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Delilah’s Puppies

         

Delilah was a pure bred Doberman Pinscher. We adopted her from a breeder when I was six or seven years old on the condition that her first litter would go back to the breeder (and he would supply the stud and medical care). My father fed her from the table and spoke to her in German, but she liked to sleep on my bed in the afternoons, after barking at strangers passing by all day.

She had a job, though, and that was to get pregnant as soon as her body was ready. Mom woke me up when Delilah went into labor. I think it was sunrise or shortly afterwards, because the rays of the sun were shooting through the windows in the little vestibule between the kitchen and the dining room. The vestibule was just the right size for Delilah, her puppies, Mom, my brother, and me.

I remember Delilah breathing heavily, panting, with sweat dripping from her tongue. She had a kind of crazed look on her face, but very serious, especially after each bag of puppy slid out of her. The bags were grayish brown and slimy, but Delilah was conscientious about freeing each puppy from its cocoon, and cleaning it thoroughly so it could start to breathe and walk freely.

Suddenly, Delilah was a warrior. Any attempt to get close to her puppies without her permission and she’d bare her teeth and growl.

At around six weeks, the puppies were sent to the breeder for a medical visit. My father brought me with him to the breeder’s workshop to pick them up. I got there just in time to see a row of puppy tails on the work bench, unattached to the puppies. They had their ears wired up as well, with what looked like copper wire laced through each ear like a long row of earrings.

The puppies were warm, squeaky and cuddly, and when my parents brought them back to the breeder for good at eight weeks old, I was sad, but I wasn’t heart broken. I’d thought of them as borrowed, from the beginning.

The second litter of puppies was different. My father thought he could make money as a breeder on his own. He paid the original breeder a stud fee, and then the resulting puppies were ours to sell, free and clear.

My brother and I were away at sleep away camp during the pregnancy and arrived home a few days after the puppies were born. My father made sure to tell us that there had been eight puppies originally, but that Delilah had rolled onto one and killed it. When I repeated the story to my mother recently, she said no, it was a still birth. Delilah didn’t kill her own baby, why would you think that? But Delilah did, supposedly, leave a mark on the foot of one of the seven puppies, a boy, and I named him Wounder.

I believed the story – that Delilah had stepped on him, and wounded him – and somehow, in my nine year old brain, that transposed into “Wounder.” Maybe I was trying to combine the two things I saw in him, “wound” and “wonder.” But the final version resonated as more meaningful to me, even then, before I’d ever heard of a Freudian slip.

Mom put an ad in the paper after a few more weeks, and people came by to look at the puppies. But no one bought them. Maybe it was because we weren’t registered breeders or the paperwork wasn’t good enough, or we were asking for too much money.

My father was angry that the puppies didn’t magically sell themselves, and he abdicated responsibility for them. Eventually my mother had to bring the puppies to the animal shelter to be adopted out, because, she said, we just couldn’t keep eight full grown Doberman Pinschers in one house.

The shelter took all of the puppies but one, Wounder. They said he was too rambunctious, climbing on counters and showing them he was boss. I loved that about him. I was sure that my father would have to let me keep Wounder now, but he said no. We couldn’t have an un-neutered son and his un-spayed mother in the same house, and my father refused to have either of them fixed, so Wounder would have to go.

My mother tried to find him a home, but no one would take him, even for free. She had to take him to the pound, where, I knew, they put unadoptable dogs down after a specified period of time. I was told that he was adopted from there, but I’m not sure I believe that.

Delilah went back to sleeping on my bed every afternoon and barking at strangers who came to the door. But I never forgot Wounder, and I don’t think Delilah forgot him or the rest of her puppies either. They were her babies, after all.

Solomon, the dastardly Doberman

 

            Solomon was the first significant dog in my life. We have no pictures of him, probably because he was never stationary long enough to be caught on film. He was a Doberman Pinscher with clipped ears and tail, and he was mythological in personality. He was a puppy when I was still in diapers, and he used to grab the used cloth diapers away from my mother before she could clean them.

It was odd, looking back, for my Jewish father to be drawn to a pure bred, German dog. He came from a generation of Jewish people who refused to even buy a German car. But he liked the idea of a guard dog to protect his house, or his castle.

As Solomon got older, he was a very handsome dog, but not kid friendly. He was eighty pounds of muscle and he only did what he wanted to do. He didn’t like cuddles or playing catch. He certainly didn’t want to play dress up with me. He had a habit of escaping from the backyard and leading a parade of cars trying to catch him as he ran down the street.

One time, he ran away and took over someone’s lawn. He wouldn’t let the family into or out of their house for a whole day, until they were able to get to his name tag and call my parents to come get him. That’s probably when my parents called a trainer to help them manage him better. But the trainer said that my father’s aggressive response, jerking Solomon’s chain and yelling at him, and my mother’s very opposite submissive response, were the problem. And my parents knew they couldn’t change each other any more than they could change Solomon, so that was the last of the trainer.

When Solomon was four years old, and I was five, he was diagnosed with Parvo. I looked up the parvovirus online recently, and the symptoms didn’t sound good: bloody diarrhea, vomiting, anorexia, lethargy, fever, and severe weight loss. He stayed overnight at the vet and they sent him home with medication and an uncertain prognosis.

A few days later he was stretched out on our kitchen floor, listless. Our kitchen was very seventies, with orange and yellow wallpaper and a lot of light coming through the windows and the open back door. I sat on the floor with him. He was still alive but this vigorous, aggressive creature was wiped out by his disease. He was still and silent and he watched me solemnly as if he was finally seeing me. I don’t know what he was trying to communicate. Maybe he was asking me why he had to be so sick. Maybe he hoped I could make him better. Maybe he was just relieved to have someone with him while he died.

My mother covered him with a yellow knitted blanket, and stayed with us in the kitchen. I don’t remember if she was cleaning the kitchen or making dinner but it seemed like she was keeping busy because she was too sad to look at him. I sat there next to him and patted his head and looked into his eyes and I felt like we were together in this.

People underestimate what children can feel and understand, because children don’t have the words yet to tell you what they know. But I felt his grief and I stayed with him until he was gone, because that’s what I would have wanted him to do for me.

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