Fred is Dead
Fred is dead. At least he looked dead the last time I checked.
Fred's been living with us since May of 2002 when YoungestBoy found him gliding across our driveway. YoungestBoy immediately picked him up and caressed him, as little boys who love slimy things do. He christened the creature "Fred" and that's how we ended up with a pet snail.
We kept him in a Rubbermaid shoebox for quite some time. When it became apparent that YoungestBoy would not allow me to let Fred go back to his family, I bought a creature box, designed for small pets. When I'd remember, I'd sprinkle water on Fred and give him a carrot or a lettuce leaf. Once, a telemarketer called and said, "how many pets do you have?" and I said, "Well, that depends. Do snails count?"
Fred lived on and on. We kept his box tucked behind the couch so that the afternoon sun wouldn't sizzle him. Mostly, we forgot about him. He was pretty much the ideal pet.
Until, of course, YoungestBoy "caught" a slug in the backyard and put him in a jar at the end of last summer. Then, inexplicably, YoungestBoy put both Fred and the slug in his bedroom windowsill. The next day, the slug was just a slimy remnant of his former self. Fred was fried.
I moved his box out of sight. That was a couple of months ago.
Two days ago, YoungestBoy said, "Hey, I forgot all about my snail!" and I said, "Son, I think Fred is dead."
"He is?" YoungestBoy said.
"Yes, remember last summer when you left him in the windowsill? I think he got too hot and he died."
Silence. From the kitchen, I called out to him in the living room. "Honey, are you okay?"
"NO!" he said.
I peeked around the corner to see him curled in a chair, mourning. He was crying a little, his darling little mouth in heart-tugging frown.
"Now, I only have one pet!" he said. He moped for maybe half an hour, but it wasn't just about Fred. This distress was really about Greta.
When we brought Greta to our home in October of 2001, she was a bumbling ball of black fluffy puppy love. I had researched breeds carefully and chosen a Newfoundland because they are reputed to be gentle and sweet with children. YoungestBoy loves all dogs and wouldn't be intimidated by her adult size (over a hundred pounds). After much thought and research, we became dog owners!
We figured it was the perfect time for a family dog. The twins were 8 and YoungestBoy was 3. He was so lonely when they went off to school every day and I thought a dog buddy would be perfect.
And it was perfect. Except that two months later, I found myself unexpectedly (shockingly!) pregnant. After a long history of infertility, a pregnancy was the very last thing I expected. Now, we had a dog and would soon have a newborn! Suddenly, my perfect plan flew into disarray.
Despite the fatigue of pregnancy, I took Greta to obedience class and worked with her until she had decent manners. Her first year was a wild one. She was confined to the kitchen and family room and every night she would race through the house, sometimes hurtling herself over the couch, but more often running across it. She knocked down the children. When she got bigger, she stole food from the counter. Sometimes, she'd sit on the kids while they sat on the couch.
I was nervous about how we'd manage with a baby and a one-year old dog. Large breed dogs are still puppies through their second year, even though they are huge. Visitors always said, "Wow, she is so big!"
But my fears were largely unfounded. During the homebirth, Greta stayed in her crate and didn't make a sound. After the baby was born, she was interested in the baby, but always gentle. I thought my panic was unwarranted.
Shortly after Greta turned two years old, she was downstairs with the boys while my husband and I were upstairs with the baby. I heard TwinBoyB cry out briefly and when I came out of the room after putting the baby to bed, my husband told me that Greta had nipped TwinBoyB. Greta had been licking the butter dish on the counter and TwinBoyB scolded her. Apparently, Greta was startled and she nipped his face.
My husband was furious. I was shocked. He called a friend who used to train dogs who warned him that the dog would probably bite again. He talked to a nurse friend of ours who instructed us to put antibiotic ointment on it and watch it for infection. We agreed that if the dog ever did something like that, she would have to go.
I reiterated to the children that they should not scold the dog in that situation again. They were to give her commands often--before feeding her, before letting her outside, before petting her. I figured it was an issue of dominance, but we'd never had trouble before, other than one time when Greta growled at one of the kids. We'd just step up our efforts at letting her know who was boss.
Less than a week later, I was upstairs nursing the baby. YoungestBoy was downstairs watching television. Greta was keeping him company. The twins were at school, my husband was at work. The house was quiet.
Then YoungestBoy screamed. I put the baby (now crying) in her crib and leapt down the stairs. I knew instantly what happened, but when I got downstairs and saw the baby-gate askew and YoungestBoy clutching his face and sobbing, my heart flipped over. I put Greta outside and gathered my boy in my arms and pulled his hand from his face.
His cheek was red. Three scratches ended in a puncture wound and another puncture wound was bleeding near his jaw. He was hysterical. "She bit me! She bit me!" he wailed.
I led him to a chair and said, "Greta will not be living with us anymore" in a grim voice.
"But Mom, I love her!" He started crying harder.
I got ice, band-aids, a wet cloth. He sobbed and sobbed. "Why did she do that to me?"
I called my husband and told him what happened. I called the breeder and told her what happened and told her that I had to bring Greta back. (It's the policy of good breeders that dogs have to be returned to them if the owner can no longer keep the animal.) I just knew that I couldn't have an unpredictable dog in my house with my one year old baby.
The what-ifs scared me.
The night, at 8:30 p.m., I told the children that Greta would be leaving. "Do you want to say good-bye?" I really wanted to sneak out of the house under cover of darkness, but I knew they needed to cry and to hug her and to say good-bye. TwinBoyB and YoungestBoy both broke down, crying. TwinBoyA said, matter-of-factly, "This will leave a big hole in our family." He never really liked her.
The breeder's house was two and a half hours from mine. I wept most of the way. My tears were for my boy who loved his dog, even though she scared and hurt him. He had begged me not to take her away. "Mom, what if it wasn't her fault?" I told him that she never had a good reason to bite him. The next day he told me that he'd been lifting her ear to talk into it. He thought it was his fault that she bit him.
At 11 p.m., I drove up the dark, tree-lined driveway. The breeder's home is a large log-cabin, set in a clearing in the woods. The only time Greta made a sound was when I neared the house. She whined.
We spoke for awhile and went over the horrible events of that day. The breeder was kind and apologetic. I cried more, handed over Greta's rabies tag and her flea treatment. Then, I left.
My tears started before I got to my car. A few miles down the road, I remembered Greta's special food was still in my car trunk and I sobbed harder.
When I slipped under the covers at 1:30 a.m., I cried a little more and then fell asleep.
Now, two months later, YoungestBoy remembers every once in awhile. He'll say, "Mom, I really miss Greta," and tears will slip from his blue-gray eyes. He used to ask me if she could come back and live with us. Or if we could get a new dog. I always say "no."
So, Fred is Dead. Greta is gone. I comfort myself with the thought that my boy can grieve these losses in a safe place, with my arms around him. Maybe he'll be stronger in the end. I hope so.
Posted by Mel
at 8:08 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 10:07 PM PDT