It is well below zero and snowy here in Pittsburgh – great snuggling whether if you have a little friend like Jelly Bean to curl up beside you. It is finally the New Year, and all is settling into that lovely quiet that we enjoy so much in the winter season. This seemed like a very good week to share the story of Jelly Bean, since it is as heartwarming and touching as any story about a dog can be – a great way to start the new year and the new term!
The addition of a dog or a pet in literature is quite striking. Maybe that is because of my very soft spot for animals generally and dogs in particular. Or, perhaps it is the writers’ craft that taps into the range emotions associated with animals, dogs especially, quite intentionally. Either way, the effect on this reader is dramatic.
There are some stories that I absolutely cannot read like Black Beauty, War Horse, and just about anything by Jack London. Call of the Wild is too sad for us, even if Buck is a Scotch collie mix, just like Jelly Bean. It is best for me to skip the bit in the Odyssey where Argos recognizes Odysseus. Homer wrote that scene so powerfully that I sob through it every time. Lady and the Tramp is more like it for me, but I will save my favorite literary dog until the very end.
This year I am reading Victorian literature, which is interesting from an animal welfare point of view, because of the emerging concern with the treatment of animals in organizations like those that eventually became the RSPCA, or the ASPCA in America. Even Dracula manages to indicate the growing social concern with animal welfare. Dickens wrote his dogs well, especially Merry Legs, in Hard Times. Now Jelly Bean and I are reading Gaskell’s Half Brothers, reportedly the inspiration for Lassie, which is notable for the Collie dog in the house.
Jelly Bean is a fabulous dog who happens to be adopted from a shelter. She had been at the shelter for close to a year. Her first family surrendered her at three years old because they had a new child (like Lady and the Tramp…) and Jelly Bean frequently got an upset tummy that they could not manage. She waited close to nine months before being adopted. No one wanted a dog that might have a medical problem. Finally, her second family adopted her. They returned her to the shelter a month later, ten pounds heavier, and showing all the symptoms of her former illness which had disappeared at the shelter. I met her a month after she was surrendered the second time.
It was my third day on the job; she was sitting in my office when I arrived. The staff I worked with provided many kinds of ‘enrichment’ activities for the shelter pets from special toys and colony rooms for the cats, ‘romps’ for the bunnies, to trips to the mall, walks, scent of the day, and office days for the dogs. It is very fair to say it was love at first sight. Jelly Bean is probably the sweetest creature I have ever met, and it showed from the first minute I met her.
For the next month, our shelter veterinarians tried to diagnose her condition. Each day she came to my office, and each night I had to return her to the kennel. When I put her in her kennel, she would shake with stress from the noise of the other dogs, and the environment that was so unlike the loving home she was raised in. This shelter was very nice, with a brand new, multi-million dollar building, three hundred volunteer cuddlers, and a staff of one hundred people to care for over 14,000 pets every year. Still, it was difficult for Jelly Bean, as it is for many other pets in the same situation.
The veterinarians could not find any condition they could diagnose, and said she was ready to try to adopted again. As you probably guessed, I was not going to let her languish in the kennel with no certainty for her future.
When you live with a man who once kidnapped a litter of puppies he felt were not properly cared for, bringing home a dog is not a big deal. My Doberman died at a ripe old age a few months before I met Jelly Bean. I needed a dog in the worst way, and she needed a home. We managed my Doberman’s stomach condition for six years, so Jelly Bean’s upset tummy was no issue for us.
Jelly Bean is happy and healthy now. Her medical condition has no real differential diagnosis. It is trial and error, and there are still some flare-ups. Her tummy is ninety percent managed with a single ingredient food, short walks, and unfortunately no treats of any kind. Jelly Bean is something of a gourmand, so this is disappointing. There are consolations like naps on the sofa snuggled up in her blankets, and, at this time of year, stalking Christmas decorations on neighbors’ lawns or barking at red reindeer noses. Window shopping and making new friends is her favorite activity. For Jelly Bean this means a walk on our Main Street, and waiting until people in the shop windows notice her. She then proudly does ‘good sit’ and holds up her paw to shake hands. Invariably someone comes outside to pat my little social butterfly.
My favorite dog in literature, until Jelly Bean’s future debut as a literary character that is, is Hank the Cow Dog. Hank is self-appointed head of ranch security, and has a full life on the Loper’s spread, with a memorable cast of sidekicks including Pete-the-Barn- Cat. Look him up for a lighthearted read, and even a sing-along. Happiest New Year, and new term, from me, and Jelly Bean!
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. She lives in Pittsburgh in the United States.