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The Dina Years – Puppyhood

Puppy Dina

Puppy Dina

When I was sixteen years old, my parents, my brother and I went to a Long Island animal shelter to find a new puppy. We’d lost our previous dog over the summer to diabetes, and the house was feeling empty. We had to wait in line on a cold January morning because that was when my brother was home from college.

There was a litter of Labrador/mix puppies set up in cages around the room, and I chose the girl puppy because she had a drippy nose and rubbed it against my hand through the bars of her cage. Within hours of bringing her home, we found out that she was sick. She wasn’t just sniffling; she was also vomiting and woozy. This animal shelter, we later learned, had a reputation for adopting out sickly animals and our puppy had to go back and stay for a week of anti-biotics before she could come home.

We had named her Dina, because my father wanted a biblical name, and my brother was indifferent, and I thought of Dina, the sister of the twelve tribes of Israel, who we’d been learning about at my orthodox Jewish school. My brother shrugged and my father gave me a funny look, maybe because Dina was famous for being raped, and then avenged by her brothers. But he didn’t argue, for once.

When Dina came back home, we put newspaper down on the floor, but expected her to know how to pee outdoors. My father yelled at her for eating from the table, and then gave her his leftovers from the table. She had full run of the house with no boundaries, but she was expected to know that furniture was off limits for chewing. I asked if we could take Dina to an obedience class but my father refused. He saw nothing wrong with the way things were. Dina would continue to misbehave and he would continue to yell at her, and blame my mother, as it should be.

            She liked to spend time up in the attic, because it was the warmest room in the house, and it was a convenient place to poop without being noticed or yelled at. While she was up there, she found a big black garbage bag filled with my childhood stuffed animals. I had just recently put my toys into storage, in an attempt to force myself to grow up. And I didn’t mind sharing my toys with her, except she didn’t just teethe on the stuffed animals and cover their soft fur with slobber. She ripped them open and stuck her nose into their bellies, leaving wet cotton lumps on the carpet. Then she dragged the lifeless bodies of each of my old playmates to my bedroom door.

            My brother’s paraphernalia remained untouched. She didn’t even bother with his smelly socks or worn old sneakers. His room – a shrine to clutter and odd, unidentifiable smells – remained pristine and unchewed.

My mother suggested that Dina was “playing” with my toys because she missed me when I was in school during the day, and she was looking for smells that reminded her of me. It all sounded farfetched to me, especially the idea that I had a recognizable odor. That just sounded wrong.

But after a while, Dina had devoured all of my small stuffed animals, and moved on to Panda. He was life-sized, or the size my life took when I was four years old and my grandfather thought I needed a companion my own height. My grandfather died when I was eight years old, and Panda was watching over me as his stand in.

My Grandpa

My Grandpa

Somehow, Dina knew that Panda was hidden in the back of my bedroom closet. She nosed open the closet door, pushed my clothes out of the way, and climbed up Panda’s overstuffed legs. She balanced her paws on his belly and gnawed with focus and determination on his pompom belly button and googly eyes.

I found Panda, humiliated and shamed, on the floor of my room, when I came home from school that day. Mom did her best to sew things back into place, and then she sent Panda for the water cure, in the washing machine, which seemed to help. But I was angry, and I refused to let Dina back into my room for days.

Panda, after plastic surgery, ready for physical therapy.

Panda, after plastic surgery, ready for physical therapy.

Dina was bereft. She scratched at my bedroom door with her nails, leaving deep grooves in the wood, even cutting through the corner of the hollow door with her teeth. I had to relent, for the sake of her mental health, and the health of my door.

As soon as I let her back into my room, she climbed up on my bed. She made a half hearted attempt to chew on my math textbook, but then she stretched out to watch TV with me. She leaned her head on my legs and I could feel her breath and her warmth, and I thought, this is better than a stuffed animal. This is real. Maybe Grandpa sent her to be my new watcher.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

62 responses »

  1. I guessed it – even for a puppy who likes to chew on all things this math stuff is suspect :o)

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  2. Oh how lovely the stories of our childhood pets 🙂 yes the shops are no place for a pet,the sellers all too often quick to pass off these poor souls to the unknowing.Our Forrest was from a pet shop and we later found out a puppy farmed puppy,he has had issues with other dogs except for Doc who was a year old when we bought Forrest home.He can’t tolerate other dogs and training socialising etc has not worked,he loves people and here where we live he has 11 acres to frolick safely with us.He is ten this year and he is our boy,but i hate what must have been his birth situation and how it has affected him.:)

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  3. Dogs will be dogs…if they were completely human, they would be no fun. Great Story.

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  4. Sweet ending, dogs don’t like to be separated from their pack. Dina missed you and wanted to part of your pack. Lovely story.

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  5. Very sweet. Every child should have a dog. I was fortunate to grow up in a house full of pets and learned compassion for animals at an early age. They have enriched my life.

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    • I would have loved to have a house full of pets. My parents had rabbits and ducks and even a pony before I was born. Just add three or four dogs and that would have been my idea of heaven.

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      • I’ve had dogs, cats, fish (tropical and goldfish), birds (parakeets, a rescued pigeon and sparrow and grouse), turtles, frogs, ducks, horses (boarded somewhere else), hamsters, guinea pigs, and a monkey (really!), And lived in the city in a little rowhouse. I’m sure the neighbors thought my Mom and Dad were crazy.

  6. BabyGirl and Midnight still to this day de stuff stuffed animals. White puffs all over the just vacuumed carpet . BabyGirl is a elder girl that thinks she is still a puppy.There is not a stuff animal in this house that will survive LOL. I continue to still buy them and clean up the mess because they just love those stuff animals. They also keep the pieces for play time together playing Tug.

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    • When I got Cricket, I made sure to buy her stuffed animals of her own, so I wouldn’t take the de-stuffing so personally. Now, when I find white puffs on the floor, I don’t feel my heart breaking, I just call in my Mom, the stuffed animal surgeon.

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  7. What a lovely story of what is obviously a very favourite family animal.

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  8. hello rachel its dennis the vizsla dog hay wow that is funny wun of the first things i did wen i wuz first adopted heer is steel wun of dadas old stuffies and tayk him owt into the yard to choo on him!!! fortchoonatly or unfortchoonatly deepending on yore poynt of vyoo dada notisd his stuffie wuz missing and reskyewd him frum me before i cud do more then put a tooth hole in him and now all dadas old stuffies liv on a shelf wot i cannot reetch!!! i gess the moral of the story is that hyoomans dont like to shayr there stuffies with dogs!!! ha ha ok bye

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  9. This is so beautifully written. I love it. I have my version of Panda at my mom’s house. His name is Bobby Bear. I got him when I was two and my brother was born. He is so worn out that he would not make it through a journey to join me at my house, or to withstand being played with by anyone else. He watches over my old room, though, with a few choice companions.

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    • Thank you! Panda had to go through some pretty serious surgeries to get back to the wonderful good health he’s in today. He had a stuffing transplant, and an eye replacement and some nips and ticks here and there. He might have preferred a nice retirement home like Bobby Bear’s to the trauma of all of that.

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  10. OK, I’ve heard one side of the story. Too bad Dina isn’t here to defend herself. Maybe she left memoirs in a closet while she was alive. We dogs never get to present our point of view.

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  11. awesome post have a good bank holiday monday

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  12. I loved your story. I have had dogs all of my life and there has been chaos, mayhem and loyalty and love as well. Nowadays, I have two basset hounds and they are both cute and a menace! At least my little one, Lucy, who decided it was time to change the living room couch and chewed it until she pulled the fabric off and moved on to chew the stuffing in the arm of the couch. Needless to say we were furious! However, when I had a miscarriage on my sixth week, she never left my side, sitting with me on the couch when I watched TV and just following me around the apartment all day. Dogs will be dogs and there will always be casualties but also many good memories.

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  13. I just visited your blog for the first time, and I am very moved. Your writing is so authentic and sensitive. Also, I had a pup who looked a lot lot like Cricket. I will put a photo of her up on my blog in the next week. I love the reconciliation with Dina.

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  14. So sweet. Beautiful story. Gorgeous photo of Dina. : ))x

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  15. A wonderful, wonderful story-and a reminder of how dogs want nothing more from us than our love-I know mine hate to be scolded and are so unhappy until I *forgive* them (let’s face it-it is hard to stay angry with them)-but it really reminds me of how they live to love and be there for us-

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  16. This is such a beautiful and heartwarming story. Dina was lucky to have a person like you in her life, loving her and understanding her. She was a cutie, too!

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  17. Wonderful story I adore dogs so I found this most amusing..I myself have a little 4 year old Lurcher black, and she collects Shoes..She was very Lucky to have found someone like you.
    Hugs Sheila

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  18. Sweet tale-thanks for sharing Dina’s story…she sure was a good pup….**hugs**

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  19. It is now almost twelve years since my Scruffy died of cancer and I still miss her. Truthfully, she was the scruffiest thing you ever did see. Not matter how much we bathed, groomed and brushed her, she would just shake herself and the hair we had so carefully brushed and combed, would go everywhere – but she was the most adorable dog we ever had. I love my current two dogs dearly, but I still think of Scruffy with great affection.

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  20. A joy to read — very well written. I’m glad I came over here after you liked my post to see what you were up to. 🙂

    My dog Samwise went through a teething-chewing phase that almost broke the bank. I stopped counting after a thousand dollars. His favorite was the power cards for laptops (where you had to buy that particular power cord). But he like furniture like your dog, small pieces of wooden furniture were tasty too.

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    • Thank you! When I first got Cricket, I hoped I had learned so much form Dina that my belongings would be safe. We filled the apartment with chew toys and peanut butter ice cubes and bitter apple spray for the furniture. Of course, nothing worked. She dismantled a wicker garbage can row by row, and “softened” all of the sharp edges on whatever furniture remained.

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      • Oh that gave me a chuckle and a smile. We try to plan ahead and control what we can but they have a mind of their own.

        My first dog Tigger was a lab shepherd, weaned much too early, and so sweet and loving but very insecure. We nicknamed her Delta dog because she always wanted to be at the bottom of the pack. I loved the combination of smart-protective and fun-friendly and got a lab shepherd the second time. He turned out to be an alpha dog, confident, calm, and fearless. He was nicknamed Sergeant by people at the park because he polices fights and protects puppies. Not what I expected or was prepared for! A real learning experience, and he is a joy in my heart.

  21. this is really excellent; i feel i know dina, and i love the part about maybe your grampa sent dina to be your new “watcher”

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  22. You must be a fabulous writing coach. Your writing is so clear that I felt as if I should run upstairs and make sure Dina wasn’t upstairs looking for friends in our stuffed animal collection! Thank you for sharing her with me this morning.

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  23. Thank you for always.
    Your blog is great.
    How to use WordPress does not know yet, but I’ll do my best…..

    Reply
  24. Lovely ! My friend had a female dachshund named ginne, she used to chew footwear. Whenever we went to her house we used hide our slippers, there were times when I came home with single slipper 😀

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    • I had a shoe obsession when I was little too, it’s all about what comes into your eye-line. I don’t think I ever chewed the shoes though. I’ll have to ask Mom. At the very least, ginne was getting her fiber!

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  25. Really cute post love all the animals.

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  26. lucylingphotography

    What a sweet pup ! Great posts maximum cute dogs ❤ x

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  27. awwwwwww! cute story! 🙂

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  28. Grandpa or a spirit (or God) brought you recognition of the puppy who needed love. Had a rough baby puppy time before coming to live with you. Glad you found peace and warm puppy breath on your leg, while you had a sewn and patched together panda bear, too.

    Reply

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