The Four Pieces of My Heart

Tails of Love

The Four Pieces of My Heart
From left to right - Mr. Biscuits, Mr. Sprinkles, Mrs. Truffles, and Mr. Noodles

At the age of 32 I expected to have children by now. For ten years I tried, until getting the final word last year that I cannot. It also turns out, as we found out late last year, adoption is not possible for us, which only reinforced what I already knew: my pups are my babies. Some people laugh when they hear that. Others roll their eyes. Some do both. I don’t let that stop me from going off on a tangent about my pups and yanking out all the pictures I have of them.

Beginning in order of when they came into my life, I’ll start with Mr. Biscuits, a Boston Terrier who has been with me for my entire adult life. The "runt" of the litter, I got him when he was a year old from a couple that was going to be stationed in England. He will be 13 in January. He is a cranky, curmudgeonly old man who barks from the sidelines as his siblings scuffle around him. He is regimented, requiring his dinner at exactly 6:00 p.m. and not a minute later. He also must have his sweaters during the winter and his sports jersey during the summer or he will certainly let you know he’s angry about it. As soon as he sees his sweater come out of the dryer, he's rushing over and barking for it to be put on (at least, I think that's what he's barking about...) At the vet’s office his chart is tagged with a big red sticker that says “Caution: May Bite.” When I first noticed it, the vet and I laughed together and she said, “Well, that’s only when his mommy isn’t around.”

He also is what we consider a "world traveler," although that may be a little dramatic. He has been on every vacation with us, to 11 states around the country. He proudly struts down the halls of hotels, sniffing out the latest news from any prior furry visitors. He snuggles into the king-sized bed between my husband and I and falls fast asleep, his arthritic paws tucked beneath his chin. Contrary to that red sticker, he enjoys meeting new people on his travels. On our first vacation to Chincoteague Island, the owner of the cabins we stayed in was quite taken by him. “Keep an eye on him. Somebody is gon’ steal him,” she said as she scratched his head. When I held a garage sale and had him in my lap, a woman approached and asked if he was for sale. She followed up by saying she was joking, and then followed up again with: “But seriously, how much?”

Mr. Biscuits has been with me through more than I can even begin to say; my divorce from my first husband, the passing of my mom, my honeymoon with my now-husband, our move halfway across the country from New Jersey to Arkansas, the buying of our first home, and all the wonderful and heartbreaking things in between. And I'm happy to say, I have been there for all of his big moments in life, like his weekly visits to a rehab doctor, his "Aunt Lisa," who saved his life with her therapies and vitamin supplement recommendations for his arthritis. I cuddled him on the couch after I got the call from the vet that his tumor was cancerous. I talked to him on the three-hour round trip to the out-of-state specialist. I danced with him in my arms in the kitchen when I got the call that he was cancer-free. I held him in my arms while the vet did an ultrasound on his belly to check for another possible tumor (it turns out his spleen is just shaped funny.) After everything we've been through together, I am proud to say that Mr. Biscuits, the Beansicle, the Jelly Bean, has and always will remain King of the Pack.

And with that, I'll move on to the little guy we've had since eight weeks old -- Mr. Sprinkles, the most hysterical troublemaker of the group, named for the dots on his face he had when he was born (which have since melded into a black patch.) Also a Boston Terrier, he has the same cuddly personality as his "brother." As a young pup (a year and a half) he still hasn't quite mastered the art of giving kisses, unless you count slobbering all over your face while pinning you by each shoulder a kiss. His days at daycare with his friends have given him muscular thighs and a slim build, despite how much he eats. The only part on him with a bit of meat is his jowls, from which he perpetually drools. He's light on his feet, seemingly levitating to even the most awkward of spots and landing without a sound.

In his thus far short lifetime, he has probably cost me almost as much as Mr. Biscuits has in 12 and a half years. One of the most notable occasions in which I was called to motherly duty began when I came in the house and found he had broken into our sun room. What's in the sun room, you're wondering? A 50-pound bag of dry food. Dry food which, after trial and error, we learned his stomach can't handle, hence why we locked it in a separate room. But there he was, his back legs dangling off the ground while the rest of his body was digging around inside the bag. I yanked him out, unaware of how much he had actually gotten. I thought we might just be in for a long night of diarrhea, but no. Mr. Sprinkles had other plans for us. A few hours later, my husband called me in my office and told me Mr. Sprinkles wasn't moving a lot and appeared bloated. After an examination, I immediately whisked him to the emergency vet, concerned there was a blockage. His stomach looked twice as large as usual. After an ultrasound and x-ray were performed, the vet entered the room, calling in the two vet techs who were all giggling.

"They have to see this," she said, popping the x-ray up on the screen. "Do you see all this?" She pointed to the large circle which I assumed was the stomach. "I've never seen a dog eat so much." She assured me that it would be a rough night, but he would be just fine. Sure enough, before I had even finished paying, the "rough night" began all over the floor of the vet's office.

They say if you want to have kids, get a dog first. I used to think it didn't make any sense, but then I got Mr. Sprinkles. His teething stage cost us at least ten TV remotes, a couch, a tomato-shaped pin cushion that my mom had since she was 15 that I received after her passing, and numerous other objects before we were able to properly train him. There are people out there that would give up at the first or second or even tenth time their dog breaks their "rules." But in our life, we never gave that a thought. Mr. Sprinkles was a part of our family the day we brought him home, little brother to Mr. Biscuits. He's a daddy's boy, burrowing beneath the blanket at bedtime so he can get behind my husband's legs and curl up into a donut, and galloping toward him when he comes in from work every day. No matter how old he gets, he will always be the Prince of the Pack.

The third pup we got -- oh, buckle in for this story. In July 2019, my husband and I were contacted by the woman we got Mr. Sprinkles from. She was due to have a Frenchie born soon. We had been looking at rescues to see if we could find that third pup to complete our family, but nothing jumped out at us. But a Frenchie? We already had the name picked out: Meatball. It was odd, though, that it didn't feel right for some reason. I couldn't pinpoint it.

The day Meatball was born, she called to let me know and sent plenty of photos. She always did photo shoots for her newborns and this time, she even offered to include Mr. Biscuits and Mr. Sprinkles in the photos so we could have a nice family photo. We were thrilled!

Our happiness was short-lived. Two days later she called me. I knew something was wrong. She explained that early in the morning, Meatball had passed away. As the sole pup of the litter, the chances weren't good for survival. I don't know enough about dogs giving birth to know why that is the case for Frenchies, but nevertheless, it was. I was heartbroken. At dinner that night, I told my husband that I didn't know what the reason for it was, but I knew there was one.

A couple weeks later we went back to scrolling through rescue sites and even reached out to a couple people, but my heart still ached for Meatball. On Tuesday, August 27th, I told my husband that something still didn't feel right, that maybe we were pushing it. I told him I thought the right dog would find us, that we didn't need to search for him or her. The following night, August 28th, I was sitting at the kitchen table after dinner and looking out the window at our driveway. I remember being amazed that we had found this house, one of two houses on the street surrounded by farmland. It was in the country in what felt like the middle of nowhere, yet only ten minutes from the center of town, just like I always wanted. That’s when the thought popped into my head once more: "The right dog will find us.”

I went to bed around 10:00 p.m. My husband stayed up to finish watching his show. Only about a half hour later did he wake me. "Honey, there's a dog at the front door." I shot up out of bed. I thought he was joking.

"What?" I grabbed my glasses.

"There's a dog scratching at the front door."

I stared at him. "You're joking."

"No. I swear to God."

I got out of bed and went to the front door. There was no dog. "Are you drunk?" I asked him.

"She was right there," he said, peeking outside.

I closed the door and grabbed my shoes. "Watch the boys. I'll go find her." But I didn't have to find her, because when I opened the door once more there she was, panting, her tail wagging furiously with excitement. She was a full-grown Pit Bull, but she looked severely underweight. Cautiously -- mainly because she was a stray but, yes, partially because she was a Pit -- I opened the screen door and stepped outside. I put my hand in front of her face and let her sniff me. She stood up, two front paws on my stomach, and stuck her head beneath my hands so I could scratch her head. Her tail didn't miss a beat.

I told my husband to get some food as I got a better look at her. Her ribs were showing, her nipples almost touching the ground -- she had definitely given birth several times. She stayed near me the entire time as we were eaten alive by mosquitoes. My husband stood outside with me as we tried to figure out what to do. I didn't want to bring a stray, even one as sweet as she was, into the home with our two little Bosties without knowing how she would react. But I couldn't just leave her. After all, she had already decided she wanted to live with us.

After some discussion, we decided to bring her in our side door to the sun room where I would sleep with her and make a vet appointment first thing in the morning so we could see if she had a chip and/or what care she needed. I spent most of that night searching lost dog sites and posting her picture on Facebook. In her condition, I didn't expect anyone would respond. She had either been on her own for a long time or had escaped from someone who didn't know how to properly care for her.

When I got her to the vet, they scanned her for a chip. Of course, she didn't have one. She was underweight and riddled with worms. She got her vaccinations and a dewormer and home we went. It wasn't long before we were back at the vet when I noticed the sores on her skin that I thought were mosquito bites weren't healing. When the vet told me she had a severe skin infection from allergies and would need to be placed in the ICU, it felt like I had failed. I wasn't even sure why, since she had only been with us a few weeks and I had done everything I could to fatten her up and make her happy. Each passing day was another day I wanted her home with me where I knew she belonged.

Finally, four days later, we picked her up. Her sores were healing and she jumped into the car with her tongue hanging out and the classic Pittie smile spread across her face. I brought her home and within a couple weeks, she was running and playing with her new brothers. She snuggled with Mr. Biscuits but as if sensing that he was the elder, she didn't get too rough with him. Instead, she burned off her energy running around the yard with Mr. Sprinkles, who still enjoys sticking his bum in her face to entice her into a good game of tug of war. Mrs. Truffles, once a Lady of the Night, quickly became the Queen of the Pack.

That brings me to the newest member of the family: Mr. Noodles, "the little puppy who could," if he could just sit still long enough. At the height of the pandemic and following an F3 tornado that tore through our town, we decided it would be a great idea if we could foster a dog. A new rescue opened up nearby and needed immediate assistance. They had a pup who had been abandoned on the side of the road. We knew nothing about him, but I couldn't stop staring at his picture among all the other pictures they had on their page -- his floppy ears, unique array of colors, gigantic paws and a tiny head that looked too small for his body.

They brought him over a couple days after we were approved. He hid under the bed all night, shaking. Not even food could coax him out from his safe place. The others didn't seem to mind him. In fact, all they really wanted to do was play, but he wanted nothing to do with it. A visit to the vet revealed he was between 3 and 4 months old and most likely, among other breeds, a mix of Greyhound, Pit Bull, and Shar Pei. It didn't take long before I fell in love with his goofy face, floppy body, and obsession with sticks. Not even one week ago, we officially adopted him. A foster fail, as it is sometimes called.

As this is being written, we are still working on the potty training. Rather than running outside for potty time one last time before bed, he runs outside to chase bugs and try to catch them midair (and sometimes succeeds.) He carries his toys with him, falls over when he's trying to scratch himself, and even with his extra-long tongue, he still can't manage to clean all the food off his nose when he finishes dinner.

Sometimes, though, I sit on the floor so I can hug each of them and Mr. Noodles will run up and climb into my lap. He nuzzles his head against my arm and looks up at me, his mouth curling upward. For just a moment, he sits still, staring into my eyes. It's only a couple seconds before he's up and running again, but it feels like a lifetime.

I would love to share more stories about the goofy, floppy Mr. Noodles but he hasn't quite been here long enough to come up with as many as the others. One thing I will say is, just from the short time we've been together I know there are plenty more to come from the aptly nicknamed Jester of the Pack.

It's been said that a mother always has a favorite. I'm not sure how that works for human babies, but I will say that if I had to choose, I couldn't. They are all a part of my life. I can't imagine a day without "baby kisses" from Mr. Biscuits, a car ride without Mrs. Truffles, a bedtime without Mr. Sprinkles, or a relaxing night not being interrupted by one of the infamous antics of Mr. Noodles. I cherish every day with them and while I know they will "go off to college," as we call it, long before I leave this planet, I intend to make every day of their lives the best day they've ever had, just as they do for my life.

Read next: Calling All Wannabe Pet Owners
CJ Morrell

It's one thing to believe you're meant to be an author, but it's another thing to BE an author. I let the pressures of society and my mental state dictate my past, but now I'm living in the present and deciding my future.

Enjoy my story.

See all posts by CJ Morrell