Ziva—My Three-legged Christmas Dog
There is a saying: “You don’t get the dog you want; you get the dog you need.”
I learned the truth of this saying one cold November about five years ago when I opened a letter from our local animal shelter and saw a head-shot photo of a black Papillon/long-haired Chihuahua cross the shelter had named Princess.
I couldn’t stop looking at that sad little face, her eyes filled with pain and fear and hopelessness; it was as though she was staring right into my heart. I had to tear my eyes away to read the letter. When I finished reading, I just stood there, blinking away tears.
This little ten-pound dog had been found one bitterly cold night in a Safeway parking lot, with two puppies that weren’t hers. The Good Samaritan who found her took her and the puppies to the shelter, where there was bad news. The puppies were all right, but the staff immediately discovered a problem with Princess’s right hind leg. It wasn’t clear why the leg was useless. It could have been from abuse (of which there was evidence), or she could have been hit by a car. Whatever the reason, the injury had happened far enough in the past for this poor little dog to have developed a callus on the leg from dragging it.
The letter from the Animal Shelter was asking for extra donations. Whether the leg could be saved or not, Princess had to have an expensive surgery.
There was no question in my mind that I would donate, so I sent off a check, telling myself that was the end of it.
Except it wasn’t. I couldn’t get that hopeless little face out of my mind. I managed to wait a week before I called—just to check on her—and learned the bad news: the surgeon hadn’t been able to save the leg. The good news was that Princess was a remarkably resilient little dog and was recovering so quickly that they planned to put her up on the adoption floor as soon as the bandages came off. They told me I could call in another week to see how she was doing.
I forced myself to wait a whole six days before I called. Princess was doing fine. In fact, she was doing so well that several people had already expressed interest in adopting her. Did I want to visit her? Should they put my name on the adoption list?
I thought of that sweet little face and before I realized what I was saying, I said yes.
It was time to tell my husband that I had fallen in love with an abused little three-legged stray, and I wanted him to come with me to the shelter—just to see her.
“No,” he said.
“What?” I said.
“We already have three dogs, and we don’t need another,” he said.
That was true. We did have three dogs—an aging Corgi with physical problems; a four-year-old Aussie who thought he was still a puppy; and a darling terrier cross he rescued that we named Roxie.
Obviously I had approached this the wrong way. I retrieved the shelter letter and showed him Princess’s picture. “Isn’t she adorable?” I said.
He looked at it and shrugged. “Cute.”
“Cute?” I could feel my blood pressure rising. “That’s all you can say?”
“It says here she has to have surgery. What’s wrong with her?”
I didn’t want to prejudice him before he saw her, so I said, “She had a problem, but she’s fine now.”
His eyes narrowed. “What kind of problem?”
I couldn’t avoid it; a missing leg would be pretty obvious, after all. So I said, “She had to have her leg amputated, but—”
“Look, it’s no big deal,” I said. I had been reading up on three-legged dogs and learned that they did quite well without the missing leg. One just had to be careful and not allow the dog to overexert itself. I tried again. “The Shelter people said that she’s completely recovered—”
“No,” he said.
I tried another tactic. “How about if I just go see her?” I said.
“If you go to see her, you’ll come home with her.”
Ha! Now we were getting somewhere. At least, he hadn’t said a flat-out ‘no.’
“All right,” I said with impeccable logic. “Why don’t you come with me? It can’t hurt. The shelter people said that several people had already expressed interest in her, and we are way down on the list.”
“There’s a list?”
“Of course, there’s a list. Not everybody just says ‘no’, you know,” I said pointedly. For good measure, I added, “We’re fourth, so she’ll probably already have been adopted and we won’t have to worry about it.”
“Of course, ‘we’. I’d never just bring home a dog that you hadn’t seen.”
That was true; although in the interest of full disclosure, I did bring home a cat once. But that was only because Ray was away at a conference, and for some masochistic reason, I decided to torture myself by going to the Humane Society—the old one—to see what they had. I had no intention of adopting any animal, but this orange cat stuck his paw through the bars of his cage and tried to snag me as I was going by, and how was I supposed to ignore that? I brought him home, and named him Purr. The only problem was—but that’s another story. Right now I had to convince my husband to come with me and just look at this little black dog. Before he could say ‘no’ again, I handed him his coat.
Secure in the knowledge that we were pretty far down on the adoption list and wouldn’t be able to adopt her anyway, he made sure I understood. “We’re just going to look, right?”
“Of course,” I said. So we went, and by the time we got there, the other people on the list had already decided they didn’t want a three-legged dog, and she was adoptable after all.
“Do you want to see her?” the receptionist asked.
We couldn’t leave without at least taking a look, so we went to what the shelter calls a ‘habitat’. And there she was, a brave little dog who had not only lost her home, but her leg, and the puppies she had adopted. She was all alone in the world—except for us.
“If you want her, you have to bring in your other dogs to see if they all get along,” the receptionist said.
“I’ll think about it,” he said.
“We’ll be right back,” I said.
On the way out to the car, he said, “If they don’t get along…”
“They will,” I said confidently.
And they did—then. And so the six of us went home, to live happily ever…
It would be nice if I could end this tale on a high note. But it turned out that it wasn’t so easy as just bringing Princess home. You’ll find out why when I post Part II.
Until then, I’ll give you a hint: we changed Princess’s name to Ziva, which means “warrior princess.”