The canines named below are not fictional!
WONDERDOG'S TENNIS BALL
A True Story (believe it or not)
When our beloved family senior dog finally crossed the rainbow bridge in the vet’s office, I knew he was gone forever…or so I thought. I was wrong. He miraculously, unbelievably, came back! To start at the beginning…
Baron was our Wonder Dog, a combination of Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, and all the canine perfection that could be packed into a mostly lab pound puppy. I’d driven past the animal shelter on the way to buy groceries, and fallen in love with the black-haired, brown-eyed pup. My husband and four-year-old son brought him home the same day, much to the delight of our diapered daughter, and two other dogs.
Baron became a member of the family who continued to amaze us all. As he and the kids grew older, he acted on stage with my budding actress daughter, competed in dog agility contests for my son, and happily went aboard our boat to cruise the Pacific and bark at the dolphins. Yes, he caught the bad guy who tried to break into our house, and even chased away the thieves who tried to break into our neighbor’s. He jumped on the trampoline with the children, swam with us in our pool or at the lake, and everyone who knew him--friends, family, strangers off the street--fell in love with his big heart. I proudly put him on one of my book covers. He was that special.
Yes, Baron was the perfect pet except for two things. One, he hated the old UPS trucks with the high-pitched ear-splitting whine of their fiberglass roofs, and two--he grew old. I remember the first time a stranger knocked at the door and he didn’t play sentry. The four of us looked at him, and I said, "Baron, go see!" He politely wagged his tail, watched to make certain our other two dogs followed the precise procedure he’d taught them, then lay his head back down. We got the message. Baron had retired.
But he was still our Wonder Dog, the favorite among all the abused, abandoned and pathetic animals we rescued. Dogs, horses, cats, birds, guinea pigs, even chinchillas; we had them all. But no one could equal Baron’s loving popularity throughout the years—and time does march on. When I knew the day had come to end his old-age suffering and sadly told him we were taking him to the vet, I was shocked to see huge tears fall from those big brown eyes. I had never before, or ever since, seen a dog cry.
Baron didn’t come home, and the four of us went into mourning. Deep mourning. The other animals were no consolation. If one of us called Baron out of habit, or the kids forgot and filled his food bowl, we all fell apart. The children stayed home from school. I ignored the home office. My Navy husband bit the bullet and went to work. We couldn’t eat. We couldn’t function. I placed his favorite toys, the five tennis balls he would never share with the pack, as a memorial on the fireplace mantle. My breaking heart knew our Baron was never coming home. Guess what? He did.
I started seeing him about the house, lying in his favorite places! I thought I was definitely losing my marbles until I heard the same from my now 11-year old daughter. She was especially hit hard, for she had no memory of life without Baron like the rest of us. When she came to me, she didn’t know whether to be frightened or not of “the dearly departed.” When you’re a kid, ghosts—even fake ones--can be scary. But what about when it’s not Halloween, and the ghost is real?
I was definitely out of my element here, but somehow, I knew what to say—the truth. "I’ve seen him too, sweetheart. Baron knows we aren’t ready to let him go," I told her. “So he’s staying with us until we are. Don’t be scared." She soon felt comforted by his presence. I did, too. If my husband or son saw him, they never said, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to bring it up. Neither did my daughter.
She and I continued to see Baron resting but watchful, as he’d spent his elderly years, all throughout the house. He never appeared when we deliberately looked for him, but only during those times when we’d slipped back into our old "with Baron" lifestyle. Like watching me fold laundry, or keeping my daughter company when she did homework. He appeared as solid, as lifelike as ever. Only when we tried to go near him, or our other dogs entered the room, would he vanish...only to reappear later.
Months went by. The tears started to dry somewhat, yet our phantom dog remained. I finally suggested to the family that we get another lab—a living lab--to replace Baron. My daughter broke into tears. “No labs!” she insisted. I suggested, "How about another breed? A small dog?"
She thought it over, and agreed, but only if she could make the final choice. The next weekend we planned to visit the shelters and find a third dog to add to our menagerie. The search lasted weeks, not a weekend. My son, now 14, gave up and refused to come along anymore. My husband swore a two-county search was enough. We weren’t hitting a third. I told my daughter this is the last day we look, then that’s it. Maybe my grieving little girl just wasn’t ready yet.
At a no-kill shelter many miles from our home, she finally found “my dog.” At least, a sad shadow of a dog. Tivvy the terrier had belonged to a woman whose boyfriend had beaten the little thing, left her with broken ribs and tail, then thrown her into the ocean to drown. The woman had bravely rescued her pet--at great peril to her own safety—from both the ocean and the man who abused her, as well.
When this pathetic excuse for a human being forced her to choose between him and her pet, she left Tivvy at the no-kill shelter, along with five handwritten pages telling us every little thing about her beloved dog, and the whole ugly story about why she had to give her up. Those pages were heartbreaking. She begged Tivvy’s new family to please keep her safe, and to love her very, very much.
By now, Tivvy was traumatized and terrified of people, especially men, and spent her shelter life shivering in the farthest corner behind the glass viewing wall of her enclosure. She had a pot belly and atrophied muscles from no exercise, and smelled from urinating all over herself in fear whenever anyone approached. No one had been able to make any connection with her.
My daughter swore Tivvy was “the one.” My husband and I tried to talk her out of it. The shelter woman regretfully informed her the terrier had been spoken for and the new owners were already coming to pick her up. My daughter broke into tears and pleaded, “At least let me hold her.”
The sympathetic shelter worker went to get the dog. My husband gave me the "No way!" look. My daughter begged me to, “Do something, Mom!” about the new adopters. When I didn’t answer, she sunk to the floor cross-legged and cried even harder.
Here came Tivvy, resisting the leash. Shivering and terrified, she defecated all over the carpet, and without squatting, wet herself again, urine dripping down the insides of her shaking legs. Then, to the worker’s surprise, Tivvy unexpectedly yanked the leash free and ran straight into my daughter’s arms; such a total opposite of Baron that even I couldn’t find anything appealing about the poor, pitiful beast.
Dog in her lap, my daughter hugged Tivvy close and sobbed, "Please, Mom, she loves me! Can’t I have her?" I knew what was coming. Three pairs of eyes--spouse, shelter worker, and my child--looked toward me for the deciding vote. No one wanted to be the villain in this piece.
Well, I am a mother, after all, and I’d walk over hot coals for my kids. I spoke directly to the shelter woman. "You know, I’m a writer and I work at home. This little animal obviously needs around the clock care and attention. She’ll definitely get it from us."
The shelter lady nodded her agreement. My husband heaved a heavy sigh. My daughter squealed with joy; startling poor Tivvy who peed some more, all over my daughter’s jeans. Tivvy’s scheduled adopters went home with another dog. It seemed it was meant to be...but no one except my daughter seemed happy about it. Not even Tivvy.
Tivvy’s first four months with us were a nightmare. She lived, slept, ate, peed and pooped under my daughter’s bed, only coming out for brief visits when I coaxed her with food, or when my daughter came home from school. She was afraid of everything and everyone. My son, another big-hearted animal lover, couldn’t believe that Tivvy feared him as well.
"She’s no Baron," he said sadly. Everyone agreed, except our daughter. "She’s perfect! She just needs time." She walked her and bathed her (many, many times) and cuddled her whenever she could get Tivvy out of hiding. All this time, my phantom Baron continued to appear to me when I missed him the most, especially when Tivvy rejected us. Again. And again. And again.
Then one day, something happened. The light dawned in this poor little terrier’s head. She wasn’t in hell anymore! She had nothing to fear! And soon, things began to change. Tivvy became my daughter's loving shadow. She stopped cringing around me and my son and husband, and began to join our other two males in play: Oscar Mayer Weiner, a small dachshund mix rescued from a Tijuana, Mexico alley, and Striker, our German Shepherd. Tivvy made friends with Taja, the abandoned stray kitten my daughter had brought home a few months earlier. Tivvy even learned to use the dog door and relieve herself outside, much to everyone’s olfactory relief.
She still ran and hid at every strange noise or movement, but slowly her true personality began to emerge. The atmosphere lightened up, and another dog joined the party. Without asking, my son decided to bring home a Baron Jr. after all, another unwanted black lab puppy mix. So we named him Buddy and welcomed him to the family. The children were happy. My husband was happy that our children were happy. But I still mourned my Baron who, now that my daughter had a new companion, continued to keep only me company.
I’d been the first one to see him as a little puppy, and I’d been the one to send him to the vet on that last day. Unlike anyone else, I’d spent 24-7 with Baron for 13 years. He was my faithful office buddy; always there under my desk when I was writing. I couldn’t let him go. Face it, the two new dogs Tivvy and Buddy had attached themselves to the kids. Striker definitely favored my husband. I didn’t exist when my spouse was home. Oscar, our wary Mexican street dog, refused to be cuddled. Lying a cautious distance away from me on the couch was usually as good as it got.
I looked at Baron’s row of tennis balls on the mantle, the only things he ever refused to share with the pack, and held one gently in my hand. Even with Baron dead, I wouldn’t let the other dogs touch his toys. They were holy relics. But should they be?
Sadly, I picked one up and tossed it down the long empty hall, just as I’d done hundreds of times for Baron. Suddenly, Tivvy popped up from underneath the couch and chased it with unrestrained joy. She actually brought it back to me! I couldn’t believe it! Shocked, I held the ball in my hands, and she barked, urging me on. She’d never barked once before, this silent, timid, frightened little dog, yet she was barking with eagerness now. I threw the ball once more, then over and over again.
She retrieved it until she was breathless, then hopped into my lap, ball in mouth, and actually let me cuddle her. Another first! My daughter said that was the moment Tivvy decided to join the family. She was right. Tivvy began to generously share herself and her love with us all.
I never saw Baron again after that day with Tivvy and his old green tennis ball. Our loyal canine friend finally went to whatever reward The Creator has in wait. I know it’ll be a good one. Baron chose to stay until Tivvy showed it was time to go. I finally said good-bye to him, a very hard thing to do. After all, he was an incredibly loyal dog who, even in death, chose to stay and comfort his family instead of taking the peaceful rest he so truly deserved.
Today, every time a UPS truck drives up and the other dogs go berserk, I smile, for Baron passed on that canine vice. Even now, I marvel that Baron pulled off his spirit-dog trick. Hard to believe…
But then, he was--and always will be--our Wonder Dog.
P.S. Tivvy’s former owner kept in touch with the shelter. I pray she finally found the strength to leave her abuser, and was comforted with the knowledge that, thanks to her fierce courage and selfless devotion, her beloved dog didn’t drown, healed physically and emotionally, and found a good home. Tivvy was dearly loved by us for 19 years, especially by my daughter. And yes, some people think I’ve stretched the truth about Baron. After all, they say suspiciously, I am a fiction writer...but I stand by my story. When questioned, Tivvy, who lived in a house with my phantom friend, always remained silent. YOU decide.
(SEE TIVVY ON THE APRIL PAGE OF THE CALENDAR)