10 Jun 2009

love, dogs, and double dewclaws

Posted by Teapots Happen

Like the story of Binny the Albino Squirrel, I have a hard time saying how much of a ‘synchronicity’ any of this is, but nonetheless feel compelled to include it. To the extent there is anything magical in this world, I feel that the comings and goings of the beloved animals in our lives fit the bill …

One spring – I think it was around 2001 – a skinny, shaking stray dog came limping down the sidewalk in front of my house. It was black, with its ribs clearly visible, eyes bulging slightly, and its tail hidden between its legs … Kari was a roommate at my house then, and she was the one who met her:

“I was on my merry way, roller skating to my second shift @ Bonkers (the gas station job I got at the newly named station on cedar and …..46th?) and I saw a dog briskly ambling up the your sidewalk towards the house. I asked her what the deal was and put her in the back yard (since she had no tags). I ran in the house quick and told Joe W (who I was sharing the big bedroom with) that there was a dog in the back yard and I would deal with her when I got done with work …”

It was obvious that someone had beaten the stray badly – she limped so horribly I thought her hips were deformed at first, and she ran and hid, shaking, whenever someone lifted a hand (like when I tried to play with her by throwing a ball).

Although she was terrified of men, she instantly made an exception for me – not only wasn’t she afraid of me, she would climb up into my lap whenever I sat down in a lawnchair, and follow me like a shadow as I moved around the fenced-in yard.

But she wasn’t housebroken, I was gone a lot, and I had a psychotic cat – so adopting her myself was not an option.

She was already so traumatized that I couldn’t bear the thought of sending her to the pound to be further terrified (and potentially euthanized), so it fell to me to find her a home.  While we hunted, I made her a bed in the garage and left the side door open, so that she could come and go between the garage to the yard.

It was great news when my friend Maria agreed to adopt the stray, as soon as she ironed out a couple of preparations. But a day or two turned into a week or two and she never got back to me, and I couldn’t get ahold of her.

And by the time Maria finally let me know she couldn’t adopt her after all, it was too late.

First of all, as I mentioned, the dog had fallen in love with me. And it is a colder heart than mine that does not respond to the unwavering trust and unconditional love that only a dog seems capable of. I have always loved dogs, and this one had decided that I was her human.

When I came home from work, she would hear me coming, and wait at the chain link gate between the house and the garage – as I came into sight, her tail would come up from between her legs and swoop back and forth, in big loopy circles. The happy tail brought a huge smile to my heart, and I knew I was smitten … but still I strove to find her a home somewhere.

The finishing blow came when I was riding the 5 bus home from work one day. I was thinking about how the dog was going to start up that big loopy wag when I got home, when I suddenly knew what her name was: Cleo – short for Cleopatra. I was taken by surprise, since all the names I’d been idly toying since she’d showed up were “cool” names, of the type that you’d expect from a young punk rocker.

I knew then that I could not give her away – I had named her, and now she was mine …  and I was just going to have to find a way to work out all the details that had made keeping her impossible.


And even though this was years before I developed any kind of mystical consciousness or was at all comfortable with spiritual thoughts, let alone with notions about things “happening for a reason,” I nonetheless unquestioningly accepted my intuition that Cleo had come into my life to help teach me about love.

– – – – –

The Cleo coincidence I’m leading up to has to do with my mom. A little context:

When I adopted Cleo I had to find a home for my cat, Elvira – so she went to live with my mom, and has been a great comfort to her over the last several years – as it turns out, Elvira tolerates only two people on this earth – me, and my mother. All others are subject to random attack by wicked tooth and claw.

And after I decided to keep Cleo, and brought her to be spayed, I found out I was too late – Kari’s pitbull, Bruiser, had managed to knock her up, despite our best efforts to keep them apart. She had eight puppies, only three of which survived the first day – she was too young, still too malnourished – and was not producing milk. The three survivors went to live with my mom and dad (pre divorce) to be bottle-raised on goatsmilk.

Two made it to adulthood – one,  “Zorro,” was my sister’s dog until she realized she did not have the time to raise him properly, and so he joined Elvira in living at my mom’s house, where his unquenchable joy for life lit up life for her until lymphatic cancer claimed him a few years ago.

Oh, and aside from Cleo, there has been just one other animal that just arrived at my house and adopted me – an old cat with markings like Elvira’s – which my mom adopted from us and gave a wonderful life for the few weeks she had left (the poor kitty had tumors encircling her heart, as it turned out.)

Anyway, that’s all just to say – my mom and I seem to have a strong connection through animals.

– – – – –

It wasn’t until after the teapots that I ever thought about Cleo as a meaningful coincidence – how she just happened to come walking down the street to my house, from god knows where, into my life, right when I needed her.

Which is wonderful in itself – but the more specific coincidence is how similar Cleo is to my mom’s dog, Jacques (pronounced “jhock” – not to be confused with my friend Jacque, pronounced “Jackie”).


Cleo & Jacques

Since I used to automatically rule out all coincidences as “mere,” back in the pre-teapots days, I never spared a second thought to how odd is was that Cleo has almost identical markings as my mom’s dog Jacques – and more coincidentally – she also has the same rare double dewclaws on her back feet – not just one vestigal thumb, but two per foot.

(And I in no way selected Cleo due to her similarities to Jacques – from Kari finding her in front of my house, to her choosing me as her trusted human, to Maria saying she was going to adopt her just long enough for me to bond irretrievably with her, I’d had little choice in the matter. )

Cleo's double dewclaws

Cleo's double dewclaws (only one set is easily visible here, but there are two per foot)


Jacques' double dewclaws

In most dogs, double dewclaws are an unusual trait – although Jacques is a Beauceron – an uncommon French dog that is one of three breeds that features double dewclaws as standard. (My mom still thinks Cleo is part Beauceron due to her dewclaws, markings, and undercoat, but I think she’s a Labrador/Rottweiler mix.)

The similar appearance of my dog and my mom’s dog may or may not strike you as a significant coincidence, but it was undoubtedly a meaningful coincidence.

For when I recognized that our dogs were so much alike, sharing even the same odd mutated double thumbs, it suddenly opened my eyes to how alike my mom and I are – that we are “teapots” in many ways, ourselves.

This realization might have been obvious to those who know me, but it was one which I had never even come close to seeing in the past, no doubt due to how badly she and I had clashed with one another over the years (as a teenager, I’d considered her my worst enemy, and no doubt she thought the same of me on many occasions.)

And with this insight came an ability to understand and empathize with my mom in ways I never would have thought possible – which in turn, just in time, opened me to being able to help her through divorce, breast & lymphatic cancer, mastectomy, chemotherapy, post surgical psychosis, and financial apocalypse – something that I could never have begun to do before I was brought into empathy by our coincidental canines.


Cleo and Jacques on mom's porch


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12 Responses to “love, dogs, and double dewclaws”

  1. THAT comes across as quite the message from the universe, beautiful.



  2. “….I nonetheless unquestioningly accepted my intuition that Cleo had come into my life to help teach me about love.”

    This is why I believe their lives are so short. They come into this world already fully knowing how to love without condition, and do it so perfectly. It takes us human kind a lot longer to learn about love.

    Funny that you mentioned Binny in the first sentence, because I was going to email you last night to tell you that I saw an albino squirrel a few days ago down on 22nd Ave and 33rd St. I lost track of time and had to get to bed before I could write you and just figured I would write you today instead. 🙂



  3. http://whinywarren.wordpress.com/2009/06/10/communicating/

    I found time to put up the story of Warren last night.




  4. That’s such a great story Adrea … thank you for sharing it.



  5. Man, look at Cleo’s eyes in that bottom photo. There is all the love in the world in those relaxed eyes.


    noise bursts

  6. Another great story!


    trish macgregor

  7. very touching .. there seems to be a definite ‘twinning’ pattern surrounding the synchronicities you experience.



  8. sometimes your blogs make me cry…
    in a good way


    jessica nicole davis

  9. Very nice post. Dogs are wonderful creatures when given love.


    Robert A Vollrath

  10. Ohh, damn it. I had to bury Jacques today – he died suddenly while playing fetch with my mom.

    He was a good boy, and will be missed by all who knew him.



  11. Burying a dog is so sad. I’ve buried two dogs and I miss them both to this day.


    Robert A Vollrath

  12. http://books.google.com/books?id=D1GmqCp2GLcC&dq=Raymond+E+Fowler&source=gbs_navlinks_s

    Hey I figure you’d enjoy this book. It’s published on iuniverse / googlebooks so you can read the whole thing I think (I haven’t read it myself entirely but the premise is neat).

    Cheers to a synchronicity buff 🙂