actually tangling with them, and after being jumped by three coyotes in broad daylight, she knows the enemy but has the good sense to keep away from them.
Last year’s litter of puppies was so rewarding that we decided to let Poppy have one more litter before having her spayed. Bob and I throw ourselves into things we like with little regard for their potential demand on our time or energy; we have overlapping passions, but support each other when one is passionate about something the other is not. In this case, Bob is perfectly happy with one perfect dog and no puppies, but has offered unwavering support and tolerated the complete disruption of our household by an unusually large litter of six Jack Russell puppies. We babied their mother through her pregnancy, dried off her babies as each was born, helped make sure each had a place at the table, nurtured her and them though the first three and a half months of their lives, and helped Poppy teach them their first manners and ways of the world.
Assisting them in finding perfect permanent homes has been no less of a commitment than giving them a good start these first few weeks of life. Amazingly, each one has found a wonderful family. Buzz is a companion to a single man and another JR, Bella (now Molly) and Dotster are in families with young boys, Zeta (now Zelda) is the most laid back and the first puppy for an empty nest couple, and little Maggie went to a couple who just lost a Jack to liver failure. Rather than waste time mourning, they found her perfect replacement. I’ve said all along that I love each puppy so much I could keep any one of them, and have never been able to settle on which one I think is the most beautiful or my favorite. Tears were shed with each departure….we are enormously pleased about their new homes, and their new families have been terrific about checking in with progress reports. Zelda has visited me twice at the farmers market.
We agreed before each litter that we would not keep any puppies; we both like the ease of having only one dog, and dote on Poppy as an “only child.” However, it has been increasingly difficult to say goodbye as each one leaves home, even as the workload of grandparenting puppies has lessened as their numbers diminish and the rest advance through the various stages of being a puppy. When we were down to just three, the number we started with last year, life seemed positively easy compared to ushering six of them through the first stages of eating solid food, housebreaking, sibling rivalries and teething. I realized that while I pride myself on multitasking skills, I need order in my life, and have difficulty coping with chaos. There were about three weeks in there when I began to fear that none would leave home, and I couldn’t visualize how we would manage. As some left, the remaining puppies became easier, older and wiser, and the additional bonding time made it more difficult to see them go.
Spanky ended up being the last remaining puppy. Mr Tough Guy, he was both easy going and mediator to his sisters, who squabbled over who would be top girl puppy, and formed themselves into rival sibling “clicks” that seemed like the female equivalent to gangs. I could always count on Spanky to get along with anybody, and to keep the dominant girls from being too pushy. Despite his macho exterior and homecoming king handsome good looks, his I-own-this-place swagger collapses into this-is-scary-I’m-just-a-puppy at the drop of a hat. As soon as he became the only puppy, he settled into the routine of our household and into our hearts as if he were already a year old. Everyone began asking if we were planning to keep him, and wanted to know why not when we said no. Things came to a head when two people in two days were interested in him as a replacement for the Jack Russells they each lost a year ago. The lady on Saturday was traveling from California and said if we still have him at Thanksgiving she wanted him. I replied that if I still have him then, he’s mine. When the second family called Sunday, I told them they’d better hurry up because we are very attached to him and it’s getting harder to think about him leaving. A half hour after making an appointment for them to come over later in the day, Bob and I had a heart to heart talk and decided we both want him to stay with us.
As I write this with laptop on my lap, mother and son are asleep, having migrated from Bob’s lap to mine when he got up from his chair….and we are all living happily ever after.