Butterfly is going to be nine years old this fall, but I almost feel like she was born last November when we brought her home from the shelter, because she’s doing all of her puppy learning now.
Butterfly lived at a puppy mill, for eight years, and when she first came home, she was still swollen from her last litter, and stunned. She picked up a yellow stuffed duck that Cricket had given up on, a duck that quacked, and carried it in her mouth. When she was tired, she would sit on the floor and lick the duck. She wasn’t chewing it, or de-stuffing it, the way Cricket would have done; she was taking care of it, and giving it a bath, a really ineffective bath that turned Ducky’s yellow fur grey within two days, but a bath none the less.
For months, Butterfly walked around the apartment with one or the other of her stuffed toys in her mouth, carrying them with her for walks, setting them gently on the grass to rest while she took care of her business. There was Fishy, and Froggy, and Platypus, and, of course, Ducky.
Somewhere along the way, Butterfly moved on to wanting to chew things. She didn’t want to chew and destroy her stuffed toys, so she left them in every corner of the apartment and focused her attention on rawhide chewies, and if she couldn’t get her paws on one of those, she would settle for the closest book, magazine, or notebook, currently in use.
I’ve been watching Butterfly move through these stages of puppy development, at her own pace, in the ways that feel natural to her, and I feel inspired by it. I’ve been told, often, that you only get one shot at your childhood, and if you miss out, too bad. But Butterfly is showing me how untrue that is. If you missed important stages of development the first time around, all you need is a safe place and love, and you can get that learning done, at whatever age you happen to be, at whatever pace you can manage.
Over time, I think, Butterfly has traded in her attachment to her stuffed toys for an attachment to Cricket, and me, and Mom. She licks my arm the way she used to lick Ducky, leaving a thick residue of saliva that I choose to think of as a protective coating.
She hasn’t completely given up on her Ducky, though. In times of stress, she still cuddles up with platypus, or carries Fishy in her mouth, or squeezes Ducky’s belly to make him quack.
And, every once in a while, I find Fishy waiting for me outside the bathroom door, or Froggy staring up at me from Butterfly’s bed next to the computer, and I know that she has left her friend to keep an eye on me, while she goes to find something to chew on. And I feel loved.