Monday, May 25, 2009


Carolyn Haines

Animals play a big role in my life. They are friends, family, companions, a source of major activity, and the source of major expenditures. Because Alabama doesn’t have effective spaing/neutering laws, my animal count had risen to a precarious 21: 7 horses, 6 dogs, and 8 cats. Almost all of them are strays or rescue.
I’ve had cats and dogs all of my life, and I’ve never been in the position where I couldn’t impress on them the need to get along. A lot of people don’t believe cats and dogs can be compatible, but I’ve never found that to be true. But the quandary I found myself in for the last two years was two dogs that hated each other.
This is the story of Rosie and Zelda, once the best of friends and, finally, enemies to the near-death.
Zelda is a husky or a malamute, I’m not sure which. She’s a beautiful dog with an attention issue. She came to me as a stray, and she’s full of zany energy and hears only what she chooses.
Rosie was a rambling dog, maybe some pit and lab or retriever, that lived on my road, sort of. She dropped seven puppies on a neighbor and abandoned them. In fact, she didn’t like them at all. So when she showed up in my yard one day and wanted to play with Zelda, I didn’t see the harm. At that time, I had a red tic hound, Sweetie Pie, who had diabetes and other health issues (sweetest dog ever born) and Maybelline, a tall beagle (the best dog ever born). Zelda drove them nuts with her barking, yodeling, and demand for attention and action. Rosie was a perfect playmate. The neighbors, who were saddled with the puppies, were happy to give her to me. They knew I would provide proper medical care and loads of love.
The next three years passed without serious incident, until one day I went to the barn to feed the horses and left Rosie and Zelda in the back yard. Somehow, a fight started at the gate. I’d never seen such viciousness, and I’ve been around a lot of dogs. Zelda was greatly outmatched in size and jaw-power, but once I broke up the fight, she wasn’t one to let it go. They tied up again.
And the pattern was set.
Over the next two years, I brought in dog trainers and worked with the dogs using a number of different tactics. Whenever Rosie got a chance, she jumped Zelda and her intent was to kill her. Zelda, who is fast as greased lightning, wouldn’t run away. She always took up Rosie’s challenge, and she always got hurt.
I began to shut Rosie in one bedroom in the evenings and Zelda in another bedroom in the mornings. They could not be left out together, not even with supervision.
Maybelline (who is on the cover of CROSSED BONES) lived to be 17, and Sweetie Pie, who is the star dog of the Bones books, lived to be nearly 14. They both passed away, and I’d acquired a new pack of Katrina strays. Lucille is an elegant hound, Buster is a nub-tailed heeler/cur/roddie kind of dog, Leto is a black lab, and Goblin is…well, a goblin. Rosie got along swimmingly with these dogs. But if she saw Zelda, she would jump her.
Whenever I had to go to a book event or leave town, I lived in dread that the pet sitter would forget and leave a door open. Or that one day I’d rush out of the house to go to the barn for something and leave a door not closed firmly. While I adjusted to the tension, I kept looking for a better solution.
I wanted to find a good home for either Rosie or Zelda. But that is not an easy task to accomplish in a country where dogs and cats are too often treated like garbage and tossed to the side of the road whenever they become the slightest inconvenience. Why would someone want a problem dog when they could get a brand new puppy?
My ace in the hole was a wonderful friend, Sarah Bewley, who had visited my home and fallen in love with Rosie. The problem was that Sarah’s landlord didn’t allow dogs.
This past January, after months of balancing this circus, I accidentally let Zelda into the backyard while Rosie was still there. By the time I got the fight broken up, Zelda needed eight stitches, and she was traumatized. As was I.
I called Sarah and begged her to talk with her landlord. And finally, due to extenuating circumstances, he agreed.
This past Mother’s Day, Rosie left with Sarah. She has gone to Gainesville, to live as an only dog in a household where she will have only love and attention. And two humans all her own.
Giving her away was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but I am so lucky to have found the perfect home for her. And a human with a temperament so well suited to taking on the task of a large dog with an aggression issue. There is a heart of calmness in Sarah which I think will sooth Rosie.
I have no idea what happened to create such animosity between the two dogs. The trainers I worked with could shed no light on the issue. But I do know that whatever it was, it was personal between the two of them. And in all the times I jumped into the middle of a dogfight that was terribly vicious, not one single time did either dog attempt to bite me or harm me in any way. If I had to use my fingers to pry Rosie’s mouth open, she never even hinted that she wanted to harm me. Her ire was reserved strictly for Zelda.
I can’t begin to tell you how lucky I feel that I could find the right home for Rosie, and that Sarah and Pat would take her. That I managed, for nearly three years, to avoid a deadly tragedy. That I never gave up on either dog.
This is not the happy ending that I envisioned for my two dogs. I had thought we would remain, until death, a pack. But Rosie has a new pack now. And the tension and potential for violence is gone from my home, though Zelda is plenty capable of stirring up trouble. She is a demanding spirit.
Only once before have I given up a dog that lived with me for any length of time. Maynard the Dobie went to live with the Datillos when I was forced to move into an apartment. Maynard had a wonderful life and lived to a ripe old age with a family with a large yard, cats, and a rabbit who was his best friend.
It is a hard thing, to let go. It’s a lesson I have to learn again and again, I’m afraid. But thank goodness that I have Rosie and Maynard to look back on. This is the happy ending that we don’t always get.


Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

Carolyn, bless your heart that was a wonderful yet sad story. We do get attached to our canine children don't we?

Mindy said...

Bless you for your kindness to animals. I had a similar issue with my dog, who is husky/shepherd mix--adopted from the shelter-- and wouldn't tolerate a male stray [pit/beagle mix] we fostered [after a few days of play]. Had to find a good home for the stray after a squabble between them that scared me.You did the right thing.