There’s a crunching sound in the kitchen and that means Rikki is eating his breakfast. I’m delighted. My entire being has been willing that little guy to eat. He’s weighing in at around five pounds again and that’s the weight he came in at six months ago when I got him.
“Hi Rikki, I can see you,” I say and he runs into his cage but he’s out again in a second. If I’m quiet, he’ll come to the fence again, a wooden child’s fence I’ve adapted for his purposes. The space between the slats is only three inches but he can wiggle his little five-pound self through although his bum gets a little stuck and needs an extra wiggle. He can’t be in the living room when he’s not with me because he poops and pees on the throw rugs. He does his business on piddle pads, rectangles and squares of paper backed by plastic. It’s too dangerous for him to go outside.
The dog next door killed my last dog, a little ten-pound blond poodle named Coco when he was out for his before bed business. I don’t think Rikki minds not going outside. He’s so little; everything frightens him. I’m an outdoor person and I’ve always had bigger dogs but as I got older, 72 this year, I was unable to hang on to the big ones any more. They pulled me over. So toy dogs are new to me and so adorable I want to fluff them up and set them on a pillow. I have a nice fenced in yard perfect for a dog, in fact designed for a dog, but it’s visible to the dog next door. I’ve had to be more understanding than is normal for a human being about that dog. Angel is her name and she belongs to a sweet little girl. About four years ago her Dad had a dog put to sleep because he said it bit him. The little girl went blind after that and it seemed to be a psychological reaction to losing the dog. She’s adopted. Maybe she thought if you can adopt a dog and then get rid of it, then you can adopt a child and do the same thing. Her personality changed dramatically. She was a happy child before the incident but afterward could be seen balled up against the side of the house crying. She can see now and smiles again, not like before the incident but it seems to be okay again. I’m mature. I can understand. All I have to do is be careful – very, very careful. I look at the dog, the killer dog, surprisingly a Golden Retriever, and take deep breaths. Sometimes we stare at one another. He wags his tail. I give him a treat. It’s a Mexican standoff.
I looked for a little dog that could be kept inside exclusively and I wanted an older one. I don’t want to die and leave a dog to be euthanized. I want to outlive it. Then, around about September, Rikki showed up. Here’s the photo that got to me. How could I resist? The ad said he was a year old. That’s younger than I wanted but when I called the woman who was selling him on Craig’s list, she said that she thought he was a puppy mill puppy, that he was afraid of everything and would always run away and hide in a corner. So I thought to myself, Oh, a needy dog. That’s okay then. I’ve always tended to get the neediest pets, the runts of the litter, and then try to put them back together. It’s a mothering instinct gone awry. The woman said she had a three-year-old grandson and four other dogs. She said there was too much noise and confusion at her house and she thought Ricky would do better in a quieter environment. The kennel had named him Ricky after Ricky Ricardo but I didn’t like it so I changed the name and the derivation but kept the sound. I call him Rikki, short for Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, Kipling’s character. The sound is the same, only the spelling is different. I called my neighbor, Jean, who had nominated herself as godmother of my dogs when I adopted Coco.
“I found this really cute dog,” I said.
“Really?” she said.
We drove the hour and a half to Cowpens, NC, to look at the dog and make a decision.
I knew right away there was something seriously wrong with him. He was completely shut down. The woman picked him up from under the table and gave him to me. He didn’t seem to care. He was a picture of apathy. But I had come all that way. You know how it is. I was psyched. I wanted him before I ever saw him. The woman was honest with me. She said she bought him from a breeder who said he was for sale because she was cutting down on her male inventory. She also told me to be careful to keep him on a leash at all times. She said he had run away from her and that they had found him at a church a quarter mile away. I thought it amazing that he had been able to run so far. Little did I know. I wrote her a check for $250. Yes, for those of you who like to make fun of me, I actually paid for this dog. But have you ever seen anything so cute?
On the way back we wondered about the “male inventory” comment. What had she meant? Then it came to me. Little Rikki was a stud. He was a “Hey, Baby, let’s get it on” stud. I looked at the meek little thing on my lap and we laughed and laughed.
After a week I took him to the vet. He had worms. I knew that already. He did a blood panel and declared him healthy although he was concerned about his lethargy. He was started on Trifexis, a heartworm medication combined with flea and tick treatment. He set up a treatment plan for him. He needed to be neutered and his teeth were bad for such a young dog. Some of his baby teeth hadn’t fallen out and adult teeth had grown in on top of them. There was an abscess. He needed his teeth cleaned. He said he would do it at the same time he did the neutering so he wouldn’t have to put him out twice. This could wait for a month or two. We both felt Rikki should have some easing-in time.
Rikki would only eat in the early morning and I was accustomed to having coffee, writing in my journal and checking the news and email on the computer before feeding the animals. All my other animals had been trained to accept this. Besides, dog experts have told me that the Alpha dog eats first and, if I expected to be the Alpha dog, I should eat first too. But if I waited, he wouldn’t eat. I changed. I feed him as soon as I rise, right after I make my coffee. I have some priorities after all.
Rikki made lots of friends. People asked about him all the time and would stop by just to see how he was doing. I mean they didn’t stop by to see me. They came for Rikki. I’d report everything he did. He was a baby and everyone was curious.
I took him with me everywhere, to some of my meetings, to the stores that didn’t mind having him and to Petsmart. I bought little outfits for him. He was so cute and didn’t mind being dressed up.
Then Rikki ran away. I was getting out of my car with a bunch of stuff in my hands. I had on a slick raincoat with raglan sleeves and my handbag slipped down my arm. I bent over and set Rikki on the ground while I detangled the leash from my handbag strap. It was only a second. He took off running down our road toward the main thoroughfare with his little red leash trailing behind him. I screamed. Neighbors came out. All the neighbors have been psyched since Coco was killed. I yelled to catch him. The dogs next-door, Angel, the problematic dog, and Choco, a young black Labrador Retriever were out and barking like the hounds of hell. I was afraid Angel would jump the fence again and kill Rikki. None of us moved fast enough. My screaming confused him. He turned around and I thought good, I’ll catch him when he comes by again. But I didn’t. He ran and ran and was over a rise in the road in no time. I chased after but didn’t see him. I had God-damned heels on and couldn’t go very fast. There are lawns on one side and woods on the other. Another neighbor called out that he had gone down between two of the houses. I went as fast as I could but didn’t see him. He’s very good at hiding. He had been lost in the basement one other time. I had been frantic. I couldn’t find him for six hours. Then, in desperation, I asked my cat, Chanel, where he was. She pretended she was a hunting dog and pointed (Really, she actually pointed) toward a corner of boxes where I keep craft supplies. I moved a couple of boxes and heard some scrabbling about. I knew he was back there. There he was, shaking like a leaf.
I wasn’t so lucky this time and kitty couldn’t help. I probably walked ten miles that day alerting all the neighbors. Jean and her husband walked too. There are such a lot of cubbyholes where a little dog can hide. I looked in the outbuildings, creaking open the rusty hinges and poking around in the crockery and discarded tools. I poked my flashlight under log piles and under the silent riding mowers. I looked in the wells of basement windows and moved piles of discarded lumber that might come in handy one day if the right project shows up. I pretended I was a little dog and decided I would go downhill not up and that I would stick to the trail so I followed the path of least resistance but saw nothing. He had a leash on. I didn’t think it would be that hard to see his red leash sticking out. I was wrong. I was sick to heart and blamed myself.
For the next week I did a lot of walking going off trail now and looking in the gullies of fallen trees. There are so many places to hide. I put up signs with a description of him and my phone number. I added a reward two days later but heard nothing. Friends put his story and photo on Facebook and other internet venues. I had signs at the vets and the pet stores. He was on Craig’s list. Three weeks later on a Sunday night I decided it was over. With hawks and owls and coyotes and foxes and other predators about, he would be dead. It was cold too, November weather, and there were nights when it was below freezing.
On the other hand, he might be in a nice warm house sitting pretty on someone’s sofa. I tried to imagine that, to pretend to myself that is what happened. I was having bad luck with dogs. I put the signs in recycling and put away the tacks, tape and hammer in the basement. I’m a good person, I told myself. This is not my fault but that’s two you know, that’s two little dogs that have died in my care. Maybe I’m just too old, too used up, to care for anything anymore. I can hardly take care of myself. Maybe I do more harm than good. I went to bed, told myself to get on with it. That’s what old gals do, you know. We get on with it.