I was a great mother.
I was in New York City when my Dachshund, Lotte, died. I was chaperoning a group of 11th and 12th students, and I didn't want to put a damper on their trip with my personal woes, so I grieved alone. I told one of the other teachers, but, other than frequent calls home, I kept it all to myself. I cared for Lotte a great deal. When she grew old, I knew that she wouldn't be with me forever, so I lived constantly in the shadow of my impending loss; I was fairly successful in enjoying the moment, and I constantly reminded myself that Lotte couldn't have had a better home than with me.
Back at school, one of my students stayed after one day to speak to me. She said that she knew I'd lost my beloved pet, and she wanted to know if I was interested in owning a miniature Dachshund. She told me that her mother's best friend had a pregnant miniature Dachshund due to deliver in a month. I asked her how much the puppies would cost, and she told me that they would give me one free. Knowing how students often make offers without properly checking with their parents, I told her that, yes, I was interested, but that if there were any changes in her generous offer, not to worry about it. I figured that was the end of that.
Lo, and behold, about a month later, my student's mother called me to announce the birth of two puppies, a male and a female. She asked if I wanted "a boy or a girl." Well, I'd been raised to believe that small indoor dogs should always be "girls" because "boy dogs" would piss all over everything and hump visitors' legs. Also--and I've rarely admitted this--”I've always been slightly uncomfortable with animal genitalia, and the female dog seemed, well, neater and less external. The mother assured me that the puppy would, indeed, be free of charge, so I agreed to take the female puppy. Following proper procedure, I'd take possession of her after a 5-6 week weaning period.
Three days later, the mother called back with the alarming news that the puppies' mother was refusing to nurse them and that, in order for them to live, bottle-feeding would be required. She offered to do that duty if I didn't want to, but, by then, I was already enamored with my new puppy which I'd never seen, so I told her to bring me the puppy; I'd do what it took to assure her survival.
I immediately called vets, pet stores, and searched the Internet. That afternoon I had powdered formula and bottles with special nipples. I would have to feed the tiny thing every three hours, and I was ready for the challenge. There was less than a week of school left, so the timing could hardly have been better. My student's mother brought me the puppy the next day, and when I looked into the blanket-lined box, I could not believe how tiny the creature was. She looked for all the world like a Hostess Twinkie both in size and color. I asked my students to help me decide on a name, so, since we'd just finished Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire, they thought it might be funny to name her "Stella" . . . something about the idea of me standing at my back door--with my shirt off, of course--trying to get her to come back into the house by shouting, "STELLLLLLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"
I was a great mother. I set my alarm, got up every 3 hours, mixed formula (even tested the temperature by squirting it on the soft white underbelly of my inner forearm), and nestled tiny Stella in my ZZ Top-ish beard while she emptied her bottle. My vet told me that a baby puppy has to be taught to pee, and that the mother accomplished this by gently licking the pup's genitals, the wet warmth encouraging the puppy to "let it go," as it were. I would take a clean, dry dishtowel, soak one corner in warm water, then rub Stella's nether regions with the warm cloth, and, lo and behold, she would urinate into the dishtowel. I found that incredibly moving and cool. Some parents teach their children to walk; I taught mine to pee.
Stella flourished on her diet, her eyes eventually opened, and she wiled away many a content hour nestled in my beard. I was able to wean her from the bottle to solid food, and house training was so easy that I often pinched myself to see if I were dreaming. I was puzzled only by one thing: she wasn't shaping up to look like a miniature Dachshund. Stella had large ears, but they didn't hang down like a Dachshund's. They had resilient cartilage keeping her ears aloft like the nautilus's fabled sail-like membrane. She looked like a fruit bat. Admittedly, her body was longish, but it was becoming pretty clear that Stella was a Chihuahua, not a miniature Dachshund. This didn't disappoint me in the least, but I did ask my former student about it when school resumed in the fall. She then informed me that the father had, indeed, been a Chihuahua.
Six years down the road, Stella weighs in at a petite five pounds, and her favorite place to hang out is on my chest and in my beard. And--no lie--I often stand in the back yard with my shirt off, calling for STELLLLLLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!