There were three boys and one girl in the litter of Schnauzer puppies Chuck and I were interested in. Actually, we were interested in adopting the girl, but we hadn’t seen the litter yet. I spoke with the woman on the phone and she seemed in a hurry to adopt these pups out. “My brother-in-law is being a pain; it’s just not a good situation here, so I want these pups to go to good homes as soon as possible.”
Long story short, I checked out the litter, met the Miniature Schnauzer parents — the female was black, while the male was salt and pepper — and on Election Day 2008 (Obama would be our new president), I took “Mittens” home to meet Chuck and our other two dogs. She had earned the name by her white-tipped front paws. We renamed her Maggie, but the paperwork we sent to the United Kennel Club (UKC) was “Smitten with Maggie’s Mittens.”
Our first meeting
Over the years there have been a handful of instances where Maggie would run off and hide in a secluded spot in our backyard. The first time was about four years ago. I didn’t realize she was missing until after my friend Jim left. I panicked, thinking perhaps she had gotten out. I called Chuck, and he came home from work. While I was starting to look up and down the street for Maggie, Chuck called me from inside the house and said he had found her hiding in her little “fort” out back.
It happened again less than a year later, while Chuck’s nephew Chris and his wife Angie were visiting. This time we knew right where to find her. What bothered us was that she was shivering nervously in her fort and we had to physically bring her back in.
We weren’t sure what to make of it; the only common denominator was that my friend Jim and our nephew Chris were both somewhat loud, and had similar inflections in their speech. But these men were gentle and respectful of all of our dogs, so what was the issue?
Then it dawned on me. I thought about her previous owner and how there was mention of a difficult brother-in-law. Could that brother-in-law have possessed the same boisterousness and speech pattern as Jim and Chris? More importantly, had he been abusive to the dogs in that house and/or the people? Was there just a lot of negative energy in that household, all stemming from that individual’s actions and words?
I would never know, as I had not been in touch with Maggie’s previous owner for years. Part of me didn’t want to know. What I did know was that whatever was triggering Maggie’s small panic attacks and reclusion needed monitoring and remedying, whether it be anxiety meds or simply assuring her that no one was going to harm her.
Chris and Angie live in Arizona and don’t make it out to San Diego very often, but Jim is a frequent guest. Now when he comes to the house he makes a point to pet and maybe hold Maggie, speaking to her gently at first, just to put her at ease. Once Jim and I get to laughing I check to see that Maggie is still with us, and she usually is. If she disappears I usually know where to find her. Do we walk on eggshells after that? Not really; we just give her some gentle, reassuring strokes and continue our conversation and laughter.
A friend of mine, after hearing about Maggie’s issues and my speculation as to why, asked, “Animals really remember that stuff?”
“I’m almost certain that they do.”
I am all about rescue dogs these days, but back when I was purchasing Maggie from a litter, that wasn’t the case — or so I thought. As it turns out I probably was rescuing this puppy from a difficult, and possibly dangerous situation. All I can hope for is that her litter mates met the same good fortune as she, settling into loving homes where there was no fear of verbal or physical abuse, and where positive energy permeates their environment.
Shouldn’t that be what Home is about, for all of us?