Friday, August 12, 2005

Dad's Foot Stool

When I was younger (this was before my parents got divorced so I know that this is before I was 13 but not sure when. Sorry), we had a dog named Muffin (I did not name her. She was given this name by the person who owned her before us) , a cat named Buttons (again with the not naming. She had belonged to my sister Suz) but we called her Kitty (okay, yeah, not so original but hey, I was young) and a cat named Clyde (named after the deceased husband of the editor of Bread for Children, this religious magazine my Mom subscribed to for me. I felt the best way to immortalise her deceased husband was to name my cat after him. I know. I told you people I was weird).

Kari and I used to bring stray animals home all the time. Drove Mom crazy but she was usually pretty good about letting us feed and play with the animal until we found said animal's owner. This is how we got Clyde. He started following me home from church one day and then saw Kari and took off running after her. Clyde was a orange tabby who had obviously been living outside for awhile. He had been in at least one fight and part of his ear (the tip) was holding on for dear life. When we found him, the tip was frozen. Mom eventually did let us keep him but was less than pleased that when the tip did fall off, it was on her bed.

One of the strays that followed us home was a basset hound. I adore basset hounds with their big hound eyes and their short & long (well, they are. They are close to the ground but long) little bodies.

This was not too long after our Weimaraner Coco had died. My family always had dogs when I was growing up, which is weird when you consider that both Kari and I are cat people and both Mom and Dad preferred dogs. Coco was Dad's dog, through and through. She absolutely adored him. When he would go to the store, Coco would take off running down the driveway, nothing we would call after her would persuade her to return. She had to be with Dad. Twenty or so minutes later, Dad would return, Coco sitting proudly next to him in the truck. The strange thing about this is she only ran after him when he was going to the neighborhood store. He could leave for work and she would stay where she was.

So Coco was gone and we were feeling her loss. We still had Muffin but Coco had been such a vital dog, friendly and loving, that it was hard for Muffin to carry the entire load of adoring the Vittum family. There is only so much face licking that a small dog can do, especially when she has four humans.

One day, when I was coming home from school, a basset hound started following me home. Well, when I say the dog started following me, what I really mean is I persuaded the dog with lots of petting and affection. There may have even been a snack food involved but I don't remember that. I had never seen this dog before and there was not a collar so obviously she needed to be rescued.

Mom was, as usual, reluctant to let a new stray into the house but the combination of the puppy dog eyes of both her eldest daughter and the basset hound were irresistable. I am sure Kari was involved in the pleading but since her eyes are blue, she does not have puppy dog eyes. I have brown eyes that have been compared to melted chocolate which used to work very well when it comes to pleading. However, now Beth, Keem and Kari are all immune to this effect. It is quite annoying (in all honesty, I don't think any of them ever did fall for the Look of Pleading but it is fun to pretend).

There was one condition. Under no circumstances were we allowed to name the dog. The dog possibly had a home of her own and it would be terrible if we got too attached to her. This was Dad's rule. I think he was trying to keep himself from getting hurt after losing Coco.

However, the dog was not going to let him keep his distance. While she was affectionate with Kari, Mom and myself, it was Dad that she followed around. When he was sitting in his chair, watching TV, she was right there, nudging him until he propped his feet up on her back. I remember sitting next to her, watching television with my Dad, feeling her breath on my hand and feeling his hand on my head. This is a great memory that I have of my father. I do not have many but the good ones far outweigh the bad.

After a day or two, we started referring to her as "Dad's foot stool." It fit her well. Dad would come home from work and she would be right there, ushering him to his chair. He started talking about maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to keep her. We hadn't seen any fliers for a missing dog so obviously she was a stray.

Unfortunately, one day, Kari and I came home from school to find that "Dad's foot stool" was nowhere to be found. Kari and I ran up and down the streets, calling her name (and did we ever sound ridiculous, yelling "Foot Stool! Come here, Foot Stool!"), but we never saw her again. A few days after her disappearance, I overheard one of the kids in 4th grade (oh, I must have been in 5th grade. Because our school only had 4th and 5th grades in it. Behold my powers of deduction! Do not ask me how old I was in 5th grade because that would require math and therefore not allowed since math is evil) talking about how his dog, a basset hound, had disappeared for a week but had returned. The dog was in good and healthy condition and looked like she had been pampered in her time away.

When I returned home, I informed my family of what I had learned. We were all devastated, Dad most of all, even though he tried to hide it by saying gruffly that he had never liked the dog and wasn't it a good thing that we didn't name her? We all knew he was lying.

I'm not sure how soon after this that Mom came home with an odd look on her face. The reason for this was revealed when a basset hound came walking into the house. Kari and I were ecstatic. It turns out that someone was giving this dog away and Mom answered the ad. Her name was Maime and she was the sweetest dog to family but very agressive and protective of her space. It turned out that she had been abused and was able to have a much better quality of life living with us.

I really do think that God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes he uses dogs. If it hadn't been for "Dad's Foot Stool," we never would have rescued Maime. Dad never would have been able to deal with the loss of Coco and realize that loving another dog doesn't make you less loyal to the first one. Kari wouldn't have had her faithful companion (Muffin was definitely my dog while Maime was Kari's). I do believe that "Foot Stool" had her vacation with us for a reason.

There is a picture somewhere, that I would love to find and scan. It is winter and Kari was going through a cross country skiing phase. I can conjure up the memory of this moment. Kari had fallen on her back, skis sticking straight in the air. Maime ran straight for her, short legs pumping through the snow, ears flopping and propped herself on Kari's chest. In the picture, Kari is laughing and crying for help from Mom. Mom is too busy taking the picture to rescue her youngest daughter from the loving tongue of Maime.

She was a good dog. So was Muffin. I miss them still.