Happy accidents and the Zen Little Terrapin

Every now and then, perhaps when you need it most, something amazing and unexpected happens. I am not sure if this is coincidence, synchronicity, serendipity or a gift from the Divine.

I nearly stumbled over my happy accident letting the dog out this past Saturday. Olive the goat-hound was circling something on our riverbank.  I,  poised with coffee in hand, was waiting to see her stop, drop and roll – standard procedure when something delightfully smelly and dead is in her midst. But, she only sniffed and stared.

May 2009 043What she was sniffing and staring at confounded me at first – I thought it was  a rock, until I saw two eyes staring back at me.  Our dear little crackhead (a term of endearment for our pup) had directed my attention to a turtle momma laying eggs in a nice stretch of mushroom blend mulch, smack dab in the middle of the spot I had pegged for a wagon full of day-lilies. She was about a foot in diameter, and sporting a nice wig of dirt.  Her paddle like front feet were anchored in the soil and her back feet straddling a hole. Her entire being was completely absorbed in the task at hand. She seemed serene and certainly paid no attention to us. Why, with me and my camera and Olive and her barking and sniffing, you would have thought she would have become distracted but she was in the zone, a very zen little terrapin.

After each and every egg, she very gently tucked them into their little dirt bed. I, taking on the self-appointed role of turtle Douala, watched her lay another seven eggs, while keeping the dog and my toddler at a safe distance. I had the strangest urge to offer her ice chips, but decided to give her my glowing praise and verbal encouragement instead, all the while knowing it was equally unnecessary. And, when she had strained the very last egg from her tiny body, I watched with sympathetic exhaustion as she ever so carefully covered her nest with dirt and lumbered her way back to the water and disappeared into the tidal grass.  What a leap of faith that departure must have been considering the neurotic voyeurs standing so close to her helpless baking brood.  But she never looked back, not even when my 3-year-old yelled “Goodbye turtle – see you later.” 

 From my limited, amatuer research on the topic it will be late July or early August before the shellback pack makes an appearance and that’s if they survive undisturbed by the resident racoons, foxes, muskrats and a certain blunderhound in the area.  But, if we are very, very lucky, if the planets are aligned just so, if our goat-dog has her nostrils pointed in the right direction, perhaps we will get to witness another miracle of happenstance . . . stay tuned!

For the Love of Olive, Zach’s “Best Friend”

Olive Puppypants

Olive Puppypants

I had this idea months ago after reading a book about dogs and autism that what my kid really needed was pet therapy. The book had an adorable picture of an autistic kid clumsily hugging a dog. I wanted Zach to be that kid. I wanted him to have a big sloppy pooch to hug. I wanted a dog that would follow him around like Nana in Peter Pan. Or wait patiently by the front door when Zach came home on the short bus. A dog that would comfort him after a long day of being such a strange duck in such a typical world.

The benefits for him were endless- more empathy, a connection to something outside himself, a sense of responsibility, the joy of a non-judgemental companion, a friend!  The “friend” thing was what got me. It was the one thing Zach didn’t have.  Although he counts just about everyone as his “best friend”, from his teacher, Ms. Caitlin, to his brothers’ playmates, to his parents. We are all his “best friends.”  But a boy with a dog, oh, that sounded so good for him!

My search started with the internet, what were the best breeds for kids? What was better for a child with behavior issues, a grown dog or a puppy? I had it all planned out and decided to hit the local shelters. I found a lab mix that had been given up due to “financial hardship.” The dog’s backstory was heartbreaking. The family had a disabled daughter who was confined to a wheelchair, the father had lost his job, they had to move, their new place didn’t allow pets. It sounded great, at least for us. We brought the dog home on a Sunday afternoon. Zach was giggly and excited and in love with this dog. His love was unrequited though. This dog was skittish, hated to be hugged and more importantly, hated Zach. It didn’t wait by the door, it didn’t romp around the yard with him, it didn’t lick his face in greeting, or any of the other warm-and-fuzzy things I had imagined.

Instead, it growled when Zach tried to pet him, or hid whenever he approached. He didn’t react well to a child who was a vigorous petter, an enthusiastic hugger who had daily temper tantrums, unpredictable impulses and wielded a plastic light saber half the day. 

Our trial ended when the dog nipped at Zach’s cheek just a few days after we brought the dog home. So much for a best friend.  We returned the pooch to the shelter ( a no-kill shelter) and vowed to try again. I felt such a sense of failure – another avenue ventured for Zach and another dead-end. I would have given up on the whole idea, but Zach’s brothers wouldn’t. So we decided to give the idea a second chance.

A few months later we brought home a 10-week old puppy. Her mama was a bloodhound and her daddy was a lab. It sounded like a Johnny Cash song, which felt like good karma. She was jet black and had a strange baggy little face and a pointy knot on the top of her head.  Her coat shined like a race horse and her eyelids had the beginnings of a hound droop. The boys adored her at first sight.  They named her Olive.

Olive is 7-months old now. She weighs 60 plus and is still growing. She is not the dog I dreamt of for my son. But like most everything in life, I am learning to take the bitter with the sweet. Olive slobbers viscous amounts of stringy saliva whenever she is excited. (Zachy says “that’s disgusting.”) She slobbers bucketfulls whenever we take her in the car and vomits once we’re in motion. She is a loud barker and likes to howl. She is a messy eater and chews up things like a goat on crack. She hides treats in the sofa cushions. And housebreaking is an ongoing battle. She also has hideous gas –  it is musky, skunky and deadly. And it seems to happen most frequently on family movie night.

But then there is the sweet side. Her ears are long and droopy and feel like velvet in your hand. She gives clumsy kisses and loves clumsy hugs. She tolerates plastic light sabers and doesn’t bat at eye at daily temper tantrums, even mine. And, she even waits by the door for the short bus. 

She leans against my legs when I do the dishes, curls up next to me when I knit and lets me put my cold feet underneath her warm body when I am typing on this computer. She likes to look out the windows on her hind legs and has learned to sing for treats, especially hot dogs. She can jump through a hula hoop and she likes our cats. She is gentle with the baby and will retrieve anything the older boys throw for her, including empty milk jugs.

This furry wild child has given me just what I wanted for Zach and what I didn’t know I needed for me. She’s my best friend too.