Ripple was the type of dog you don’t easily forget. She had showed up one early-summer morning through my back gate and right on to my back porch as if she’d always lived here. I was sitting at the dining table, drinking my first cup of black coffee and working on my second sudoku. Catching movement from the corner of my eye, I turned to see a small wire-haired terrier of some sort self-assuredly making her way up the path in the lawn, two steps up and onto the porch. She sat down and stared at me through the mesh of the screen door.
“Hey girl,” I sweet-talked her and stood to greet her. I noticed her dingy pink collar with a single silver bone-shaped name tag hanging from the loop, along with about two inches of very rusty thin chain. Her fur, a salt-and-pepper mix, was matted and filthy. One ear stood almost upright while the other flopped in a perfect triangle button. She was much too thin but had a distended belly. When I spoke, her head tipped to the side just a little and she closed her mouth for a moment before she began quietly panting again. Her bright eyes were alert and friendly.
“Are you lost?” I opened the screen door and stepped out. The very tip of her tail thumped on the faded wooden deck. I knelt before her and slowly extended my hand. She shied a little but held her ground. Okay, no petting. “May I see your tag?” I asked gently. She stopped panting and I carefully reached for her tag. RIPPLE, it read. No number, no address. Just, RIPPLE. “Hi Ripple!” I said cheerfully. Ripple stood up and trotted back out of my yard, beyond the fence, to the back alley. I hoped she was going back to her home. If she had a home…
Two days later, I heard a small whine from the porch and once again saw Ripple sitting there. Still dirty and too thin. “Good morning, Ripple!” I greeted her. Her tail thumped twice. “Would you like a drink?” She cocked her head again. I pulled a small ceramic bowl from the cupboard, filled it with tap water, and set it outside. Ripple drank it all noisily, water splashing out onto the wooden planks. I refilled it and she finished most of the bowl, turned around, and leisurely made her way to the back alley again. I filled the bowl with fresh water and left it out on the porch.
After that morning, Ripple began to visit regularly. Every day or two she would show up, with a little whine to let me know she was there, drank her bowl of water (or two), and when I began leaving a small bowl filled with ground-up raw meat and pumpkin, she ate that too. Ripple was polite. She never barked, never overstayed her welcome, never invited herself inside or relieved herself in my yard. After about three weeks, she let me give her a little scratch on the rump or her chest. For just a moment she’d lean into my hand and her eyes would close for a moment before she’d stand up and take her leave again.
One morning I noticed Ripple’s distended tummy was thin. Had she been pregnant? The following morning I noticed her nipples were inflamed and her glands were bigger. Indeed she must have had puppies. Puppies! I asked Ripple about it but she only thumped her tail a few times and left without saying yes or no. This time, though, I turned out the lights in the kitchen and dining room and stood back from the door, in the shadows, and waited. Sure enough, not ten minutes later, I saw Ripple’s nose cautiously peek around the edge of the fence. She stood a moment, staring at my back door. I held my breath. Could she see me?
Tip-toeing into my yard, the little dog went to a large heavy rose bush in the corner of the garden and squeezed into the branches and thorns. I thought I could hear little squeaks and whimpers. A few minutes later Ripple quietly snuck out again. Over the following days, I observed her coming and going quite a few times. I wondered where else she went when she left. I took some straw and squeezed my way into the thorny bush, seeing three little grey mutts curled up together. I spread the hay as well as I could, making a little nest around them while trying not to wake them up. The following morning, Ripple seemed to thank me for the gift by setting one paw on top of my knee as I knelt by her for our morning ritual. I told her she was a good mama.
When we were well into summer, Ripple surprised me one morning. I sat on the top step with my coffee cup beside me and a comb in one hand, as I intended to sit there in the shade and comb out my hair after she left. Ripple sat down next to me, thumped her tail, and looked pointedly at the comb. I explained what it was and what I was going to use it for. She looked at me with those sparkling eyes and then back at the comb. She silently woofed. No sound, just the motion of it. “Would you like me to brush you, Ripple?” Now would be the time she’d normally get up and take her leave. Today, though, she looked into my eyes again. It was as if she were asking me to, maybe just this once, pamper her.
I couldn’t refuse my friend. I took the comb and gently tried to brush her chest. It wasn’t easy, she was so filthy and it had been so long since she had been brushed, clearly. She didn’t move. I kept at it. Sometimes switching where I used the comb, so as to not make her skin raw. I couldn’t believe she let me brush her for a full thirty minutes then she stood up, shook off, and walked down the path. Before reaching the fence, she turned back to look at me, something she had never done before, wagged her tail, then left through the open gate.
After that, Ripple let me brush her a little each morning, in addition to our scratches. Soon her fur began to look pretty good, for a street dog. Then the puppies got older and began to tumble and play in the backyard. They were nearly as aloof as their mother. Each would allow me to give them a small pet, but only for a moment. None of them were aggressive. I watched and wondered what I should do with them. They weren’t my pets. They were Ripple’s puppies. I saw a difference. But I also wanted to be responsible. I asked Ripple one morning about it. She looked up at me and wagged her tail and then left.
The next day I realized there were only two puppies. I looked all over for the biggest one. Had it wandered off? I worried. Ripple didn’t seem worried. Two days later, another puppy disappeared. This time I cried. I felt it was somehow my fault. I should have found them homes. I walked around the neighborhood but never did see them. A week later, the last puppy, the smallest of the three, disappeared. Ripple, for her part, showed no anxiety.
Is this how it is, then? Could it be she doesn’t really care for her own puppies? Or is she so jaded with her hard life that she resigned herself to the loss and keeps going on? I had no answers. Shortly after the last puppy disappeared, so did Ripple. Day after day, I waited for her. Her food and water dishes remained untouched.
I felt empty. I had come to look forward to our mornings together. Her brown eyes and dirty black and grey fur with its wiry touch and haphazard style. The way she only wagged her tail two or three times. She was her own dog. Her spirit was kind and thoughtful. Ripple had touched my soul.
It was mid-autumn and I was walking around the neighborhood, as I often did for exercise and fresh air, when I caught sight of a little dark grey terrier puppy in a front yard, playing with a teenage boy and a younger boy, maybe nine or ten. They laughed as the pup clumsily ran after a stick, tripping, picking it up and carrying it back, its head pulled off to one side as the stick dragged in the grass. Was it…? Could it be…? My pace quickened and then I called out a hello. They stopped playing with the pup and came to sidewalk. “May I ask where you got your puppy?”
The teen laughed and answered exuberantly. “It was the craziest thing; this mom-dog shows up at our door and yipped and whined until my mom came out. There she was with this one next to her. The mom-dog sat down and whined, looking at my mom and then to this puppy. Mom said it was like she was asking her to take it, so she did. Just picked him up and the dog wagged her tail and walked down the driveway and down the street. We named him Jackson!” I had no response. I thanked the young man and turned to continue on my way when he called out.
“You know what else? We weren’t the only ones! Old Mrs. Appleton two houses across,” and here he pointed to said house while continuing, “she said the same thing happened to her! So she’s got Jackson’s sister! Isn’t that the coolest?!” I agreed and continued, completely awestruck.
It didn’t take long to find out Ripple had found a home for the third one as well, two streets up from mine. I was blown away. Ripple had taken care of her pups in the best way she could. She found them homes. And not just any home. Good homes. Loving homes. Once more I marveled at how much she touched my heart.
Just as winter began, with the lightest dusting of snow covering the neighborhood, I heard a whine at my back door. Walking into the kitchen, there sat Ripple just outside the glass. I opened the door, “Ripple!“ I cried, “I’ve missed you, sweet girl!” Her tail thumped the porch beams and I noticed her dirty pink collar was missing altogether. She looked up into my eyes, head tipped to one side, one ear buttoned, the other half-upright, and silently yipped.
“Would you like to come in?” I asked, opening the door wider, beckoning her in to the warmth. Ripple looked up at me as if to say, ‘I thought you’d never ask.’ And then, as though she always had lived here, she did.
tara caribou | ©2022
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