My husband, 25 year old daughter, and I recently added eight pounds of chaos to our family. Lily is our fifth Portuguese Water Dog (PWD) but the 15th puppy we had in our house. Lily is tiny. It is black with a white chest and a white point on the back. She is sweet, sweet, smart and funny. She chases after her big sister Mayzie, who gets used to having a little sister. Lily has adapted well to her new home and even likes her box, which is new to us. She hasn’t mastered the concept of doing her business outside, but she is small and her bubble is small too.
Between running around in circles, chewing on toys or furniture, and trying to get six-year-old Mayzie to chase her, Lily sleeps in my office while I work on my class. During one of those downtimes, when I was admiring how adorable she was and thinking how glad I was that she brought some joy to our pandemic gloom, Facebook notified me of a message.
I saw the sender’s name and knew what the message would be.
Eleven years ago, with the permission of our breeder, we bred Spray, our second PWD. The spray was white with a black spot over one eye and a black rump. More importantly, my husband Matt considered her the best dog in the world. She had 10 pups that my then high school daughters named Disney names, with the exception of Map, which I named after the markings on his back.
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We watched Spray deliver her pups on the gray carpet in our overheated extra room, groom them, and then jump on the couch when she was ready to wean them. We raised them for nine weeks before we knew they were ready for their eternal homes. The biggest challenge was making sure they were a good fit with their new families. We owed it to Spray and the puppies to find a loving and responsible home for them. We did a good job.
We didn’t know when we had this adventure that our worlds would be expanded forever. We have made friends with almost all puppy families. We had puppy meetings for the first two years and visited them with the puppies in the later years. Jackson, Teddy, and Ezzie were even in the same playgroup. Henry and Zazu crossed paths in the South End of Boston.
But not every story has a happy ending. Ezzie, the puppy we kept away from Spray’s litter, died at four and broke our hearts. Since then Teddy, Map, Henry, Nauset, Charlie and Spray have left us.
The message from Facebook told me that Zazu had joined his mother and siblings to romp together. The tears came before I could examine them. Every time one of Sprays puppies dies, I grieve. How could I not? Zazu was a gentle giant. He looked most like his father Brady. As a royal dog, he was tall with a black body and a white scarf around his neck.
Zazu had just celebrated his 11th birthday. The solemn photo of him on his birthday was now one of many that told his life story. He brought so much happiness to his eternal mother and I knew from the messages I saw on Facebook that her friends loved him too. Now was the sad part that we all fear. There is nothing that anyone can do to make it better. You miss your boyfriend. It’s just sad.
My daughters and I were sitting in the veterinarian’s room with Maps eternal mother when it was time for Map to leave. They had only visited us that morning, and Map had jumped up to say hello to me. Most of these dogs walked quickly. One day healthy, days later gone and we are all breathless.
As long as some of the pups are alive, this adventure we went on as a family and the connections we made with their families are still alive. The year of the puppies was a crucial one for us. It was also my older daughter’s final year at home before college. I didn’t want it to be over then and still don’t. With the death of every dog this year seems further and further away as my daughters get older and live their lives away from me.
The adventure we had as a family is coming to an end. Since the pups were still born when they were eight, nine, ten and eleven, the adventure was alive and in a way kept my daughters at home. That college daughter? She is now married and lives in LA. I haven’t seen her or my son-in-law in a year because of the pandemic.
Every time we bring a dog into our life, we know that in time we will have to say goodbye. Even so, we’re still doing it. We did it five times. After Spray died at age 11, my husband and I moved to Hawaii briefly and brought Mayzie with us. Upon our return to Cambridge, Matt showered me with requests for a puppy. I said no. I didn’t want the work, the mess, the grief. We had Mayzie.
But with so much darkness around us, we needed some joy. So I found a breeder through Henry’s parents and we recently brought Lily home. It created chaos in our lives. We are often up in the middle of the night to take them out. We keep cleaning the carpet and floors. We try to keep her on a leash around the house, but that’s easier said than done. I even stood in the rain hoping Lily would find out she should pee and poop outside. If she does, we’ll give her a potty party. Anyone who has loved a dog will stand in the rain for their dog because their dog stands in the rain for them.
Lily makes us laugh when so much news makes us sad. She contorts her body, chewing on her toys and my husband’s nose, chasing Mayzie, and snuggling up next to my younger daughter to watch TV. We’re encouraged to see Mayzie start playing with Lily and seeing her as a good addition to the family, not just a pain.
Dogs bring us joy, are our companions when we are lonely, make us laugh, exhaust us and make us cry. Dogs cannot replace children and their life path is different. My relationships with my daughters continue to develop as we get older. What we expect from each other is changing. Now we are both friends and family. Puppies can grow into dogs, but dogs are always dogs. Your basic relationship with them remains the same.
I have a painting of all 10 puppies sitting on top of our porch stairs looking outside and ready to take on the world. Lily is now ready for this adventure.
Perhaps Zazu’s spunky ghost is invading Lily. Maybe we all need some of this spirit.