May 25th, 2010
This morning I found “our puppy’s” mom and the rest of the litter. I started my morning in a bit of a rush. Paula and I were taking five of my students to visit the Chongqing Municipal Child Welfare Institute, and I needed to go to the local department store and pick up some gifts for the children before meeting up with the students in the main square on campus. The “Happy People” Department Store (Ren Ren Le) is just outside the main gate of campus, and I had to pass my favorite street food vendor, the one who sells the egg and tofu sandwich goodness from
Gads. I marched off to the store for happy people and shaking my head with astonishment as I thought about human orphans, puzzling over what appropriate gifts to bring to the orphanage. I had rejected my Chinese hosts suggestion that I bring a bag of candy, but now I was at a loss considering what might be a better substitute for this. I settled on ten large bouncy balls, a bag of Jell-O snacks popular among Chinese parents, and small individual packets of rice crackers for the older children. Remembering the babies in bouncers set in front of the television at my daughter’s orphanage, I also purchased a DVD with English lessons for children and another of children doing dance performances. By the time I had rendezvoused with my students and Paula I had no time to return to the pups and contemplate the situation further.
I shared a taxi cab to the orphanage with two students, one of whom was raised on a farm and has had a great deal of experience hand-raising orphaned animals. Her progeny includes a baby squirrel that eventually went to live in a nature education center, baby kittens and puppies who needed to bottle fed for various reasons, baby goats who lived in her bedroom, and a baby horse whose mother died in childbirth and who used to walk into their house and eat fruit loops from their pantry. Heather has some credentials. I told her about my discovery and asked her the question: “So, is our puppy better off if we bring him back to his mother?” Heather looked at me like I’d just fallen off a pumpkin cart, “Colette, the mother will never accept that pup back. He’s been gone too long and she has too many babies to feed.” I was actually somewhat relieved to hear this answer, knowing how the mother had already left him once and knowing how robust he was compared to his siblings.
Fast forward past the orphanage visit (a story that doesn’t really belong in this narrative, but in another that I hope to write soon). After I had lunch with my students just outside of campus we were walking back past the
So there are kind people feeding this stray mother dog, and seven puppies growing larger (albeit, slowly) on their mother’s milk, destined to be strays if they survive. And we have “our puppy,” who has begun to wag his tail and lick our hands, thriving on our bottled milk. He’ll be a farm dog if we send him to the country, well fed and free to roam, though never to sleep at the foot of anyone’s bed. And we have at least three students in our group who claim their parents want to adopt him, and even I had a conversation with my husband this evening about the possibility of adding a three or four month old puppy to our busy lives, which is how old he would be once he were old enough for his immunizations and transport. We’ve dug up the email address of the contact from the relocation company that helped us get our cats home with us to the
This train is moving fast, and I can’t quite get my head around it. I ask my better self what the right thing is to do, and she shakes her head, bewildered. I say the orphanage narrative is its own narrative, but I suppose in my head it’s not. I am trying not to anthropomorphize, but it is hard not to. The mother looked so content, as if she had not noticed she was missing two of her pups. Do we live in a world where this is possible? And our pup, once twitchy and whimpering, is thriving without her—quick to snuggle and to offer new kisses, and beginning to shower us with love.
This morning I walked through room after room in an impressive orphanage, witnessing the efforts the staff there has made to give orphaned children a home. Almost daily they receive abandoned infants, left at their gates or brought to them by the police. It is a model orphanage, unusually bountiful in material conditions and in skilled in the training of its staff. The children’s physical and educational needs are being met, yet still, they remain without families.
Back to this pup. I want our pup to have a family, and if his mother were to take him back, he has only a few brief weeks to wrestle with his siblings for his mother’s milk before he’s free to survive on his own. I’ve seen the strays all over this campus, with their scabs and their ribs, darting across busy streets or picking through trash. Our pup might be fed by a farm family, run through fields and sleep in the sun, happy with an outdoor life; our pup might be fed by a suburban family, take long leashed walks and sleep on a little girl’s bed, happy with a pampered suburban life. I’ve sent an email message to Ms. Ma from the relocation company and am going to bed now, my head still foggy, trying to comprehend my role in this pup’s life; trying to comprehend both family and fate.