March 14, 2017

The Story of Linda, Part One

Today is my dog's birthday. Our guess is she's 13 years old, but who knows. I've been working on a short story about my dog, and I hadn't planned on sharing it, but it's her birthday and a special girl deserves a special birthday. This story is unedited and unfinished. Maybe I'll keep writing it and keep sharing it. Enjoy.


Linda is my dog. Full name: Linda McCartney [Baldwin]. She hails from Pegram in Cheatham County. When John and I got married and bought a house, I immediately started looking for a dog. I grew up with dogs and had been waiting until I lived somewhere where I could have a dog again. This was in 2009, and the website Petfinder was one of the best ways to find a dog. I spent my days scrolling Petfinder, looking at “corgi mixes”. I wanted either a corgi or a cattle dog. Turns out, I got both of those things, all in one glorious, ridiculous dog.

When I found Linda’s picture on Petfinder, I knew she was the one. She was a black and white corgi Australian shepherd mix with a cloud eye and floppy ears. Her Petfinder name was Sophie. Sophie was five years old, house-trained, current on all of her shots, and being adopted out by a rescue group called Cheatham County Paws.

I inquired about Sophie and was told she would be at an adoption fair that coming weekend. I asked if I could see her before then. I assumed she lived on a big farm where this rescue group kept all of their animals. Wrong. Sophie was at Cheatham County Animal Control. When I learned that, I got in my car and drove out there.

I don’t know what the animal control facilities are like where you live, but where I live, they’re notoriously pretty terrible, and this one was no exception. It’s basically like visiting a dog in jail. The woman in charge was sitting behind a glass partition eating takeout from McDonald’s and was visibly aggravated that I was there. The place smelled like nothing I’ve ever smelled before, like dog shit and despair. I told her I knew which dog I was looking for and, without getting up from her lunch, she told me I was welcome to go back to where the dogs were kept and look for Sophie.

Again, none of this is what I expected. I thought Sophie was running around on a farm eating homemade dog treats from a commune of women who drive around looking for stray dogs. When I opened the large steel door that led into the kennel, the stench almost knocked me out. I had to cover my mouth. My eyes were watering. The cages went floor to ceiling and were filled with pit bull mixes, all except one. Sophie was the only dog in her own cage, and the only dog who knew to shit in one corner and sleep in another. I had found my dog.

A teenage boy appeared out of nowhere and asked if I’d like to take her outside while he cleaned her cage. He put a rope around her neck and handed me the end and I walked out the way I came in and took Sophie outside to the piece of grass between the parking lot and the Cheatham County Animal Control sign. She was wet and trembling and looked at me with eyes that said, “Lady, I’m going to die in here if you don’t take me home with you.” Message received. I took some pictures of her to send to my husband and drove back to my office. A few days later, my husband and I drove back out there and adopted her. She cost $150. I imagine that buys a lot of combo meals at McDonald’s.

The rescue group was in the process of getting Sophie spayed. The appointment was made and paid for, we just had to take her. We brought our new dog home, named her Linda McCartney and she spent one night with us before we were to take her to her vet to get spayed. The vet’s office was great, they knew Sophie/Linda because they had already given her all of her shots and they worked with the Cheatham County Paws rescue group. They told me the regular vet was on vacation and a visiting vet from Knoxville would be doing Linda’s surgery. They would call me that afternoon to tell me how she did. So I went to work. At this time, I worked in the state legislature, and they were in session, so when I got the call from the vet that afternoon, I was sitting behind my boss, a state senator, on the floor of the senate in the state capitol building. It was in that seat, behind my boss, who’s mic was on, when I said into my phone, “You gave her an abortion?!”

I learned a lot about animal reproductivity that day. For instance, did you know that if a dog is pregnant and gets a rabies vaccination, that pregnancy is no longer viable? The vaccine deforms the in-utero puppies. I know. When the vet called me that day, she said, in this order, “The surgery went fine. Linda is in recovery. She was pregnant.” She also told me that Linda appeared to have been impregnated by a pit bull, and that they guessed that this would have been her fifth litter of puppies. Linda’s been around the block!

Hilarious side story. I have young nieces and when they met Linda, they were fascinated with her rows of nipples and asked me if Linda was a mom. Shit. They always ask me questions that I don’t know how to answer. So I told them that yes, Linda was a mom, which of course led to a line of questioning about where her babies are, does she miss them, is she sad, etc. They kept lovingly stroking her head and cooing, “Oh, momma Linda, don’t be sad.” It was very sweet, and very funny.

I learned from the rescue group that Linda had been at animal control for months. She was a stray that the dog catcher caught and brought in. Because she looks primarily like a corgi, they assumed she was missing and made flyers for her and took her to all of the adoption fairs, but no one ever called about her or claimed her. Someone had owned her because she was house-trained. A few years later I was talking to a County Mayor, who was also a farmer, and he told me that his county’s animal control office gets dogs who are riding in the backs of trucks that are driving through town - the dog jumps out at a red light, the owner doesn’t realize it, the dog ends up in animal control, and the owner has no idea which town he left his dog in. I showed him a picture of Linda and he said, “Oh, she was a farm dog.”

This story of Linda being a truck-jumping farm dog is hard to believe because of her short stature, but it’s better than the alternative. That she was a stray dog in Cheatham County, living on the streets, eating trash, drinking rain water, and raising five litters of puppies. She’s house-trained. She had to have lived with someone. I’ll never know.

One year passes. We love Linda and her presence in our house, even though all she does is sleep. We don’t think anything about it, she’s a five year old dog, she’s not an energetic puppy. We tell ourselves she loves us even though she she’d rather stare at us from across the room than sit next to us and let us pet her. Herding dogs, am I right?

It’s time to take Linda back to the vet for her one year checkup. Instead of taking her back to the vet who performed her surgery, I took her to a “value” vet that all of my friends convinced me was a perfectly legitimate place to take my dog. A well woman appointment for a dog includes taking her weight, administering her state-mandated rabies vaccination, and checking for heartworms.

No dog likes the vet, and Linda was having a strong reaction to being in this facility. She was shaking, whimpering and had her tail between her legs. They also took her away from me and performed all of these procedures while I sat out front in the waiting room. A technician brings Linda back out to me and tells me she has heartworms. They want to run the test one more time to make sure, so I wait. While I’m waiting, both the tech and the front desk clerk tell me how “very, very sorry” they are. They keep petting Linda and asking me how old she is, which is followed again with how “very, very sorry” they are. It finally clicks and I realize they’re sad because they know I’m going to have to have Linda put down. The vet comes out and confirms this - that Linda has heartworms, that it’s advanced and at her age, there’s not anything else they can do. Then they try to ask me if I want to go ahead and schedule the appointment to have her put down. Not on my watch, lady. All of the maternal genes I’ve spent my whole life ignoring kick in, I pick Linda up and run to my car, tears streaming down my face. I call my husband, sobbing, “They’re trying to kill Linda!” I don’t even remember where he was working during this time, but wherever it was, he left and was at our house by the time I got there with Linda. He had a friend who’s family had a veterinary clinic in Georgia who, astoundingly, was known for saving the lives of dogs with heartworms. We called and they could take her, so we got in the car and drove five hours to Georgia.

To be continued....

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