Relay: Giving Up Daisy

I envisioned myself walking along the edge of the surf, accompanied by a canine pal

    If you had told me last month that I would be missing a 45-pound bundle of muscle and joy, a “hound mix,” according to ARF, I wouldn’t have believed you.

    I’ve always been a “cat person.” Grew up with them. And despite getting cat scratch fever from my mean black-and-white cat, Furble, as a kid, have always had a love affair with them. Where dogs appeared clumsy, cats were graceful. Where dogs were needy and submissive, cats were noble and aloof. You can cuddle cats, hold them in your arms like babies — and yes, they were my baby substitutes — and sleep with them curled into cozy nooks of your body.

    I had friends whose dogs would jump on you as soon as you got out of your car by way of a messy and violent greeting, pawing with mud, ripping through clothes, bruising legs. Cute in their overaffection? Hell no. I always felt that conditional love had more value than unconditional.

    But all this didn’t preclude my appreciating the appeal of dogs. Certain dogs . . . with sweet aspects and curly of tail. I’m not a huge fan of small dogs with their stunted legs and yippy personalities. And big dogs I’m just not drawn to. Who knows why. Genetic disposition? I like my dogs the way I like my men: of medium build, tight and wiry. I envisioned myself walking along the edge of the surf, accompanied by a canine pal.

    A few Sundays ago while at the beach with my best friend and her daughter, dog lovers both, I suggested we stop at ARF on the way home, “just to look.”

    “I doubt I’ll get one,” I forewarned Molly. I knew it would take a very special dog for me to be seduced. As we walked in, a volunteer was cradling a tiny puff of what looked like smoke in her arms, the palest gray miniature poodle. She placed her in my arms, where this helpless, shivering creature dissolved all my prejudices toward small dogs. We took her into a room to “bond,” where she ran around in a frightened whirl.

    I was beginning to have my doubts, but guilt intervened. I’d brought her this far. “I’ll take her,” I said. A few minutes later, when we were informed that I couldn’t take her — she needed to be in a home with another dog — I went through a momentary range of emotions from outrage to relief.

    We were then given a tour of the facility, taken around the back where large dogs ran around in cages, some barking aggressively, others playfully nudging their noses through the grate. Our tour guide explained that the medium dogs were mostly off at an adoptathon. There was one, however, in the sick ward with an ear infection.

    Daisy looked up at me in that Princess Di way: head tilted away while rolling her eyes back at mine. Her body was lean and powerful, her face a countenance of love and joy. We walked her down a wooded path. She was well behaved and gentle. I was hooked.

    I picked her up the next day equipped with a borrowed crate, which I was told would make her feel safe. Feeling guilty about introducing her to my two-cat household, I needn’t have worried. Savannah and Nelson took only a few hours to allow her into their inner sanctum. The four of us took walks together, much to the delight of passers-by, and we all slept peacefully in my bed.

    At first I was put off by certain things about Daisy: her unfamiliar dog smell, slightly gamey, unlike the fresh-baked-batter scent of cats, and her slime factor, most noticeable when she aimed her tongue at my mouth. Walking her was a tangle of fur and leash, with me pirouetting out of makeshift lassos. My extremities sported a patchwork of bruises. Like new lovers, we hadn’t yet discovered each other’s rhythms. The next ARF dog-training session was weeks away.

    Daisy was not housebroken. The shelter personnel guessed that she was about a year old, an age I had mistakenly thought mature. I would walk her and walk her, yet she would wait till we got home to “do her business.” I wasn’t so bothered by the mess as by our lack of communication.

    On her second day, the lawyers who worked in offices downstairs from my apartment complained that “it sounded like a construction site” after I’d leave her in her crate. So, I brought her into work, where she charmed most everyone and lay quietly at my feet.

    Everyone had advice about bringing up Daisy. What to feed her, how much to feed her, what not to feed her. Naturally, the first treat I bought, a nice-looking (if I were a dog) piece of rawhide twisted into a bone shape and stuffed with a smear of meaty goop, was deemed unhealthy.

    Then there were the toys: action toys, distraction toys, comfort toys. Ka-ching. Ka-ching. Ka-ching. My cats were perfectly content hunting moles and mice all day. Daisy had to be continually entertained.

    One night, invited to dinner by a friend with a fenced-in yard, I brought along Daisy. She scampered playfully with his dog, the two occasionally entwined like long-lost friends.

    She began to run away. She wasn’t running from me, but rather in hopes of finding me, I guessed, as it happened the only two times in our two weeks together that I left her alone. The first time I met a friend for dinner, down the block at Cittanuova. I was gone only an hour. When I returned, Daisy was gone, though I’d closed all the windows to within three inches. There was seemingly no way she could have escaped. Except . . . out the cat door? Normally only her head could get through. My friend said no, impossible. Thank goodness she was microchipped. I got her back within the hour.

    A few nights later I went out again — this time closing the windows and locking her out of the kitchen and access to the cat door. Upon my return, she was missing again. A second-story window had been chewed, the screen busted through; she had propelled herself out the window. This time I spent the entire night worrying. But the next morning Animal Control called to say she’d been found in Montauk. Montauk!

    Turns out she’d coiled herself up at the bus stop on Newtown Lane, where she’d been rescued by a guy who worked at Waldbaum’s, and taken on the bus to his house, where she’d escaped — without her collar. The police found her within minutes on Old Montauk Highway. I was able to piece this all together when I heard from the very nice landlord of the rescuer, who had spent the night worrying about Daisy too, and had dispatched searchers in the morning. I took Daisy back for a visit and to retrieve her collar. “I’d take her,” he said, “but I’m 89.”

    I thought long and hard about keeping Daisy. I had grown to love her, and her smell. I could get her drugs to stop her separation anxiety. I could get her a trainer. I could get her more toys. But I kept thinking about what she would really want. And I knew what it was. She wanted a big yard and a family with a dog. I returned her to ARF with that proviso. Within two days, they found Daisy such a home. Farewell, my dear Daisy. You are missed.

    Debra Scott is a real estate columnist for The Star.