A la recherche d’une chienne

I am looking for a dog.

Two months ago I was heartbroken when I had to send my beloved Coco, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, to heaven. Her heart murmur had grown worse, and she was increasinglyimage.jpegsuffering from the complications of diabetes. She finally told me it was time to let her go.  So my daughter Molly came with me to the vet’s office to put Coco out of her misery.  After Coco had expelled her last breath, Molly carried out Coco’s lifeless body, wrapped in an old coral beach towel I’d brought for her shroud.

We took Coco to my sister Mary’s house, with its deep, deep backyard with wooded nooks where thirty years’ worth of the family pets had been buried.  Mary had already started digging Coco’s grave, and Molly took over the task.  Before we’d gone to the vet, I’d picked lots of roses from my Abraham Darby rose bush, which had produced dozens of spectacular blooms this spring because of all the rains we’d enjoyed. After Coco was placed in her earthen nest, I put half of the roses over her before Molly began to fill the grave.  When she was done, we strewed the remainder of the roses on the ground. Then we went for donuts.

After a month, I could finally talk about Coco without crying, and I was ready to think about getting another dog.  I had always wanted a King Charles Spaniel but I didn’t want to get another, because, I told my friends and family, Coco was perfect and no other Cav could be as perfect as she and they’d suffer in comparison.

Because I’ve had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for 23 years, I have to have a low-energy dog to match low-energy me. And although I love big dogs, I need to have a dog that isn’t capable of pulling me off the sidewalk when the dog spots a squirrel.  (Although my friend Marilynn’s 8-pound Yorkie, Cassidy, is quite capable of pulling her down the sidewalk when Cassidy decides it’s time to go home.)

I researched dogs that are happy to be couch potatoes, and the only other small low-energy dog besides a Cav was the Pekingese.

When my friend Kathy and I were in grade school, we fell in love with a neighbor’s Pekingese, and swore that when we grew up THIS was the dog we must have.  Kathy and I and our families have had many dogs over the ensuing years, and none of them have been Pekes.  Black Labs were my family’s dog of choice for years, in addition to countless cats, birds and hamsters.

Now was finally the time for that Pekingese I’d promised myself in fifth grade.  I never considered buying a Peke puppy because 1) I couldn’t afford it, 2) it’s difficult to know if puppies have come from a puppy mill, and 3) the world is full of adult dogs needing a home.  Since I knew from my earlier search for a King Charles Spaniel that every dog breed has rescue organizations, I typed Pekingese rescue organizations into Google Search, and I was off and running. I could already imagine a fluffy little furball snuggling in my lap!

The first Peke rescue outfit I found was in St. Paul, Minnesota, where my old friend Kathy lives – what a cool coincidence!  They offered eleven Pekes, all currently in foster homes.  So I downloaded their application.

As someone with an adopted daughter, I am familiar with the scrutiny that one undergoes when applying for adoption.  But as I told friends when I was going through the process of adopting Coco, I think that it might be easier to adopt a child than to adopt a dog from a rescue organization. Home visits, in-person interviewing, meet-and-greet with the dog and everyone living in the household, verifying a relationship with the veterinarian, describing every pet you’ve ever had and explaining what happened to them – it goes on and on.

I was familiar with lengthy adoption application forms, since I’d filled them out when I adopted Coco.  But I’d never encountered a question like one on the St. Paul app: “Describe your personality.”  I thought for a moment, then remembered an old test.  I wrote “I am an INFJ on the Meyers-Briggs Personality Assessment, which means that I am gentle, protective, caring, intuitive, patient and devoted, all qualities of a good dog owner.” I realized they were also the qualities of a good dog.

I completed the application and noted the two dogs I was most interested in, Dahlia and Bailey.  The coordinator got back to me and said that she’d spoken with Dahlia’s foster mom, who told her that Dahlia would have to be adopted in the Twin Cities because she needed a gradual transition.  I’m now waiting for her to speak to Bailey’s foster mom.  Kathy wondered if foster moms might be over-protective.

As I continued my search, I discovered that Pawsitive Endings Dog Rescue in western Nebraska had a Peke named Joy, but it turned out she’d already been spoken for. At Pekes and You Rescue in Oklahoma City, I expressed interest in Layla but was told she was “special needs,” extremely shy, and would probably never be a dog who would run up and want to sit in your lap. I’m waiting to hear back about Xena, fostered by PAWFirst in Ponca City, OK, and Care Bear, available from Start Over Rover in Hastings, Nebraska. There’s an adorable Peke named Queenie available through the Friendship Animal Protective League in Elyria, Ohio, but when I discovered that it’s a 12½ hour drive from Topeka (11 days if hiking, 3 days if biking – jeez, you gotta love Google Maps!), that seemed like it might be too far away.

My search continues.


A Tale of Two Grandsons

And now, a few words from a silver-haired white lady who shares our country’s despair over the rash of shootings which have killed an ever-escalating number of policemen and black men.

As it happens, my six grandchildren include Max, a white policeman, and Kendall, a young black man. I know that expressing outrage at the police killings of unarmed black men does not exclude support for our police. Police officers have the most dangerous jobs in the community, and the great majority go to work every day intent on keeping the peace.

I fear for the safety of my white cop grandson Max every time he goes to work, and I fear for the safety of my black grandson Kendall any time he gets in his car. Because racism does exist, at all levels of society and in all occupations.

We adopted our middle daughter Nikki when she was six months old.  I’d given birth to her older sister Elizabeth four years earlier, and would give birth to her younger sister Molly later that year.  Nikki’s birth mother was Mexican-American and her birth father was African-American.  She has grown into a woman who is beautiful both inside and out. She married into an outstanding African-American family in our community, and her son Kendall inherited his mother’s sensitivity, the artistic ability of his father’s family, and the kindness and athleticism of both.

Kendall’s artistic sense of color was evident early in his life.  When he was very small, Nikki asked him about a new neighbor whom she hadn’t yet met.  “Is she a white lady, like Nana?”  Kendall looked at her quizzically and replied “Nana’s not white, she’s peach!” Nikki told him that people with their skin color were called black, which seemed even stranger to Kendall — “We’re not black, we’re brown!”  Like more and more families these days, Kendall has grown up in an extended family in shades from peach to chocolate, and he loves them all.

This Peach Nana has seen differences in society’s treatment of my brown daughter and grandson.  Nikki’s third-grade teacher, of Hispanic descent, told me at the end of the school year that she’d given Nikki a hard time all year because “We minorities are treated badly, and I wanted to toughen her up.”  It had the reverse effect on my sensitive daughter.  A few years later, a new neighbor had met my daughter Molly and asked her to babysit his children.  When Molly had an unexpected conflict, I took Nikki to the neighbor’s house, introduced her and told him she’d be able to take Molly’s place.  The man looked stunned, looked around in confusion, and stuttered that they wouldn’t be needing a sitter after all.  (I was not unhappy several years later when he went to trial for misusing government funds.)

When they were teenagers, Nikki’s peach sisters were always able to quickly find part-time jobs, but Nikki’s job search always took much longer.  To know Nikki is to love her — at Topeka High she was president of her senior class, homecoming queen, captain of the Drill Team and captain of the volleyball team.  But there were those who didn’t know her who had a knee-jerk negative reaction to the color of her flawless skin.

Her son Kendall’s experience with racism has been more dramatic.  Several years ago Kendall had just left a friend’s apartment one Saturday night, and was sitting in his car in the parking lot responding to a text message.  Suddenly a policeman appeared at his window, barking at him to step out of his car.  Kendall was terrified and called his mother, who jumped into her car with her husband and raced to the apartment complex.  By the time they arrived, the police had broken Kendall’s car window, dragged him out of the car, thrown him to the ground, cuffed him and put him in the back of the police car.  Kendall was hysterical. Having been raised by this WASP mother, Nikki was able to suppress her own hysteria and modulate her tone as she spoke with the policemen, and Kendall was released to her custody.

Many African-Americans have experienced being pulled over for “driving while black,” but Kendall was treated like a criminal for merely sitting in his car.  It was agonizing for me to hear this story, which is all too familiar to African-American mothers and grandmothers.

To deny that racism exists in some policemen is just as erroneous as believing that there are no good cops.  Perhaps distrust and hatred of The Other was an evolutionary survival mechanism millennia ago, but surely homo sapiens has sufficiently evolved to recognize that we have far, far more in common than we have differences.  We can do better.