Nugget – the opening chapter

Shortly after the death of our little dog Sterling, I found myself sliding down into the Abyss once again. Even though at best our relationship was one of cuss words and willful disobedience, Sterling was one of those four-legged critters that managed to worm his obstinate way into your heart….and chew up your best slippers at the same time. He was a creature of bad habits and worse body odor, requiring a bath at least three times a week to keep from smelling like the goat shit he loved to roll in, was convinced that the kitchen trash can was his own special diner and that the best self-entertainment was to sneak up behind a sleeping cat and bark furiously at nothing. Did I mention that he thought my panties were a gourmet treat?

Sterling Argente’ came into our lives in a serendipitous moment of crossed paths. The family was cleaned up and dressed reasonably well; it was New Year’s Eve and my birthday dinner. This has become a very special and happy treat for me and it memorializes those family members who are precious to me. We were picking up the youngest child from her friends when I see this small gray shadow at her feet. “What’s THAT?” I asked her. “Oh, it’s just a dog. Someone dumped it in this neighborhood thinking everyone here has money and they’ll take it in. It’s been hanging around about a month and the dog catcher can’t find it when he comes out.”

It was drizzling rain, freezing cold and that animal was shivering under its matted fur. “Nope. That ain’t gonna happen, see if you can pick it up and give it to me.” The youngest child reached down, scooped down and picked up the small animal; the dog was a surprised as I was to find itself in the arms of a human being. Despite being dressed for a fancy dinner, I snuggled him close and we made the quick turnaround back to the house. A clean towel, a bowls of food and water with a promise to return and Sterling was settled in the bathroom for the evening.

What followed was the battle of the wills regarding grooming, (he wasn’t huge fan) a thorough medical exam, (he had two cracked ribs and a phobia of loud voices), and repeated dips, shavings for fleas and rolling in barnyard animal dung. We really never figured that peculiarity out, what we did figure out was that he was a Schnoodle – a so-called designer dog, about 5 or 6, was going blind and maybe a bit confused due to what appeared to be repeated beatings. After removing three teeth, Sterling began to get some of his old spark back and became a feisty contender for love, affection and a proud master of cat-herding – sort of. Of course, Toby, our huge ginger tom, curled up next to him one frosty morning in February, and we knew that the herding was just a form of tag, the charade was busted. We had to keep Sterling close to the house because he tended to wander if he found any lack of integrity in the fencing, he would be out.

There was never a moment that he felt overawed by big black George, the 180 pound Anatolian Shepherd. In fact, it was cute to watch the two of them play, George being ever so careful not to crush his new little buddy. If Sterling got too eager or too rough, George would lie down and put a saucer sized paw on Sterling as a warning.

June thunderstorms tend to wreak havoc on trees, fencing, roofing and anything not exactly sturdy enough to stand up to the 60 mile an hour straight line winds. Sure enough, one came up when we were out grocery shopping and it was strong enough that it blew the doors open on the house. We’d known that we had rain coming and had put Sterling in the house; George in his giant kennel. If there was to be thunder, Sterling had access to a nice dark closet with a thick towel in a storage crate. We never dreamed that both French doors would nearly be blown off their hinges, as well as about 300 feet of fence being blown over. Sterling, of course, bolted out of the house in panic. Over the next two days, we had sightings of him but couldn’t catch him. I left kibble and water out and we nearly caught him twice. The third and final time, I learned that bacon is a wonder panacea with small frightened dogs. Again, Sterling had managed to find sheep dung to roll in and this time we almost shaved him naked so matted was his short curly coat.

He was home and back up to his usual mischief. In fact, I got so pissed at him with one incident, I ‘dog-shamed’ him with a placard. He’d gotten into the kitchen garbage again, (I think he was almost monkey-like with his paws and opening doors!) and when I took his prized possession of a hotdog wrapper away from him, Sterling promptly went over to my recliner and pooped in front of it!

We thought we had all the fencing fixed, so when he whined and pleaded to be outside with George, we let him go play with his giant buddy. It was inevitable that he would find some sort of dung to roll in back in the farther pastures, so I pulled the grooming equipment and the shampoo into the kitchen in anticipation of the next day’s use. The late afternoon was warm and pleasant; when I looked outside, George and Sterling were laid out on the cool expanse of the back deck. Later that evening, I spied George through the kitchen window making his way thru the tall grasses of the far pasture and knew that he and Sterling were headed to the waters of the creek at the back of the property. Tomorrow, both of them would have a bath, I thought; and finished dinner’s preparation.

Dinner was over, the dishes and all the prep cookware were soaking, it was time to call the boys in. Both were down at the creek and with the heat, there was no calling them back; I could hear them happily splashing. With a sigh, I kissed the other half goodbye as he left for his overnight shift, and left bowls of kibble out for George and Sterling. Like kids, they’d be ravenous après’ swim.

I went on to bed, and before I knew it there was a gentle rocking on my shoulder. The beloved was home from work, and dawn was approaching; but the look on his face told me something was wrong. “Honey?” I inquired. “Babe, Sterling got out of the fencing somehow. I found him this morning in the middle of the road. I only hope it was quick.” There was a moment of shock and then a flood of sorrow.

Sterling was gone. We buried him in the garden he used to chase the cats into, under a rambling Don Juan rose and next to the Chablis grapes I’d given up on ever growing. It wasn’t the same – his muted old man growl was missing, the clicking of his nails on the wooden floor, even George was moping. I wasn’t prepared to hit the emotional slide into shadow, either. The beloved and the daughter urged me to look at adopting or rescuing another dog. I wasn’t sure that I could make that kind of an empathetic investment again. After all, the daughter would soon be leaving to go back to college and I wanted the peace and quiet to write and think.

The nagging from the others in our circle began, and was added to by the husband and the daughters. “Ok, I’ll look.” It kept them at bay, for a while. “You really need a pocket pooch,” the mate insisted, “One that you can carry in a bag and take with you everywhere.”

“Ahem. Dearest. I am not that kind of a woman.”

“Mom, you need a companion.”

“I have George and 6 cats. My companion card is pretty full.”

“You can’t have George in the house! The last time he knocked over everything his tail could reach, as well as tipped over the couch AND the recliner!”

“Ahem. Did you forget the cats?”

“Mom, on a good day you might be able to find one, maybe two to come sit on your lap. Violet and Spot hunt the doves, Phred likes to sit on the roof, Toby is out in the barn, Luce-purr is usually under the house and Lucky is always out catching rabbits. When they DO come in you get all upset about cat fur on your keyboard! Do I need to remind you about Phred knocking EVERYTHING off of the altar last week and destroying your alabaster offering bowl?”

“Sigh. I give up.”

Thus, my search for another small furry critter to add to the colorful menagerie began. I looked at the rescues and their current inventory. Nope. We braved the heat and the humidity to look at the local pound and ASPCA. Nope. So, I started looking online. I found a breeder of Yorkshire terriers in San Antonio and inquired if she’d had any pet quality animals or returns. She told me that she’d retired her male stud and he was available for a small transfer fee of $150. Hmmmm…something was buzzing around me like a suspicious bee, but I asked for a picture of the animal.

She sent the picture via e-mail and something told me to “GO get him, and get him NOW.” Ok, I’ve learned my lesson over the years – this was one of those gut-level directives you don’t ignore. I told her that I would take the retired stud and made the arrangements to meet her. The trip would have been uneventful, but that traffic was insane; my daughter and I were looking at each other in wonder. Then I realized we were within shouting distance of the 4th of July – oh joy – JUST what a small dog could tolerate – Not! Oh yes, the driving directions via Google? Not their best effort, in fact my directionally challenged husband could have arrived there better.

So, we arrive. First alarm bell tips off – she wants to meet with us in her front yard. She explains that “she is in the process of moving and the house is in Chaos.” Ok. I can understand, but the little bells in my gut are still chiming. She takes us to where she has lawn chairs set up and then goes back to bring the dog out to me. The daughter stands by me and I sit; the door opens and she comes back out with the dog. He looks terrified of her AND of me. Something inside me says, “Be still, be welcoming, be gentle.” So, I take him from her and look into his terrified gaze.

“Do you want me to be your mommy?” I ask. Something inside this little dog melted, and despite his fear, he stopped shaking and was more of a “just get me out of here” attitude. I handed him over to my daughter to finish the financial transaction and he melted into her arms as well. The breeder was telling me that he was not a “cuddly” Yorkie. Oh yeah, like I could see that, (insert sarcasm font here.) I asked for his papers, and his vet records. “Oh, I’ll mail them to you. Everything is all in a turmoil in the house. If you text me your address, I’ll send them to you.” I was going to put up a fuss, but the little dog kept looking at me with such a pitiful plea, that I told my daughter to put him in the carrier and we’ll just go.

Before we left, she tried to put another puppy in our hands, a 6 week old female. Nope. I felt for the puppy, but I wasn’t going to hand over $750.00 for a puppy that was sired by the male I now own and had no papers on. We couldn’t get out of there quick enough.

Well, we stopped for a quick bite of lunch and to see if our little one, known to us now as Nugget, needed to potty before the long trip home. He was sick, all over the inside of the carrier and all over himself. It appeared that someone had fed him a hamburger before we’d arrived. I called the breeder to let her know that I was going to need those vet records immediately. She asked if I was going to bring him back. (Are you insane, woman?) Not a care for the animal, just wanted to know if I wanted my money back. Second alarm bell was going off. No, I wanted his records and within a week.

We must have stopped no less than four times on the way home to allow him to throw up, try to get him to drink some water and clean him up. No way was I about to put him back in the carrier, he was going to be held, fussed over and taken care of with loving hands. We get home and George just about has a happy dancy-paws fit he’s so excited to have a little buddy again. Nugget, on the other hand, wets himself. Well, when you’re all of 4 ½ pounds and a 180 pound giant wants to make kissy-face, it’s easy to understand a bit of hesitation. George is confused and looks askance of me. I tell him, “Just wait, our new baby is a little bit sick and a whole lot scared right now. He’ll be out here playing with you eventually.”

Ummm, not exactly. Over the next week, we determine that Nugget has never been outside of a kennel in his life. Never once walked on grass or for matter peed or pooped outside. He’s terrified of turf and dirt. Doesn’t walk on a leash well, either. Ok, more and more of the misrepresentations of this animal are coming forward. I chat about it with other rescue friends who can do a bit of checking and before you know it, there is a suggestion that I make an anonymous report. Back yard breeders are rather illegal and it appears that Nugget was retired from stud service because he became cantankerous.

At the vet visit we discovered that he had burn marks on his neck under his chin from an electronic bark collar. His feet were splayed due to being in a cage constantly, and one of his paws sustained a strain injury (untreated) from where it’d been caught (it appeared) in the kennel grid. Happily, he had no dental problems, just a long road to learn to be our beloved. So far, we’ve got him on training pads for potty purposes and he’s slowly getting used to ‘gargantuan’ George. We’ve managed to get him to eat something other than table scraps, and healthier dog appropriate. (Ok, I do slip him a bit of chicken now and then, but I’m Mama – I can spoil him!)

The unexpected end result of our little adventure is that I had to shut down a Facebook account for multiple reasons, but the tipping point is that one of the threatening messages that I received was from someone associated with Nugget’s breeder. Everything is copacetic now; but there was a 24 hour period that I was ready with a 10 gauge, a huge dog and a whole lot of righteous anger should anyone attempt to infiltrate our home. This is why Nugget’s story was delayed and everything was quiet. But, now you know….and I have a new cuddle buddy/furry shadow. Even the cats like him!