We weren’t in the market for a new dog. It was 2005, I had finished vet school and was working full-time at a clinic in Bismarck.
And, Casey and Harry were really enough of a canine handful back in their youth.
But we usually aren’t looking for a new pet when another addition arrives.
The clinic I worked at had the unfortunate contract with Animal Control to put down the dogs deemed unadoptable.
Aggressive, ferocious dogs.
Dogs with injuries so severe it was inhumane to keep them alive without an owner claiming them.
And sometimes, dogs who had just overstayed their welcome.
I was there that morning when the Animal Control officers came in the back door with this bouncing, tail-wagging, eager, fluffy black and white female spaniel.
“She’s aggressive. They’ll never find her a home. She might have Springer Rage,” was all he said.
But I caught the eye of the female officer hanging back and there were tears there.
“How long has she been there,” asked my boss, with the spaniel standing up on her back legs, reaching to him with her front paws.
“3 days,” said Animal Control. “But this morning when I approached her cage she growled at me and you know, we’re full right now.”
The spaniel continued to run around the treatment area greeting the other veterinarians and technicians who had gathered. Another vet and I started to do a basic exam.
She was in good shape with clean teeth and ears and toe nails that weren’t too long. She was super friendly and started whipping out her tricks, like flopping over on her side, standing up and walking a little on her back legs towards us and sitting when asked to. No collar. No microchip.
My boss signed the intake form but as soon as the door shut behind the officers he put his face down to the spaniel’s and said, “we can’t put her down, she’s lovely.”
Surprise and relief washed over me because this is the same boss who once told me I had to toughen-up when it came to euthanasias.
I had to start to do the drop-off ones where I didn’t even know if the person dropping the animal off was its owner.
Pets I had never met before.
Pets whose histories I was supposed to ignore as I watched the light leave their eyes.
The same boss who once told me I couldn’t save every animal.
I had responded with, “I can try.”
So the friendly black and white love bug got to live in our isolation ward at the clinic for a week, making sure she didn’t break out in full Cujo mode. She never once growled at any of us and she was handled by the entire staff.
I started visiting her a bit more and told Alistair about her.
He came to visit and left with a dog. He named her Cleopatra.
She went home with him and immediately leapt up into the cab of the tractor, never leaving his side.
There’s that one rule: donate your reproductive organs at the door and get along. And she did and she does.
She never chased the cats and she was perfectly house trained.
Cleo immediately bonded with her Daddy.
But she slowly bonded with me as well and I will admit, it was fun having a dog inside the house again. Maybe not the hairs, but she fit into our household just perfectly.
With a bit of time Cleo started to develop her looks and affectations.
You know when she is rolling her eyes at you. She usually sighs when she is doing it.
Her voice is a southern drawl… think Blanche Dubois, with a slight lisp.
When we moved to Montana all 3 of the dogs thrived. There is something about having a forest for your backyard.
The boys chased deer but Cleo was never into that.
She must have been trained by someone because she suddenly stood on perfect point one time my husband had a sports channel on and they were doing bird calls with their kazoo thingies. She pointed beautifully at the TV and remained there like a statue, almost in a trance. Her hunting skills are wasted on us- we’re lovers not fighters.
Her middle names have come from her quirky behaviors.
And her freckles.
Her adorable face is speckled with black dots. Her entire body is when she’s shaved but generally you only see the nose.
I have a bunch of freckles on my arms and we joke that one looks like the constellation Cassiopeia.
Cleo liked that name so its now one of hers.
The Carrie Bradshaw thing… if she’s in bed with you, shoes or slippers will somehow be there when you wake up. Or if you’re visiting in the living room, shoes will be brought forth. How can you not love a girl with that kind of passion for shoes?!
As for Houdini, I came home from work one winter night to have Cleo greet me on the driveway. The boys were still inside the locked kennel.
It didn’t take long to figure it out once I saw the snow load and the bare roof.
Diamond… well, she picked that one herself because diamonds are beautiful, rare and special. Just like Cleo.
And she is clever.
One of the times when Alistair was trying to get UB to stop barking at a grizzly bear a few feet away the other dogs all came charging in.
Its the only time we’ve seen ferocity out of Casey, with his hackles up, foaming at the mouth.
Harry was somewhere, spinning circles in the distance, making his woo-woo sounds even though Alistair doesn’t remember actually seeing him.
Cleo was probably back at the house thinking, “I’m not getting involved in that. That’s stupid. I’m going to call Mummy at her clinic. Now, where is that telephone?”
Cleo loved being the shop dog over the past few years when I brought her to work.
Sometimes she got the spa treatment from her best friend, Lynnie.
Sometimes she would have special visitors come to chat and they’d end up petting her the entire time.
Fireman Frank has an unworldly love of dogs and Cleo had him wrapped around her furry paws.
Other times she would just play with Mummy and Lynnie.
She was wonderful with other dogs and was fine when we had to crate her when it was time for surgeries or appointments with dogs or cats who maybe didn’t want to see her. She adored a box full of Schipperke puppies who were just a week old. Mind you, she claims that her uterus was “ripped untimely” from her body so maybe there was some maternal instinct there.
On extra special days at the clinic, though, she would see Matt, the UPS driver.
It wasn’t the biscuits because she doesn’t go ape with our farm delivery UPS guy.
Matt was different. Cleo even leapt up into the cab and the back of his truck on several occasions.
So there’s our aggressive, needs-to-be-euthanized dog. Doing her thing standing up on her legs, which is one of the tricks that saved her life. We don’t know how old she is but she hasn’t started to slow down at all. She likes to sleep and snuggle with me when Alistair is gone as part of the Usual Suspects (Loki, UB, Cleo, Mulder and Sport).
Cleo likes to help finish my scrambled eggs if I accidentally make too much.
She likes to watch me clean and feed the guinea pigs in the mornings, her ears perking when they whistle and tweet.
But she also likes sleeping outside with Casey and Harry and I think the 3 of them are a fun unit, even if she only occasionally plays with them outside. She’s usually off looking for a good spot to dig a hole, or a creek to romp in, or horse poop to eat, or someone to stand up against.
Aggression isn’t always aggression. Dogs growl for all sorts of reasons and I’m pretty sure Cleo was scared and lonely. She was obviously well-trained in many ways and I’m certain she was loved.
It saddens me only to think that a little girl or a cute older couple were her original owners but I would hope they believe she went to loving arms with loving hearts with a huge back yard and buddies of all species.
And lots of shoes.