“Do you have kids?” is an oft asked question to which I reply, “Just the four-legged kind,” intoned brightly but somewhat apologetically as though I didn’t quite uphold my end of the biological bargain. The idea that I would have let loose well-adjusted offspring is dubious given I was raised free-range, on the frontier of dysfunction having nothing but wild boars and wildebeest for role models. Regardless the odds of my potential success or failure in raising actual human beings, it simply didn’t happen and that’s that. Used to be, the askers of this question who themselves had brought forth proper “two-leggeds” into the world would bestow upon me a sort of pity and I would disingenuously accept that pity as well as accept my place in their view as having somehow failed to fit into the social norms. I say disingenuously because as time went by and I began to see glimpses into friends’ disappointments, dissatisfactions, disasters, and estrangements with their children, I became increasingly smug regarding the reliable love, affection, loyalty and companionship of my darling fur babies.
I adopted my first dog at thirty-two which is a great age to become a first-time pet parent. At the time, I was living in NYC and dating a super-hot Israeli guy who suggested, and these were his exact words, “You’re sure going to need a little puppy to keep you company when I go back to Israel.”
A dog? I mean what did I know from dogs? I’d observed (in abject horror) other New Yorkers trudging outside at all hours of the day and night, in all manner of foul weather, walking their dogs – leash in one hand, poop bag and coffee balanced in the other. Pet parenthood didn’t seem to jive with the carefully curated inspirational images of carefree career women with cute husbands and immaculately clean homes neatly pasted on my vision board.
In fact, dog poop left to mummify on the sidewalks of NYC was one of my top three city peeves, right up there with walking behind smokers and people who refuse to stand on the right side of escalators to let others pass on the left. I’d also made a mental “note-to-self” regarding canines years earlier on East Forty-fifth Street outside the Amish Market during a warm spell in spring. I’d witnessed a chance flirtation between a man and woman, each walking their respective dogs. First, the dogs sniffed each other followed by human batting of eyelashes, posturing and “Oh, isn’t your dog the sweetest!” and “Do you live in the neighborhood?” Spellbound I watched like pre-teen glued to the TV during a mammal mating episode of Wild Kingdom. With a glorious abundance of Amish fresh flowers, ripe fruit, and luscious produce as the backdrop I soaked in the details of their encounter and was certain this was the beginning of a summer romance in the Hamptons, followed by a fall engagement notice in the NY Times, a picture perfect June destination wedding and the purchase of a spacious two-bedroom apartment in a pedigree building on the Upper West Side with views of the Hudson River and 2.5 gorgeous children. This was the kind of New York moment which usually threw my single self into a pit of despair until IT happened:
While miss-about-to-float-off-into-her fabulous-future flirted shamelessly on one end of the leash, little precious took a gargantuan poop on the other end. Little precious strained to get this thing out and the result resembled a chicken and sausage gumbo. What happened next seemed to unfold in slow motion, which is how it always seems when shit literally goes sideways. She of the fabulous future bent down to scoop the poop tidily swiftly and gracefully into the bag when her heel caught the hem of her dress throwing her off kilter. For a protracted moment she fought valiantly to regain balance. Biting my bottom lip, I held my breath, not entirely sure which way I was willing this to go but ultimately, she toppled, flailing around in that brown mess on all fours in what was one of the top three oddball things I’d ever seen in NY, followed by naked buff beautiful black man running north up the median on Broadway and menopause white lady crossing Madison Avenue with one boob out because as she explained to those of us mouths agape at the bus stop, she was simply “too hot!”. In any case this would-be love story ended as quickly as it began – in a New York minute.
It would seem I had a lot of dog bias to overcome but faced with the impending loss of my Israeli boyfriend and a future of long lonely nights, the idea of having a dog took root. Our first trip out to the North Shore Animal League on Long Island was a bust, I chickened out. These were real live animals and the only thing I’d ever taken care of was myself and I wasn’t exactly sure I was doing a good job of that. If I were to adopt a dog it had to be because I wanted one and not because I was trying to make someone else happy, so I continued the search sans boyfriend. After visiting several shelters in Manhattan and the Bronx I began warming up to the idea of adoption but hadn’t found “the one”. The Israeli boyfriend said I specifically needed a puppy because it was my first dog, and a puppy would be easier to train but puppies were difficult to come by. On the advice of another friend, I woke up early one Saturday morning to give the North Shore Animal League another shot because she said the first thing on a weekend was my best chance of finding a puppy. I didn’t arrive as early as planned and there was only one sad looking thing left in a row of newly empty cages. It wasn’t difficult to see why she’d been overlooked. Sporting an angry rash on her legs, head slung low, and a bit odd-looking, she was ugly-cute the way some babies are. In other words, simply perfect – definitely “the one”. Something in her eyes looked into my soul and we drove back to Manhattan with a single page of instructions, both of us nervous and shaking. On a stretch of highway, I held her and pledged to provide her a good, safe, secure, and healthy life. I named her Tuti (little strawberry in Hebrew). Tuti was an old soul who patiently showed me the ropes of pet parenting. She blossomed into an elegant dog, was steadfast by my side throughout my thirties and well into my forties. I happily picked up her poop, cleaned up vomit, rushed her to the vet when the super unwittingly left mouse poison in my apartment and carried her over those parts of NY sidewalks and streets where they put abrasive salt down in winter. She was a favorite at Bergdorf’s where she knew exactly which makeup counters offered treats, she ran free on a beach in Florida, let loose at Niagara Falls, caught the eye of Brook Shields who lived in the neighborhood and said Tuti had the prettiest white eyelashes ever, and she moved across country with me. Our adventures were many. By far the best thing she ever did was trust and love me, which showed me that I was trustworthy and loveworthy. She’s gone now but I kept my promise and saw her through to her last breath, holding her as lovingly on her journey to the next realm as I had on our first journey home from the shelter.
Tuti made me a mom in the truest sense of the word and lived to be sixteen years old. That first adoption day kicked off over 23 years of pet parenthood. Tuti passed the baton to Tula and as of two years ago, Milo joined our little family. I am the happiest mom ever. Happy Mothers’ Day to doggie mamas everywhere!
OTHER ARTICLES BY DENISE:
Beat Voices Beat On
Sculpture in the Front Yard – Yes Please!
BI Online Sites Remind Me of Dumpster-Diving Days
Should I Stay or Should I Go!
Air Time: Talking Tillandsia with Sam Rader of Valley Nursery
Suggested Reading List for April Poetry Month
Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night (…but mostly snow)
History, Community and Art Converge at Pleasant Beach Village
New Sculptures in Familiar Places: Public Art Installations on Bainbridge Island
Green Light Garage: The Motherboard
Denise’s Favorite Virtual Gallery Tour: The National Cowboy Western & Heritage Museum
ABOUT DENISE STOUGHTON. Inspired by globe-trotting, art, fashion, technology and nature, Denise has spent a lifetime in the creative realm first as a home products industry design executive in New York City and more recently as an interior designer on Bainbridge Island. Her line of wall planter décor called Modern Airhead is made locally and sold at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA) gift shop. Writing has been a life-long passion and she’s authored blogs, articles and essays for mo-minski.com as well as for bainbridgecurrents.com. Denise serves on the Public Art Committee and is a board member of Arts & Humanities Bainbridge. Her chihuahuas Tula and Milo are constant companions and often accompany Denise around town riding shotgun in her VW Beetle. Visit denisebidesign.com to learn more about her work.