RIP All of Them

My parents always had one or two cats and dogs, so I have pretty much always had pets. As soon as I could, I brought cats back into my home as a single girl, and when Arnold and I got together years later, we had a house and situation big enough for cats AND dogs. Arnold always loved schnauzers, and we adopted a quite handsome silver one from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter who we were warned was going to be a problem dog, and he was. We named him Fafner, because he had a wicked temper and had been so traumatized by someone, somehow, in his life, that he was unpredictable and difficult to have around guests. Unlike the two dogs we have now, Figaro and Minnie, who are hyperactive and nuts, and if anything TOO friendly, Fafner would growl and be very unpleasant. But we did our best with him. The shelter was probably expecting us to bring him back, but it never occurred to us to surrender him, because that had happened to him before. We just did the best we could, and enjoyed him when he was relaxed enough to act a little bit like a normal dog. He died when he got out of our fenced yard in Santa Fe, and three coyotes encircled him and injured him so badly that despite a ton of late-night veterinary care at the Emergency Hospital in Santa Fe, he didn’t make it.

A few months later, we got the “we need a dog” bug again, but this time, we decided to try to avoid the random result of a shelter adoption, and I began a research project to try to find a schnauzer breeder who bred “for disposition”, so we could pick out a puppy and have a reasonable chance at getting a dog that would be fun to be around and easy to train. We ultimately found a highly respected breeder who sounded like she bred the sort of dog we would like, so sight unseen, she put this adorable looking little puppy into a crate and shipped him to us in Santa Fe via air. He turned out to be a total delight from the second we released him from the crate at the airport. We named him “Figaro”, sticking to our custom of usually giving pets operatic names, and we – and my parents – adored him. He died, way too young, of a heart deformity we couldn’t have fixed even if we’d known about it.

Thus we were dogless when we moved from Santa Fe down to Mexico, but once we got settled, we asked Dr. Jesus, our classical-guitar playing vet, whether or not he could help us find or rescue a schnauzer. We were encouraged because on his office wall he had taped a photo montage of some adorable schnauzer puppies. He said, yes, actually, he knew a breeder, and he’d try to find out if there were any puppies available, or any that needed homes. This went on for months….we would take one of the cats in for a booster shot or something, and ask him if there were any schnauzers available. Yes, there were, but the puppies were too young to adopt. Yes, there might be some next spring. Yes, there were, but the litter was all spoken for. Yes, there were, but the breeder ultimately decided to keep them all.

And on and on it went, until one day we were in there with one of our cats and Dr. Jesus told us that a couple of days ago, someone dumped a puppy on his office doorstep (a frequent occurrence here). He said, “She isn’t a schnauzer, but she has some schnauzer in her, I am sure. She seems to be a very bright and healthy little dog, who won’t get to be too big, with no major physical problems that I can see. Would you like to see her? I have her in back….” We thought, “well, why not? Let’s meet this doggie and see what we think.” So out comes bounding this snow-white, long-bodied (more dachshund than even a drop of schnauzer) little puppy, who had some mange (being treated) from being out on the street, and pretty skinny. But very sweet, and most definitely a dog who needed a home. Only two months old, so it seemed like whatever trauma she had endured being dumped could be ameliorated by love and good care. Schnauzer or “part-schnauzer”, we were ready for a puppy in our new Mexico life. Now, rather than buy from a breeder, it made sense to rescue a street dog. We took her.

That little white puppy became Reina, and she lived with us for thirteen years. Everyone loved her. When she had to be put to sleep, it was horrible, but it was time. She battled an aggressive cancer very bravely, but there came that point when we knew we had to put a stop to it.

Along the way we thought she might like to have a companion, above and beyond the multiple cats. Arnold still wanted a schnauzer and in spite of Dr. Jesus’ insistence that she had schnauzer “in her” (not a chance, see earlier photos of pure white mixed terrier), he persisted in wanting the real thing. I kept an eye out for dogs “en adopción” on the internet. A few months later, a notice appeared that an obviously purebred Standard Schnauzer was up for adoption, and we got him. He became Figaro II, after our little miniature who had died so unexpectedly in Santa Fe. He has been an incredible dog. Yet after Reina’s death, Figaro went into a real depression, and we looked for a second dog. We soon found Mimi, a delightful little black terrier mix, rescued by a Canadian lady who sadly had some health issues and had to give her up. She and Figaro bonded immediately and we thought they would be together forever.

But in spite of supposedly having been vaccinated, after just a couple of months with us, she suddenly became inexplicably very sick. We rushed her to the vet, and it turned out to be distemper. Our new vet (closer to home than Dr. Jesus) said she would not be able to survive it, as it had advanced, and told us that sooner rather than later, her neurological symptoms would progress in a matter of days, to a point where she, too, was going to have to be put to sleep. We were in a state of shock. The lady who gave her to us had provided her vaccination card and clearly she had been vaccinated. But the vet said “sometimes there is a bad batch of the vaccine, it isn’t refrigerated, expired, or not at a low enough temperature; all kinds of things can go wrong with it. Here at our clinic we are meticulous about keeping our vaccines at the correct temperature.” It was heartbreaking, because one day we had a cheerful, healthy little doggie who was fitting beautifully into our family and a week later she was dead.

So Figaro was once again droopy and depressed, and so were we. He had bonded happily with his new playmate, and we also had fallen in love with sweet little Mimi. She came to us with that name, and we kept it because (La Bohème) it was operatic enough and it kind of fit her personality. In retrospect, I think she knew she was doomed, just like the operatic Mimi. In those moments when you are communicating with your dog, she would inexplicably gaze up at me with these very sad eyes, and I never understood why, until suddenly she got so sick. I really felt she knew that she was destined to die young, a weird thing to sense from a dog. But it turned out to be true.

Eventually, after the shock wore off a bit, I asked our vet, who does a lot of volunteer work with the various dog rescue groups here, to let us know if he had any dogs brought to him who he thought might be a fit for us. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, he told me that he had just examined a litter of part-schnauzer strays that had been brought in by Lucky Dog, to get them ready for adoption. He said “these are all very healthy, seem intelligent, and they are at least half schnauzer, because someone left the three puppies and their Miniature Schnauzer mom in a box outside the gate of Lucky Dog a few days ago. I have given them all their vaccines, and they should be ready for adoption next week after their isolation period.”

As soon as the puppies were “available”, I raced over to Lucky Dog to check them out. Two were very quiet and didn’t pay any attention to me, but one kept jumping up, completely focused on my face, frantically trying to lick me, and if that wasn’t a case of “Take me, take me, PLEEZE take me!” I didn’t know what was. Having had dogs most of my life, it was clear to me that this puppy was going to be a hyperactive handful but she also had a ton of personality and was seriously cute. We named her after Minnie (from Fanciulla del West, one of the few operas where the title role female character is actually very cool and doesn’t lie down and die of love for some man. She has indeed turned out to be a handful but we love her, and she and Figaro are absolutely inseparable.

So for now the animal situation is stabilized a bit, symmetrically, with two cats and two dogs. With both dogs calm in their crates nearby, Tabitha and Missoni sleep with us at night; like clockwork both cats come in and jump up on our bed. Missoni waits till I get comfortable and then walks over Arnold to lie down beside me and put her paw in my hand, and then we both go to sleep. it is very sweet; and it goes on until I inevitably turn over and then she gets annoyed and bites me, but not too hard. Tab has a little space between Arnold and me that is her nest and she gets in the same place every night, curls up and begins to purr and also goes to sleep. I’m aware that both those kitties are getting older. Tab has to be at least eighteen by now (no one really knows). And Missoni is getting on too. You’re aware that you’ll have to go through the same horrible drill with their deaths at some point, but it is so worth it to have them for an innumerable list of reasons. They give so much life and fun to a household, and I can’t imagine not having one or several of them around.

But you never do totally get over the loss of any of them after they are gone. I was completely broken up when we lost Achille, our wonderful Korat, and Rosie, Arnold’s little Abyssinian, who got a nasal cancer that deformed her gorgeous face. Jet-black Luigi, one of the most beautiful cats I’d ever seen, came down to Mexico with my parents. He lived to be quite old (no one knows for sure) but cancer and old age got him too. He died on our living room floor in the middle of he night, trying to get to us one last time in our bedroom. I knew he was sick, but couldn’t deal with how sick he was. I still regret that we didn’t just put him to sleep a few days earlier, but I couldn’t deal with it after Mimi and all the others. I guess on some weird level I wanted him to die at home, but in retrospect, it was a mistake. Rosa and Arnold all swooped in to spare me more pain after we’d discovered him, and took him wrapped in towels down below us to the San Antonio cemetery, where Rosa’s husband was the caretaker. Only humans supposedly are buried there, but Luigi is buried down there too. I can see where he is from my office window, for what it’s worth. I still miss him horribly. Someday I would love to have another black cat, but who knows.

Figaro contemplating the garden from his favorite spot.

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