VIOLA - Everything I know I learned from my furred or feathered friends. The lessons began the day my dad decided the Schmidt kids would learn about the birds and the bees from our dog.
Kelly, appropriately named for finding her forever home with us on Saint Patrick's Day, was a purebred Dalmatian. She was the first family dog I’d bonded with, and I worshiped her. I wasn’t sure exactly how she ended up with babies in her belly, because on the day this historic event took place I wasn’t allowed to go along. Dad loaded Kelly into the green station wagon and took her away—without me. My brother and sister didn’t care, but I was foot-stomping mad.
I waited all afternoon for Kelly to come back home. When she did, she didn't look any different to me. Hard as I tried, I didn’t see any babies with her.
But soon Kelly’s belly started to grow, along with my excitement. Dad made a whelping box in our basement for Kelly's big day that was fast approaching. I feigned sickness each morning, trying to make sure I’d be home when the grand event took place and not in stupid school, but no one was fooled.
However, I got lucky! One Saturday morning I heard Dad calling softly from the hallway, “Wake up, Kelly is having her babies.” I climbed down sleepy-eyed from the top bunk and headed down the basement steps to where Dad sat with his book about dog births. It was only Dad and me, and that felt lucky too!
Dad handed me the birthing book. Kelly seemed uncomfortable, but soon a sack of goo came out and she started licking and eating it. Dad looked like he’d faint. Turns out that goo was the sac holding Kelly’s first baby. It was gross to a six-year-old girl and, apparently, to an old man like my dad as well.
After that first one, Dad started removing the birthing sacs before placing each baby next to Kelly’s swollen pink teats. I was engrossed with the whole process. When my mom finally rolled out of bed, she came to the top of the steps and yelled to Dad to send me upstairs, and for me to “march up here this minute.” We didn’t listen. We both knew my mom wasn’t about to come downstairs and make me march up.
I was concerned about the babies being pure white. Kelly had black spots and I’d assumed the babies would too. It wasn’t until later I leaned that their spots start to appear around the fourth month.
Kelly was a great mom and she shared the care of her puppies with me. I’d play with them, they’d poop, and she’d clean them up. Teamwork!
The puppies became my responsibility. At first they mostly nursed, slept, and pooed. When they were older, I gave them their water and food, snuggled and cuddled with them, and watched them play.
Soon the puppies were bigger and the weather grew warm enough that we could take them outside. The pups were a hit with the neighborhood kids and I was proud of them. Dad built a new home for them in our garage where they’d be protected from the weather but where their messes, as they grew, would be easier to clean up.
Naming the puppies was a family affair. Julie Andrews got her name because she would sit and “sing” (some might call it howling); Fat Albert had the largest belly and would lie down to eat; and Fish Hook got his name because one day my brother’s cane pole had fallen in the garage and Fish Hook was caught on it. Ouch!
The way my siblings and I were named—Jack, Jill, and Jane—you'd think we would have named one of the dogs Spot. We didn’t.
Finding good homes for the puppies was my parents' job because I was too young and wanted to keep them all. I was heartbroken to see them go. My mom would tell me I should be happy they were going to good homes, but I wasn’t. Placing a departing puppy into a box with its favorite toy, part of its blankie, or in one case with another puppy, was like having someone tear off my toe. It hurt. They were a part of me and I was a part of them.
My childhood experiences with Kelly and her babies taught me a lot. I learned early that all living creatures, no matter how much you love them, eventually leave or die. I learned that the heartache from that loss lessens with time, but the memories stay forever.The biggest lesson was how to love and respect all animals. And, thanks to the litter of puppies Kelly shared with me years ago, I even learned a bit about the bird and the bees!