How did I get through the loss of Gulliver, the dog of my heart, to whom I dedicated Bespotted? How did I put away my grief and return to living and enjoying myself once again?
The answer is a simple one: I bred a litter of puppies.
Two years after Gulliver’s death, we sent our girl, Breeze, to Canada to a male who had done extremely well for himself in the show ring. We were looking to obtain certain physical characteristics that Breeze lacked, as well as optimize those wonderful ones she already had. But perhaps, most important of all, we required a dog with a solid temperament, one who got along with dogs and people both, and was a steadfast addition to any household.
We found him in Mikey, and so off Breeze went in the Taylor’s motor home right after the Dalmatian Club of America’s National Specialty show, looking somewhat forlorn. Suddenly we weren’t sure of our decision to send her so far away with people we did not know, but shortly we were reassured. Mikey’s owners treated Breeze like a queen, and she had her very own room, where she could sit on an over-stuffed armchair and watch the other dogs from a window. She couldn’t run free because she was in season, but she was walked hourly—better than she got at home.
The puppies who came to us as a result of this eventual joint venture between Mikey and Breeze were meant to arrive on July 4th, but Breeze held out for a week beyond her due date. When they were delivered, Brad and I were star struck: they had such little round heads, such tiny ears, such snowy white coats whose spots had yet to make themselves seen. We were moved by the way they struggled blindly around the puppy pen in that first week, looking to nurse, looking for the maternal comfort of Breeze, who was an expert mother. Of course, it brought me back, forcefully, to the day I had first seen a litter born, when I was thirteen. Back then, as my family knew nothing about a dog’s whelping, Penny had given birth in a cardboard box in our basement. My mother was the one awestruck that day. Breeze’s litter had brought me full circle.
Those puppies gave me incredible joy over the next eight weeks, that all too short time before they went to their “forever homes.” I worked hard to hand raise them, to assess their hearing, to watch their eyes as they opened, to applaud their first early steps, to keep their puppy box warm and clean and their personalities confidently open to all new experiences, as I challenged them with everything from wading pools to open umbrellas to vacuum cleaners. When they grew large enough to move to a bigger pen, I laughed with pride as they scaled the high walls because they hated to be confined, escaping onto the floor in triumph. Every morning and evening, I scooped them up and set them down in a pack to eat their homemade gruel at the big flying saucer puppy pan. By the time they left us they could run, play, nip their brothers and sisters in defiance, tumble down a flight of stairs, zip through a fabric tunnel, expertly handle balls and rings and any kind of toy I could dream up.
The puppies had taken me right around to that basement in my childhood home, when life arrived so suddenly, so beautifully. Then, we were all moved and my mother decided to live rather than doing her suicide dance. Now, I was able to put aside my tears for Gulliver, at least during the hours each day I spent caring for my little ones. I did the best I could to return to life without him, and the puppies were the path I took to come to that place. When it was time for them to go to new homes, I was saddened again. I wondered how I would live without them. Would I go back to mourning my mother, or perhaps more importantly, would I go back to grieving for Gulliver?
But the arrival of the puppies had taught me well. There was a cycle to this all and we were now at a place to pause but not give up. I reminded myself that Breeze would have other litters and that I would be able to engage in this sort of fulfillment again. Life had once had been depressingly difficult for me, but this experience with the litter had moved me far beyond that, and mirrored my new-found desire—like my mother’s—to live “to the hilt,” as she was so fond of saying. Though for her the puppies had cheated death, for me the puppies had cheated sorrow. And for this I would be eternally grateful. In Bespotted, I tell you why.
I thought over the homes for which they were about to leave, and I knew I had chosen well. But still, none of those places was here, in my capable and loving arms. I believe this is the regret, however fleeting for some, that every affectionate breeder feels as his or her puppies begin to make their way out into life.
All of them must leave me behind, and I would be hungry for that straight line of little faces peeking up over the walls of the puppy box in the morning, eyes bright and wide the expectation of the food pan. I knew they were all going, each and everyone, to people who were good and kind, to special places with special people to care for them. Or at least, I hoped, for you could never be certain, and sometimes a dog bounced back, sometimes a dog wound up in rescue, or worse, a kill shelter, needing to be saved. Yes, despite all my rationalizations, I would be bereft. For a while. And then I would heal. And then I knew I would do it all over again.
If you are interested in the cycle of life for dogs, see “The Life of Linda’s Dalmatian Litter” on this website. There you will find a sweetheart’s trial through her pregnancy and the growth of puppies galore. It includes a wonderful slide show of each and every week, and a text narration of Breeze’s second litter.