INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Bandit continues his growth spurt during weeks seven and eight. He is now 10 puounds and pretty strong. He is bigger than my smallest cat, Whisper.
But he has a way to go before he overtakes the others. He no longer bites my fingers. His mouth is bigger now so he latches onto my whole forearm instead.
Bandit almost reaches the ledge where I scoop his food. Becky at Pet Network tells me she sees his ribs and I should increase the amount of food I serve him. He is very happy to hear that!
The pup is finally tall enough to make it up the two steps that have been separating him from his next adventure. But it takes two more days before he is brave enough to make the plunge going down the steps all by himself.
One evening, Bandit breaks through the barrier that I have been building higher and higher each week to contain him in the puppy zone of my house. give up. He now has increased his territory to the whole lower level.
We go to Pet Network and Bandit gets a collar, harness and leash. The collar and leash are printed with orange flames, a la biker chic. But they look great against his warm brown fur. Now we are ready for walks.
After two attempts, I get the harness on correctly. I attach the leash, pack a plastic doggie waste bag and some water. Off we go.
During our first outing, he doesn’t go past the end of the driveway. But the next time we are real walkers. We go down the road and around the corner, sniffing and prancing (him, not me).
We meet a few people who recognize him as the Dumpster Pup in the Bonanza. He gives them his best poses. We learn he loves grass, doesn’t mind pine needles and dry dirt, could do without the drain grates and turns out to be a pretty good rock climber.
The plentiful bird and squirrel noises are of great interest. We finish our walk, go back inside the house, and he poops. I guess he prefers dirtying my floor to soiling the great outdoors.
The truth is that Bandit has outgrown me. When his needs were basic I responded instinctually. Although I had no experience with dogs at all, keeping him warm, dry, nourished and loved came naturally.
Now that he has matured, I am in over my head. He is ready to learn how to do the things dogs should do: poop and pee in the right places; lift one leg while peeing; respond to commands like sit, heel, fetch; lick his privates in public; and, hang his head out the car window. He needs a proper coach.
He also needs more space. I notice that he is less interested in my flesh when we are outside or in new environments. My house is not puppy-proof. It is time to turn him back to Pet Network. I love the little guy, but as my friend observes, I love him best when he behaves like a cat.
Each day I decide I am ready to let him go. Then he wins another 24 hours by showing unabashed excitement when he sees me and tilting his head just so. I adore him. They call it puppy love. But if you love him, let him go.
We spend our last evening together. We take a long walk, dine and play. I consider letting him sleep on the bed or in the bedroom until my husband and two of my cats object loudly. I pack the pup’s special things and prepare for his morning departure. Bandit will leave my home but stay in my heart.
In the morning we have a final walk, and then head to Pet Network. It takes three trips into the building to deliver Bandit, his food, his carrier and all the special toys and bedding he has accumulated in eight weeks. Although I am positive this is the right thing to do, I start sobbing. Leaving him is easier said than done.
Bandit will be neutered at Pet Network and become available for adoption. Between 3 and 4 million healthy unwanted dogs and cats are euthanized in the U.S. each year. Bandit is safe. And neither Bandit nor his litter mates will ever create another unwanted pup.
On July 23, I responded to an emergency and took Bandit and a littermate home. There were only hours old. I had hoped to keep them alive overnight until experienced help arrived.
Eight weeks later, I have taken Bandit from a 4-ounce trembling neonate to a 10-pound healthy young pup. He is ready to enrich the lives of a devoted new family.
And that, my friends, is how I spent my summer vacation.
I would like to thank the wonderful animal lovers who followed the story of the Dumpster Pups and supported our work both financially and in spirit. A special thank you to Rich and Norman who were the first to come forward with a generous donation for the special needs litter.
And thank you to Deb and Dave from far away Buffalo, N.Y., and Carl and Nancy from Nevada City and all the caring Tahoe region folks who made donations. We truly appreciate your support.
Beverly Keil is a board member with the Pet Network Humane Society. Learn more at www.petnetwork.org.