This week's Sunday Scribblings prompt is "thief." At first I thought to write about how this inhumane heat and humidity has robbed me of all energy and ambition. Put a juju on my mojo. But then others are suffering as much if not worse than I, and I really need to stop complaining.
Then I saw this jewel of cat burglar story on Jill's July 22nd post, which reminded me of the thieving animals I've harbored over the years. So I decided to steal it from her (I did ask if I could - does that still make it robbing?), to introduce the tail, I mean tale, of my Robin Hood dog, Lady the First (we used to call her the First Lady, but that just confused everyone).
Edited to Add: I think this caught the first few readers unaware, so now I'm adding this forewarning: It's kind of sad. It made me cry reliving it here. Though parts of these memories also still make me smile and laugh a little, too. But it still gives me a sense of wonder at the mystery of Life. This lifestory of mine, has some very sad moments - but (for me, at least), it's really about how nothing - no one, not even little black dogs - is ever really lost forever to us...to me....
When my oldest daughter, was about four, she begged and pleaded for a dog of her own, after seeing Lady and the Tramp. Struggling with finances as most young families do, we resorted to the "Free Puppies" ads, where we found our Lady - a loveable little mutt, half black labrador, half Springer Spaniel (springing was definitely in her blood, she could leap as high as my head, before we got her trained to stay down!). She was black with just a little streak of white on her chest and a little on her paw. Her fur was a little too long and wavy for a labrador; a little too short and coarse for a springer spaniel - yet to us, her personality made her the loveliest of pups.
She tried very hard to be a "good dog" but living with a young family in a quirky old rented house in "the country," surrounded by acres of orange groves to roam, has its temptations. The first of these was the clothes line.
We didn't have a washer or dryer (someone actually gave us one, only for us to discover the house wasn't wired for any kind of appliance made past the forties, so it became a large hamper sitting out in the shed); and with a small child around, the weekly trips to the laundromat often weren't enough to get us through the week. I'd wash out T-shirts and undies and such in the sink (or even in our clawfoot bathtub - the one luxury this home had - if there weren't enough quarters that week for the laundromat); hanging them on the clothesline to dry. To Miss Lady, the shirts and pants flapping in the breeze were like waving a red flag in front of a bull. After the second or third scolding for tearing down clean clothes, and as I recall, actually chewing up one of Brook's little shirts and pants sets, Lady decided to make amends.
She would often disappear for a little while each day, to roam the orange groves, so I didn't think much of it the next day, when she wasn't on the porch when we first got home from work. By the time I came out with the dog food to fill up her bowl, though, she'd arrived - with the first of her offerings - a little girl's blouse and pair of pants lay on the porch in front of her! Lady sat there wagging her tail, tongue lolling out of her mouth in the biggest conciliatory grin. How could I not forgive her? Of course we all petted her and exclaimed over the extraordinary coincidence of her bringing the very thing home that she'd torn up the previous day. Especially living as far away from other homes as we did. How far had she travelled to find these? And a little guiltily, I thought of what Mom and little girl might be wondering about a certain pantsuit that mysteriously disappeared off their clothesline. I washed them and lay them off the porch railing, but no one ever claimed them (and Lady didn't touch them - those were the "make-up clothes." I praised her for that, too. Little did we know what behavior we were reinforcing...
This became a cycle then. Lady would have her fun - a scolding would ensue; the next day, amends would be made. Chew the end off the garden hose? Oh well, she knew where to find one! (That one almost defied belief - how on earth this little dog had dragged a 25 foot garden hose behind her from who knew where, and no one had tried to stop her? How did she get it through all the trees? She had her secrets...) Several items off the clothesline - were paid for with a LAUNDRY BAG full of someone else's clothes (I took them down to our nearest laundromat - after dark - and shamefacedly left them there, assuming that to be the most likely place for her to have knicked it. I hope the right person got them back!). The vacuum cleaner hose she chewed up, was a bit trickier for her - the closest approximation she came to for that was a length of what appeared to be the kind of hose you connect to a dryer (I gave her points for getting the approximate shape - if not width - right). My leather purse was repaid with an - unfortunately empty - BANK BAG! Maybe it was fortunate it was empty, I can't fathom what a headache that might have turned into, had it actually contained someone else's cash! (My co-workers at the time, suggested I might let her chew on a couple of dollar bills to see if she might come home with some twenties - I didn't think that was a particularly good idea for her or me, though, for either of our souls).
It all came to a screeching end one Saturday night, though. Living out in the "boonies" means you're prime real estate for carloads of teenagers out prowling for dark hiding places to neck or drink or sow any of their other wild oats. She'd scratched and begged to be let out just a little while before we heard the roaring of a souped-up engine. We both knew immediately what that thump meant - we never heard a squeal of brakes. I think her black fur blended too well into the night for them to see her. We ran outside calling. She whimpered to us from the bottom of the 3-foot deep, stone-lined irrigation ditch beside the house. We climbed down and carefully carried her back up; wrapped her in a blanket and drove hell-bent for the only emergency animal clinic, at the other end of the valley.
They held her for observation overnight. The next day we took her to a regular vet. I don't know if it was just the state of veterinary medicine at the time (over 25 years ago), but he couldn't give us a firm diagnosis, other than x-rays didn't show any broken bones, yet she wouldn't eat - he wasn't sure if there were internal injuries. He kept her for 3 days. We were borrowing money from everyone we knew, trying to pay for her vet bill, and visiting her after work. On the third day, she put her head in my hands when I visited her, and I asked if maybe she just wanted to go home to eat. The vet shrugged his shoulders, and said "Maybe." I bundled her up in her blanket and put her in the backseat beside her little girl. She seemed happier than she had at the vet's; grinning with her tongue lolling out again. She sat up at every stoplight to look out - as though she were taking note of how much farther to home. Finally, we pulled in the driveway, and her tail wagged frantically happy. Home! You could see it in her eyes. I carried her into the house, and laid her down in her favorite spot on the horrible gold linoleum in the kitchen. She rested her head on my knee as I sat down beside her, wagged her tail one last time, and closed her eyes. I still can't think of that moment without tears. She just wanted to come home one last time.
The story doesn't really end there, though. You see, I think maybe, little dogs who steal, may not immediately go to heaven, despite what the movie says. Fast forward ten years later. The day after a largish quake hit our area, a little black dog is found wandering around where I worked. Not a spaniel/labrador mix - but a short-hair mutt - too big for a corgi, but rather like one in shape. All black, with just a little streak of white on her chest and a little on her paw. No one had the heart to call animal control - she was so personable and well-behaved; we hid her in the back office till the end of the day. Guess who she went home with?
By now the younger daughter is 4 years old, and I'm a single mom raising her and her now-teenage sister. Our yellow lab, Buffy, that we got after Lady the First passed away, is nearly 11; has diabetes and may not have much more time. I have to administer insulin to her each day, and still it is a constant balancing act trying to keep weight on her.
The girls immediately champion her staying with us - I tell them we're running an ad to find her owner. Obviously she's only run away frightened by the earthquake, she's so sweet, they'll be missing and looking for her. But days go by; no one answers the ad.
It is now this four year old's turn to be enamored by "Lady and the Tramp." She lobbies for the name - her sister, surprisingly, doesn't put up a fuss. She agrees to the name - so Lady the second she becomes. Or just is...Shortly after she came to live with us, I was outside digging weeds in the garden. Lady wants me to play; I keep shoo-ing her off.
The phone rings. I take off my gloves and drop them and the trowel on the outside table; go in to answer the phone. Five minutes later, I come out - and the gloves and the trowel are nowhere in sight. Lady bounds up to me with her ball again and drops it at my feet; wiggling her body, grinning wildly, with her tongue lolling about.
I'm in no mood though - I could have sworn I'd laid those darn things right here! Oh, how can I be mad at Lady, it's not her fault, I can't remember where I set things down...I pick up her ball and give her a pet. "You didn't take my stuff did you, Lady?" I laugh. I stop laughing though, as she turns around, with her tail tucked down, and slinks around the back corner of the house, towards the open door of the garage. Intrigued, I slowly follow her. I come around the corner of the house, just as she emerges from the garage - with my gloves and the handle of the trowel in her mouth. She drops them at my feet, and sits down, waiting to be scolded. But all I can do is hug her.
We found us a new "alpha male;" moved to a different house. Her little girls are all grown up. Nearly sixteen years later, my little thief can no longer see well enough to steal (though she still tries to nab the other dog's food, as well as her own); can barely hear sometimes I think, too. But she still wags her tail, and grins at me with her tongue lolling out. She's still my Lady. She stole my heart long ago, and hasn't given it back yet.
You know, as I flip through my book of memories, the more I realize - truth really is stranger than fiction.