We are all excited about the passing of this winter in particular because of an ice storm that paralyzed us in many more ways than just the absence of electricity and the comforts of home. It came in December, before the first snow, but we are still talking about how it affected us. And so as I mentioned in an earlier report, the rigors brought on a kind of madness that sent me to see a litter of puppies, to supposedly choose one. Actually, I didn’t have a choice. There were only three in the litter and the other two were spoken for. Plus they were so young when I went to see her, she was nothing but a little sleeping ball of fur — about the size of a can of soup. I picked her up and held her to my chest and she just nestled back in and slept some more. So, in spite of all that is written about how one should pick one’s puppy to suit them, there really wasn’t a choice at all. In fact, how often do we truly get the pick of the litter?
I remember vividly my first best dog. My husband worked at a printing plant and one night, soon after we had moved to Vermont, he brought home a little puppy. He said there had been a box of puppies left at the time clock and he picked one up on his way out the door. It was unexpected but I was thrilled. She looked like a little bear cub so we named her Gorm, after a fictional character, a bear endowed with the powers of mind speech, from a favorite book called Hiero’s Journey. She turned out to be a combination of a basset hound and a golden retriever, truly a fantastic mix but hardly anything shaped like a bear. She was long and low, with the turned-out front paws of the basset and the beautiful golden coat and face of the retriever. When she wagged her long tail, her whole body swayed. I always called her “best dog,” because she was, but then, I have called all my dogs “best dog,” because, at the time, they always are. But there was no choice about Gorm. She just arrived.
In the same way came Dune, a terrier mix but that’s as far as I ever knew about her kind. I went to Block Island for the weekend one summer and a little boy came up to us on the beach. He had a puppy in each arm, one white and one black. He told us his mother had said that these puppies had to go before they left the island. They were on a sailboat. The puppies’ mother leapt at his side as he told us of his predicament. At first the answer was no, no thanks! But he persisted, a smooth little salesman, and so, after some thought, I chose the white one. Gorm was home, to be surprised with this new life on my return from the island. I came home on the ferry with the puppy tucked into the front pocket of my hooded sweatshirt and named her Dune for her origins on the beach as well as for a book of the same name that I’d worked on in my early editing career. And so it went. Gorm, Dune, and then Mayday, who I actually did choose from a litter of seven others. But I didn’t employ any science to my selection — there are whole books devoted to the art (not science) of puppy selection. I just liked the one who greeted me with the most enthusiasm. It always seemed like Mayday chose me. So now there is Harriet, who was not a choice, except that I chose to take her from that particular litter.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a sign on a tree for Free Puppies and I never again ran into any little boys with an armload of puppies looking for relief. People have been so good about spaying and neutering their pets in recent years that mutts are being imported to this area from places like West Virginia and Puerto Rico. Everyone likes a mutt, including myself and supposedly our President. But this time, I’m going with this little one, the last of a small litter of Border Terriers. I chose this kind because of a friend who had one, a wonderful boy dog named Quimby, named after the aviation pioneer Harriet Quimby. I just fell in love with Quimby, who has the happy temperament and wise countenance of a Tibetan monk. Dune lived to be 17 and was 15 when I brought home Mayday, who revived Dune and made her play again. Mayday is now 13, not really that old but I always like to bridge the old dog with the new one. It seemed like it was time. The next litter of puppies from Quimby’s kennel, I wanted one. Thus has come Harriet. Incidentally, the breeder told me that James Herriot’s dog was a Border Terrier. So the name seemed like a natural.
Right now, Harriet, all five pounds of her, is asleep at my feet, eyes shut in blissful stillness. Earlier, she was racing around the room like a dervish, from chew toy to rolled-up sock to her current favorite, an empty Windex bottle, which for some reason provokes her to growls and scolding sounds. I think Harriet’s going to work out fine around here. But, I really didn’t choose her any more than I chose the others. Mayday’s still Best Dog but Princess Harriet, she is ascending.