LET INGA TELL YOU:
When Olof and I were asked to be dog foster parents a year and a half ago, we were clear to the rescue agency that we were not going to have another permanent dog. We had been utterly flattened for months after the sudden death of our English bulldog, Winston. He was a total pain, but we really loved him.
Like most bulldogs, Winston had no end of health problems — severe allergies, breathing issues, constant ear infections, seizures, etc. In fact, our vet said that when she was in veterinary school, they had a bumper sticker that read, "Buy a bulldog. Support a vet." Before Winston died of a heart attack in our living room, we had invested more than $10,000 in him.
Even after two years, we still feel his loss tremendously. I especially miss Olof's and Winston's "chats," Winston in rapt attention as Olof translated Winston's end of the conversation. As they watched baseball together one night, I remember Olof's voice from the other room: "The hell you say, Winston! That guy was OUT!"
Dogs, even sick ones, give you the relationships you can only dream of having with people. For example, they would never roll their eyes at you, especially knowing how totally annoyed it makes you.
As the Fourth of July weekend approached in 2016, we were contacted by a local rescue agency desperate for temporary homes for the glut of dogs that end up in shelters that time of year. In retrospect, that rescue agency recognized mushballs when they saw them. We might as well have been wearing T-shirts that read "Will fall in love with any dog no matter how unsuitable."
"How soon do you need us to take a dog?" I inquired of the rescue lady on the phone. (Did we really want to do this?) She replied: "Um, actually, I'm on my way to your house."
And 20 minutes later, there was Lily.
You never know what shelter dogs have been through, but our first hint was when Lily attacked Olof and began tearing his pant leg. It became abundantly clear that Lily had not had good experiences with men. Eager to protect his wardrobe, not to mention his limbs, Olof showered the wary Lily with kindness. The fifth morning she was here, he woke up abruptly to find a tongue in his ear. ("And it's not even Wednesday!" he recalls thinking.) It was Lily, ready to be friends.
Lily had been relinquished to the County shelter ostensibly because of her thoroughly rotten teeth and infected gums. Seriously, this dog's breath was a 9 on the "ickter" scale. The County's medical in-take report was all of four words: "Nice dog. Terrible teeth."
We also discovered pretty quickly that Lily, like Winston, was allergic to our grass. A 7-year-old bichon-poodle mix, she was what Olof called a "foo-foo" dog. Olof was absolutely not interested in a pet that required regular professional grooming. A selectively-hostile, chronically allergic, high-maintenance dog with bad teeth was definitely not the forever dog for us. Of course, we had no plans for another forever dog anyway.
But Lily had other ideas. Three weeks into Lily's foster stay with us, I wandered into our bedroom to find Olof propped up in bed watching some sporting event with Lily sound asleep on his chest — not a sports fan, this animal — his arms wrapped protectively around her. "This dog, he said quietly, "is not going anywhere."
I informed our vet that we were adopting another allergy-afflicted dog that also had serious dental issues and that she could go ahead and put down the deposit on that Mercedes.
It's been a year and a half since we adopted Lily. Her mouth cost us $1,500. She gets an allergy shot every month that really keeps her itching down. A groomer gives her a trim-and-fluff every four weeks.
We also quickly discovered that if she was introduced in a controlled environment to male persons, preferably ones bearing liver treats, she was their new best friend. She just needed to know they weren't going to kick her. The exception was the lawn guy with his leaf blower. No amount of liver treats were going to overcome loud power tools.
Now that her mouth is fixed and she can eat without pain, we really have to watch her weight. Lily will eat as much food as comes her way, then throw it all up on our duvet. It's as much a laundry issue as a weight issue to control her intake.
Two years ago, we were absolutely clear we didn't want another dog. But now we can't imagine life without Lily. She's definitely not Winston, but she's Lily, and she's brought such joy into our household. Last Christmas Olof sent a hefty donation to the rescue organization with this note: "Thank you for letting Lily keep us."
— Inga's lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org