When I first moved to California two years ago, all I could think about was the tiny puppy waiting for me. Within a week, we picked up Matilda and took her home. She was everything I ever dreamed of. She was smart, cuddly and adorable.
I only had Matilda for about a month when a medium-sized, black and white puppy appeared in the lot. By appeared, I mean, our landlord had received her from someone who needed to get rid of their litter. I was new to an area where dogs were not spoiled family members. Dogs were something you had if you owned property. Dogs lived outside, and barked at anyone who walked by.
I tried to understand. I had a puppy of my own to care for. I decided not to pay attention to the black and white puppy.
Besides, Matilda and the new puppy didn’t play well together. The puppy was much larger than her, and played way too rough. Matilda would get scared, and attack the puppy’s face to get her to back off.
But I couldn’t help but ask about her. I found out her name was Cow, and that she was possibly a black lab, blue heeler mix.
Over time, Matilda and Cow learned to play together. They learned each other’s play language. Matilda learned that Cow meant no harm with her clumsy swipes, and Cow learned to slow down and lay on the grass if Matilda was getting too worked up.
In the meantime, Cow spent all of her time outside. Nobody trained her or spent time with her. She was not permitted inside her owner’s house, no matter how hot the California sun shined down, no matter how cold it was in the winter.
I tried not to bond with her. The key word here is “tried.”
Every time me and Matilda went outside, she bounced around, as though she had been waiting for us to come outside again since the previous time we went inside.
She was so jumpy from a lack of exercise and attention. Her hoof-like paws muddied my jeans and skirts. I had no choice but to teach her to “sit” before I would pet her.
It wasn’t long before she sat the moment she saw me, knowing that the sooner her butt touched the ground, the sooner I would give her some much-needed attention.
That One Night
One cold winter night, I heard Cow scratching and whining at my front door. I found her standing, shaking, crying out. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t tell what had gotten into her.
I gave her hugs and pets. I offered her a bowl of food, and she gulped it down. Then another, and another. Was she cold? Did someone forget to feed her?
Even after I rubbed her until she was warm and fed her until she was full, she would not stop whining and settling into my arms.
The next morning, I rushed to get up and check on her.
She stood quivering in the grass, and let out a stream of liquid feces. Poor pup. Was she sick?
Alberto picked up her front paws, and that’s when we saw it – a gaping wound on the underside of her tail. It was obviously broken, and we were astonished to see her chewing at it.
Her tail was hanging on by a bit of bone and skin.
I wish I’d had the gumption to take her to the vet. But I had just gotten my first puppy of my very own. I didn’t have the money, or the guts. I didn’t want to get too attached to a dog with an uncertain fate.
We spoke with Cow’s owners. They said she had been hit by a car last night, and was hiding from them, so they weren’t able to help her.
Within a day or so, her tail was gone, and what stump remained was blue. The fur was blue. Her owner had apparently cut off the dangling bit of tail, and sprayed some kind of blue medicine on it.
I held my breath, gritted my teeth, and repeated the mantra, “Not my dog. Not my dog.” I held Matilda close.
Cow’s tail healed, and we didn’t question her accident. But now, I can’t help but wonder. How would any car accident cause a wound on the underside of her tail? Why did her stump look so much like a docked tail?
And most importantly, why would she come crying at MY door for help, instead of seeking her owners?
I hesitate to believe that someone may have attempted to dock Cow’s tail in the traditional farm dog style, and she may have run away before the job was done. Docking makes sense for dogs prone to tail injuries, but it’s done by a vet when the puppy is just a few days old. Not when a dog is over 5 months old, and not so carelessly.
Cow Becomes A Woman
Matilda and Cow experienced their first heats around the same time.
Every time I took Matilda from a walk, at least 3 male dogs trailed us. Though the yard was not completely fenced, I was able to keep her from getting knocked up by walking her with a leash. Cow could come and go as she pleased. She followed us whenever we went for a walk.
It seemed strange to put a leash on someone else’s dog, but it didn’t matter. She stayed by my side on those walks as though she was wearing a leash. Sometimes, I brought an extra leash and clipped her up when we left the lot, just to avoid getting in trouble for walking a dog off-leash.
But that didn’t help.
Cow had many boyfriends throughout the neighborhood. A majority of the neighborhood dogs also roamed. I chased them away as often as I could, but I still caught her tied with at three dogs.
Cow’s owner was actually pleased that she was going to have puppies. I was in denial. She carried them in her ribcage, and had been gaining weight anyway, so it didn’t truly dawn on me until about two weeks before delivery.
I put my hand to her belly and felt her babies tumbling and kicking. I hoped they weren’t fathered by the huge, brown boyfriend from down the road.
But they weren’t. They were the product of a chihuahua who lived on the corner. I could tell because two were born with his brown patches. One puppy was about double the size of the others, and mostly black. I didn’t realize until much later that a litter could have multiple fathers, so I now believe he was a half-brother.
I didn’t actually see the puppies until a week after they were born.
One morning, Cow was floppy and saggy, and her teats were wet and milky. She retreated to a hole under a shed next to our house. Each day, I gave her kibble mixed with scrambled eggs or canned puppy food to help her get the extra nutrition to nurse her pups.
When the puppies were a week old, I taped my phone to a broom handle and set it to record a video. Only then could I get a glimpse of four squirming, wrinkled, blind puppies.
At the three-week mark, we began to notice that Cow was regularly coming out of her den, dotted with fat ticks. We knew we had to get her and her puppies out of their den and take care of them. Nobody else would.
I grabbed a spoon and a can of puppy food while Alberto kept Cow distracted – she was defensive about her den full of puppies, and while she had never growled at me, I didn’t want to cause her stress.
I lured the puppies out onto the grass with the puppy food, and they enjoyed their first wobbly steps into the sunlight. They squeaked and took their first bites of food, tentatively at first, then greedily.
We set up Matilda’s old crate in our bathroom, then plastered the floor with pads. We brought the puppies inside and began to care for them.
For 6 weeks, we fed the puppies canned puppy food and mushy soaked kibble, and allowed Cow indoors to nurse them until she could nurse no more. It wasn’t long before Cow, nipples scratched and bloody, was relieved to have us take care of her pups.
The landlord warned us that he had only agreed to have one dog inside our house. So, I found homes for the puppies through local Facebook groups.
The loss of Cow’s beautiful puppies made me want to care for her even more.
Emboldened, we smuggled her indoors like a fugitive as often as we could.
Though she had never been potty-trained, she always went outside to do her business. When she was inside, all she wanted to do was sleep and enjoy the warmth. Sleeping outside on the coldest nights must have been impossible. She always snored, exhausted, appreciative just to have shelter.
One day, I gathered all of my courage and shakily knocked on the landlord’s door. His wife came out, and she was surprisingly easy to talk to. I told her that Cow needed good food, and to be spayed so she wouldn’t have puppies again. I told her that I wanted to take over Cow’s ownership and make her my dog. I shouldn’t have been surprised that she really, truly didn’t mind. I had had nothing to be scared about. Cow had been my dog for much longer than I had realized.
As long as I lived there, Cow was not “allowed” indoors, but when I was reminded of this rule, I nodded sharply and said, “Uh huh!” – and continued to sneak her inside whenever I could, especially when it was very hot or very cold.
Cow Hits The Road
For many reasons, Cow being one, we suddenly had to move in with my family in New Jersey.
Cow is too large to fit under an airline seat, so we had to drive 3,000 miles across the country. Though she was rarely taken on car rides, save for a few park trips and her spay, she tolerated the long drive and behaved perfectly in hotel rooms. She and Matilda spent most of the trip snuggling in the back seat.
Cow’s First Christmas
For Cow’s entire life until now, she spent her time on high alert. She was always outdoors with no training or guidance on how to deal with people passing through her lot. She became reactive, barking her head off and chasing down anyone she saw as a threat. Children teased her, and adults threatened her, possibly by throwing rocks or kicking her – fortunately, few people dared mistreat her while I was watching, but it was custom for dogs to be treated terribly.
Now, Cow doesn’t have to worry. She always has a warm bed to sleep in. Everyone she meets wants to give her love. She no longer has to worry about threats.
She is still on high alert whenever she meets someone new. Many people are scared when she barks at her. She won’t stop barking, even after they pet her. Even after she has met them a few times.
The greatest gift I can give her this Christmas is my patience. I never yell, punish or correct her for expressing her fears. Knowing her story, I can’t blame her for being scared. As days go by, she becomes less and less fearful. As she meets and bonds with more people, she realizes that most people think she’s beautiful and want to be her friend.
All she wanted for Christmas was a warm bed, a full belly, and a sense of safety. That’s just what she’s going to get.