This little rescue dog who’s joined our family is a hoot. She’s terribly sweet and for the most part, calm, smart, and compliant. The rescue site described her as a “lab/shepherd cross.” After meeting her, I thought: really? Based on a little Google research, I suspect that she is 100% pure mountain cur. Curs are working dogs, bred for treeing squirrels and raccoons, essentially teeing them up for hunters. Our chipmunk population is on high alert. If you’re a varmint, don’t come scratchin’ around my garbage cans. Curs are known for their tenacity, and you have to be a strong pack leader to keep them in line. Oy.
For months, I’d been trolling dog rescue sites, pouring over profiles of assorted Jacks, Rileys and Mollys. I semi-ironically referred to it as my “dog porn.” I acknowledge there’s something a little unhealthy about speed dating dogs online, but as maladjustments to the looming empty nest go, I could do worse. With Mia heading to college next year, and John’s cluttered travel schedule, I want to have another presence in the house, more life, more noise. And frankly, I’d like an alternate source of entertainment for Westley, who drools on my leg as I write, looking up at me mournfully, hoping I will finish soon so we can go for another walk. Of course, a second dog won’t fill the void of Mia’s absence, a gap so thunderously, cavernously, heart-crackingly wide that I don’t even want to begin to think about it. But a new canine pal may distract me a little, and if a dog in need gets a cushy home in Lincoln with good food, a soft bed, a buddy to play with, and daily walks in the woods, what’s the harm in that?
Here’s what we know about Cordelia. She was found wandering on a rural Tennessee roadside, and rescued by a sympathetic woman with friends in the local dog rescue community. They don’t know if she was abandoned, or just ran off and got lost. She has a scar on her snout they say is from a house cat, but if so, that was one big-ass kitty. Lisa, the good Samaritan who took her in, agreed to foster her for a while to see if she’d make a good candidate for placement up north, where scores of folks like me are scanning Petfinder sites with names such as “Buddy Dog” and “LastHopeK9,” looking for their “furever friend.” Lisa named her “Chloe.” (Coincidentally, this was the name of our first dog, a Bernese Mountain Dog who used to sit on my feet while I cooked dinner. I was constantly picking onion skins and tomato seeds out of her fur.) After “Chloe” was spayed and passed muster, Lisa handed her off to another foster situation at the home of a rescue volunteer named Muffin.
Muffin is a friendly, gravel-voiced, born-and-raised Tennessean. She has been fostering rescue dogs for two decades, and she currently has seven DOZEN of them living on her seven acre farm in Jackson, about 90 miles northeast of Memphis. “Not all of ‘em are allowed in the house, mind you,” she commented. “Only about thirty make that cut.”
The imagination staggers.
“We focus on good manners here,” she told me. “With this many dogs, I can’t tolerate any bad actors. You have to play nice and get along. We have guidelines, and every dog is expected to follow them.”
Muffin described Chloe as an easygoing dog; one who played well with others but could also back off. “She kinda follows the others’ leads, y’know?” We went down my checklist: lived in a family home, okay with kids, well-socialized, medium energy, clean bill of health, no discernible problem characteristics, like resource guarding, aggressiveness or too much alpha energy. She was people-oriented, and had taken to sleeping in Muffin’s bedroom. It all checked out. Chloe was already on a transport headed up north. She was ours if we wanted her.
It was Mia’s turn to name a dog. Nate came up with “Hobbes” during a middle-school stint of obsessively reading “Calvin & Hobbes;” “Westley” was Lucy’s idea, for the dashing lead character in “The Princess Bride” whose alter ego is the Dread Pirate Roberts. Mia chose “Cordelia” for Lear’s faithful youngest daughter: brave, noble, and true. Perhaps Mia identifies with the character, being herself our third and youngest child, and likewise protective, honorable, and so very big-hearted. As it happens, it’s also a fitting name for a Tennessee native. As in: “Caw-DEEL-ya, you sho’ look purdy today!”
We brought Cordie home last Monday. She is affectionate and calm, but also playful and plucky. She likes the furniture – clearly it was okay with Lisa and Muffin for her to plop on any and every couch, chair or bed in the house. She didn’t know any commands, but after only two days, she was rock solid on “sit,” and by today (day nine), she has mastered “down,” and is well on her way with “off” and “stay.” I hadn’t realized before now that Westley’s kind of a Matthew McConnaughy-type: he’s a looker, but not overly endowed in the smarts department. Cordelia comes quite cheerfully when she’s called, and she doesn’t pull on the leash, which is a relief after sledding behind seventy-three pounds of golden retriever while leash training Westley. She has had a few house-breaking accidents, particularly after she’s been crated or left alone for a couple of hours, a sign of separation anxiety, I think. And there is the not insignificant discovery that she has heartworm and will require several months of careful supervision while she’s treated, which we certainly didn’t anticipate. So much for the “clean bill of health,” but the rescue group has been great about it and is helping defray the cost. We could have surrendered her last week when our vet’s standard heartworm check came up positive. But that already seemed unthinkable.
For her first few days here, Cordelia didn’t show much interest in food, and she was tentative about going into certain rooms in the house. But she’s starting to know this is her home. Yesterday, I heard her bark for the first time, when the Invisible Fence lady was here slogging through the snow reflagging the property so I could start training her. Today, she tore off down the driveway, barking happily at the UPS man. Cordelia sidles up to Westley, tail wagging, and licks his drooly muzzle. They play just like siblings: it’s all wild fun, until somebody gets over excited and somebody else gets pissed. That’s the two of them tussling over a tennis ball. Sometimes they adore each other. Other times, I’m pretty sure their snuffles and grunts mean something along the lines of: “Mom! She bit me!” “Did NOT!” “Did TOO!” “Well he knocked me over…”
I really do miss those years with my three children all puppy-like, wriggling around my knees.