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 have had in our home. Lily is tiny. She is black with a white chest and a white dot on her back. She is cute, sweet, smart and funny. She chases after her big sister, Mayzie, who is getting used to having a baby sister. Lily has adapted well to her new home and even likes her crate, which is a new one for us. She hasn’t mastered the concept of doing her business outside, but she is small and her bladder is little as well.
Between bouts of 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 classes. During one of those down times, as I admired how adorable she was and thought how glad I was to have her bring some joy into our pandemic gloominess, Facebook notified me of a message.
I saw the sender’s name and knew what the message was going to be.
Eleven years ago, with our breeder’s permission, we bred Spray, our second PWD. Spray was white with a black patch over one eye and a black rump. More importantly, my husband Matt considered her to be the best dog in the world. She had 10 puppies that my then-high school daughters gave Disney names to, except for Map, whom I named for the markings on his back.
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We watched Spray deliver her puppies on the gray rug in our overheated extra room, nurse them and then jump on the couch when she was ready to wean them. We raised them for nine weeks until we knew they were ready for their forever homes. Making sure they were matched well with their new families was the most challenging part. We owed it to Spray and the pups to find loving and responsible homes for them. We did a good job.
We didn’t know when we had this adventure that our worlds would be forever enlarged. We became friends with almost all of the puppies’ families. We had puppy reunions the first two years and visited with the puppies during their later years. Jackson, Teddy and Ezzie were even in the same play group. Henry and Zazu crossed paths in Boston’s South End.
But not every story has a happy ending. Ezzie, the puppy we kept from Spray’s litter, died at four, breaking 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 mom and siblings to romp together. The tears came before I could check them. Every time one of Spray’s puppies dies, I grieve. How could I not? Zazu was a gentle giant. He looked the most like his dad, Brady. A regal dog, he stood tall, with a black body and a what looked like a white scarf around his neck.
Zazu had just celebrated his 11th birthday. The celebratory photograph of him on his birthday was now one of many telling his life’s story. He brought his forever mom such happiness, and I knew from the messages I was seeing on Facebook that her friends loved him as well. Now was the sad part we all dread. There is nothing anyone can do to make it better. You miss your friend. It’s just sad.
My daughters and I sat with Map’s forever mom in the vet’s hospital room when it was time for Map to leave us. Just that morning, they had visited us, and Map had leapt up to say hi to me. Most of these dogs went fast. Healthy one day, gone days later, leaving us all breathless.
As long as some of the puppies are alive, this adventure we took on as a family and the connections we made with their families are still alive. The year of the puppies was a pivotal year for us. It was also my older daughter’s last year at home before college. I didn’t want it to be over then, and still don’t. With the passing of each dog, that 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 a close. With the puppies still out in the world as eight-, nine-, 10- and 11-year-olds, the adventure was alive and, in a way, kept my daughters at home with me. That college-bound daughter? She’s now married and lives in LA. I haven’t seen her or my son-in-law in a year because of the pandemic.
Each time we bring a dog into our lives, we know that with time, we will have to say good-bye. Yet, we still do it. We’ve done it five times. After Spray died at 11, my husband and I briefly moved to Hawaii, bringing Mayzie with us. Upon our return to Cambridge, Matt peppered me with requests for a puppy. I said no. I didn’t want the work, the mess, the heartache. We had Mayzie.
But with so much gloom and doom around us, we needed some joy. So I found a breeder through Henry’s parents, and recently, we brought Lily home. She has created havoc in our life. We are often up in the middle of the night to take her out. We clean the carpet and floors constantly. We try to keep her on a leash in the house, but that’s easier said than done. I’ve even stood in the rain hoping Lily will figure out that she should pee and poop outside. When she does, we give her a potty party. Anyone who has loved a dog will stand in the rain for their dog because their dog will stand in the rain for them.
Lily makes us laugh when so much of the news makes us sad. She contorts her body, chews on her toys and my husband’s nose, chases Mayzie and snuggles next to my younger daughter to watch TV. We’re encouraged to see that Mayzie is beginning to play with Lily and see 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 can’t replace children, and their life trajectory is different. My relationships with my daughters continue to evolve as we age; what we expect from one another changes. Now, we are friends as well as family. Puppies may grow into dogs, but dogs are always dogs. Your basic relationship with them stays the same.
I have a painting of all 10 puppies sitting at the top of our porch stairs looking out, ready to take on the world. Lily is now ready for that adventure.
Maybe Zazu’s spunky spirit is entering Lily. Maybe we all need some of that spirit.