Essays

Foster Dogs, Parasites, and Marriage Don’t Mix

Skye and My Dogs--Before the Storm

Skye and My Dogs–Before the Storm

Fostering a dog can be scary. When you welcome the dog, you also welcome the tiny creatures stowed away inside, warriors in a Trojan Horse. Rescue dogs are often so stressed and malnourished that their immune systems are low, and the number of opportunists inside them is high. I’ve had all kinds of terrifying parasites blow through my bedroom and back yard.

My latest foster, a blue merle Border Collie named Skye, arrived in the middle of Hurricane Hermine, which we weathered just fine. A few days later, Hurricane Coccidia began. This morning I woke up to my dignified foster dog standing in her crate in a swamp of her own making. I ran her out to the yard, dragged the crate outside, and filled it with cat litter, where it can stay until my denial wears off.

As I type, it’s hard to believe that sweet, clever, athletic beauty, just a day or two ago, joined Mick and Maisie for a raucous threesome in the guest room bed. (XXX videotaped evidence of the encounter is here. Parental Discretion Advised.)

Now the poor thing’s wobbling in the yard hunchbacked and drizzling coccidia on every other blade of grass. She’s been on pills and a BRAT diet, and this is Day Two.

When I tell my vet my back yard is a cesspool of infectious disease, she chirps, “Keep the stool picked up.”

I give her a thumb’s up and a hearty, “Thanks!” I know I won’t even try. How do you pick up liquid stool? Alby and I never scoop the yard as well as we should anymore for several reasons, most of which add up to “laziness” or “learned helplessness,” depending on your sympathy level.

Three ponies! What have I done?!

Three ponies! What have I done?!

Maybe it happened when the litter of four-month old puppies the rescue network called “ponies” galloped through my life. They re-landscaped my bromeliad garden, dug a den under the lanai and wired it for Internet and cable, and happily blasted tapeworms all over the property. That’s when our home and garden hygiene got reduced to bleach, buckets, and a hose. When backsides start exploding, we start hosing, but I know it just spreads the nematodes and bacteria over a wider surface, increasing their Darwinian odds. I do it anyway. As I drag the hose around, making sure the whipworms are well hydrated, I tell myself not to be speciesist. Why do I love Border Collies and not Giardia lamblia? It’s not their fault they’re microscopic.

I like big paws, and I cannot lie.

I like big paws, and I cannot lie.

Gilly was a large Australian Shepherd mix with the largest paws I have ever seen. She’d been a breeding bitch in a puppy mill, then she’d been confiscated and dumped in a shelter with her latest litter of puppies, who were taken from her, as puppies always are.

After a overnight journey from Alabama, she found herself in my car. She pressed herself against my leg, and stuck close in the house. With those disproportionate paws, she looked like a panda bear. Whenever she wasn’t pressed against me, she was on the bed in my office and with her back to the room, her forehead against the wall. Unless pried from this position for food, hugs, and walks, this was how Gilly spent her weeks with us.

The only time I ever saw Gilly-Bear light up was the first time my stepdaughter Carla came to visit with her yorkie-poo, Spiffy. Gilly had mistaken him for a puppy.

One of her first nights with us, at around 2:30 AM, I heard Gilly pacing. First I thought, Uh-oh, I better run her outside, and then I thought, If I lie still, maybe we’ll all fall back to sleep. Then came unmistakable rumbling and splattering. Alby leapt up, cussed, and dragged her outside. I grabbed wads of toilet paper, squatted, gagged, and did my best to contain the wobbling gelatinous heap of crappuccino steaming and slowly sinking into the rug without adding my dinner to it.

Alby marched in with a whisk broom and dust pan.

“No!” I cried, “this is why I bought the carpet shampooer!” but I was too late. He scraped up the largest portion of poo stew, and I made a mental note to buy a new whisk broom.

I was half-asleep dabbing toilet paper against the stinking carpet swamp in our bedroom when Alby stood over me. He threatened to lock Gilly in the garage. He threatened to tie her in the yard.

Gilly and I meeting for the first time.

Gilly and I meeting for the first time.

I threatened to divorce him. “She’s sick. She can’t help it.”

“I don’t care,” he said. “This is our last foster.”

Somehow, this very real, middle-of-the-night, marital and intestinal disaster is made all the more poignant when you realize that Alby and I both, at that hour, on that night, were completely naked.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “We won’t interrupt your precious sleep again. Gilly and I are sleeping in the guest room.” I figured Gilly and I were getting the better deal–the guest room smelled a lot better. As the clock turned 3 AM, however, I filled the shampooer and dragged it back and forth over the muck so the bedroom would be clean for my husband, at whom I was still flamingly angry for his deal-breaking lack of compassion. I even considered moving into a motel with Mick and The Diarrhea Dog. Then I remembered motel rooms tend to be carpeted too.

In the morning, the carpet was clean and our tempers had cooled. Within a few weeks, we could laugh about it. Over the months, though, a large, ghostly brown bloom appeared and disappeared on the carpet, depending on whether the weather was favorable to bacteria.

Mick has better things to do than worry about the fosters.

Mick has better things to do than worry about the fosters.

Other than the diarrhea, which had been caused by a parasite quickly cured, Gilly was easy to keep. Too easy. It was sad and creepy. She spent her days thrown among the throw pillows with her face pressed to the wall, missing her puppies and afraid of a world that wasn’t a puppy mill. The few times she played with Mick we practically threw a parade. We’d forget all about her until she’d approach me slowly, rise up on her hind legs, and drape her body, massive paws and all, across my lap, pressing herself against me. “It’s okay now,” I’d say.

“Who’s going to want a screwed up dog like this?” Alby’d say, afraid we’d never get rid of her. What people who don’t foster don’t think of is that dogs, like people, have different personalities. Some you click with. Some you just don’t get. Sometimes when one goes, Alby’s crying and I’m clapping, sometimes it’s the other way around. The important thing about Alby, I’ve come to realize, is that he not only puts up with my wild kingdom, he cleans it, he cuddles it, he tears out carpet and orders tile, he cares.

Alby give Gilly a private course in Pool Safety

Alby gives Gilly, and all our fosters, a private Pool Safety course.

“Gilly’s coming around,” I’d say. “Just because she’s not the right dog for us, doesn’t mean she isn’t the right dog for someone.” And she eventually found a forever family who loves her just the way she is.

So now, today, I’m hosing off the lawn for Skye, and I have to say, I have learned to respect the lowly parasite. They really know how to colonize a patch of dirt. I could lock Skye in the garage. I could could tie her in the yard. I could run around out here yelling, wearing rubber gloves and a face mask, cut away divots of contaminated dirt, drop them in a rented hazmat container, and set the yard on fire.

My yard will never be safe again. It probably never was. I handle money, don’t I? I ride horses. What could be more dangerous than driving US 19?  The secret to life on Earth, I think, is resilience. Eat right, sleep well, make nice, and throw away your hand sanitizer.

Today, however, I think I’ll drink more coffee, scroll through Pinterest looking at other people’s bromeliad gardens, and check Craig’s List for a good blow torch.

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