“Adrienne, come see!” I burst through the door, barely a minute since leaving to pick the kids up from school. In my arms I held a dirty, burr covered, flea-infested little dog. “It’s Rover!” I shouted. I handed the dog to Adrienne, then went back to the car. Driving to the school, I replayed the story of Rover in my head.
Three years earlier, on the exact same day, the Thursday of the first week of school, Rover had first appeared at our door; along with a fancy black Pomeranian. Mac was in kindergarten, and we had just finished the first “carpet bombing,” of my cancer. I was given two months to recover before having surgery. Mac got out earlier than the girls. As we pulled up in front of our house, Mac yelled from the back seat, “Look at those little doggies! Can I pet them?”
Mac jumped out of the car and called to the little dogs. Both dogs were incredibly friendly; they licked his face and pawed at him for attention. “We should keep them!” he cried. I walked up the steps and joined in the canine meley. “I don’t know, buddy. I’m sure these are someone’s dogs.” Both appeared to be purebreds. The other dog was a light colored terrier. Her hair ranged in color from whisps of black to apricot to corn silk. I immediately fell for her.
Neither dog had tags or collars. They appeared to be well fed and taken care of. Mac opened the front door and the two dogs ran right in. “Adrienne! Come see!” he yelled from the entry way.
An hour later I returned to the school to pick up the girls. Coincidently, earlier in the week, Stella, (now a first grader), had been asked to draw a picture of her favorite pet. Even though the only pet we had was a cat, she drew a dog. She conjured them right to our front porch.
By the time we returned, Mac had named them, “Rover,” and “Cheese.” Later we would change the Pomeranian’s name to Roquefort and called him Rocky for short. But Rover was Rover and she still is.
Adrienne and I cautioned the children that these were obviously someone’s dogs and they wouldn’t be with us for long. We called the humane society. I drove around looking for signs. I never saw any. ”Are the dogs still at home?” the kids asked on Friday afternoon. Rocky would be at our house for a few weeks; Rover for four months.
We bought them collars; a fancy diamond pink one for Rocky and a blue argyle one for Rover. We settled into life with a cat and two dogs. Adrienne had never been a dog person; Rover changed that. Her calm energy was grounding. She seemed to exist to sit on your lap for long periods of time. The waiting for the surgery was not just time for me to recover physically, it was time for the radiation to continue to shrink my large tumor enough so that I could have a temporary colostomy. Although that was not to be, the long hours spent resting with Rover provided me a peace and contentment that was magical.
“I think Rover is pregnant,” I told Adrienne one day in September. “I thought the same,” she replied. As soon as those words were spoken, Rocky squeezed under the gate and disappeared. Good joke, huh? She starts showing and the dad splits.
Sadly, the next morning a call to the humane society confirmed that a black Pomeranian in a pink collar had been hit by a car nearly three miles from our house. We never told the kids.
I called Rover my, “Tumor abatement dog.” She followed me everywhere. Sure, I have had a dog, but not one like this. Soon, it was time to go to the hospital for my giant surgery.
Eight days later I returned home with a permanent colostomy. Even with the medication, recovery was slow and painful. On the afternoon I came home, I crawled into bed and Rover jumped up. After about an hour of her pawing me and me petting her, Adrienne said, “You know you can stop petting her and go to sleep.” I was so happy to be back with her and I felt she thought the same. Now we were just waiting for the puppies to be born.
Late one night, nine days after I had been released from the hospital, Rover frantically jumped on our bed. We heard peeping downstairs. She hadn’t been able to get the puppy up the stairs. We ran down to find a tiny sausage baby dog at the foot of the staircase. Adrienne stayed up to help Rover deliver the second puppy.
Only two! How easy was that? Quinn and Mac returned the next day around lunch. “There are four puppies!” Quinn exclaimed. Adrienne kept saying there were only two. Well, there were four. And a little while later, the fifth.
Five puppies: two had the coloring of Rover, two were black and white and the last pure black. The kids named them, Dino, Scout, Cow, ZuZu, and Junior. Two males and three females. And that night, October 30th, we had a giant Halloween party at our house. Amongst all the people, Rover lay in a little bed with her five babies. Later we would find out that she was only a year old. She was a good mama to all those babies.
Immediately we began putting the word out that we had puppies to give away. We knew we would keep one for ourselves. Everyone in the family had their favorite. I wanted Scout, Stella wanted Junior, but in the end it would be Adrienne’s choice of Cow that would become our second dog.
The puppies grew and poor Rover looked like the chuck wagon in those old commercials. She would come downstairs and all five puppies would chase her, trying to nurse. I went back to chemo. The house was chaotic. In the morning, Adrienne and I would argue over who would get up first and clean up all the poop and pee that six dogs could make. Yep, six. Rover had stopped going outside and just joined in the crap-fest. We began to get incredibly frustrated with her. Of course she would poop in the house; all those damn puppies were.
We began to find homes for the puppies. And then, the owner of Rover showed up.
I was upstairs when he knocked on our door. I heard, in a thick Spanish accent, “I think you have my dog.”
His wife joined him, showing us pictures of Rover on her phone. She had a name I can’t remember, something like, “Milla.” “Why didn’t you put up signs?” the wife asked. “She is your dog, why didn’t you put up signs?” They seemed angry that all but one of the puppies had been given away. Junior and Rover went home with them. I was sad, but the overwhelming nature of so many dogs was wearing on all of us; even the kids.
Finally we were left with just Cow. Although she still pooped in the house sometimes, life returned to as normal as could be with three kids, one dog, one cat, and six chickens. We had asked the owners to come by with Rover, “The kids would love to see her,” we said. Turns out they live on our block, on the same side of the street, only five houses down. They had seen Rover looking out the front window. Occasionally, they would walk by with another dog, but never with Rover. I began to dislike them.
When I saw Rover a week and a half ago, running down the sidewalk, I didn’t think before I grabbed her. This amazing dog was not going to get away from me again. And looking at the shape she was in, I knew I would fight for her if the owner showed up again.
He did knock on the door the first night she was back. We didn’t answer. He hasn’t been back.
I have thought a lot about this post. What is it about? I could go on and on about how beautiful Rover is. The hair from the top of her head grows down around her chin. I call her Jennifer Aniston sometimes because of her perfect haircut. She never barks. When you pet her she paws back, like she is petting you in return. She doesn’t madly lick my face, she gives little pecks with her tongue; and it doesn’t gross me out. Sure, this is a story about a dog. But it’s more than that.
It seems that the last three years of my life have been full of second chances. I just had another one a few weeks ago. The cancer grows, I think it’s the end, then the treatment works…again. Rover is like that. We both get a second chance with each other. Her amazing energy gets to be spent on me. I am so grateful for this little ten pound dog who sits here next to me snoozing while I type.