Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Sisters

A white BMW rounded the curve in the night darkness, its headlights catching the silhouette of two standard poodles running into the road. A screech pierced the air as the driver hit the brakes.

My husband, Dick, had had the dogs off-leash at a dog park on a rainy Thanksgiving evening when they heard something that frightened them. They sprinted off, their black coats blending into the surrounding darkness. He ran after them, calling their names, "Chien! BonBon!"

Now, Dick saw Chien, the male, lying on the ground. The driver and passengers were climbing out of the BMW. One passenger, an older woman, had started to cry. BonBon was prancing in circles in the road. Dick grabbed her by the collar and pulled her into our van, which was parked nearby. Dick gingerly lifted Chien into the van with the help of a passerby, and drove to the nearest animal hospital. BonBon, frightened and shaking, crouched in the front wheel-well of the vehicle--while Chien died in the back.

Dick and I grieved deeply over Chien's sudden death. BonBon was traumatized-she took to her bed with one of her stuffed toys, or "babies," and rarely left the bed, day or night, except when she needed to go outside.

For years, BonBon and Chien had relished an early morning routine in our back yard in a Phoenix suburb of barking back and forth with the dogs next door. Fortunately, no other neighbors were close enough to be disturbed. Our property has a block wall around it, but if the poodles crouched down, they could peer at their pals through an opening under the wall where a wash runs between the two lots. Now, when BonBon went out in the morning, she stood by silently while the dogs on the other side barked. She ignored her favorite treat-Trader Joe's peanut butter dog cookies. And, when we got home from work (in the past, a joyous occasion with the poodles jumping up on us, barking and licking us), she stayed on her bed. It was very sad to her in this terrible state of depression.

Within a few days of Chien's death, Dick and I knew we had to get another companion for BonBon. We agreed to look for a female about her age, and we definitely wanted another black standard poodle.

We started our search by contacting animal shelters and poodle rescue leagues over the

Internet. However, we did not find any standard poodles that needed a home, let alone one of our specifications. The breeders we talked to had only puppies.

A whisper of Fate stirred in my mind at some point, reminding me that the breeder in El Paso, Texas, who had sold us Chien and BonBon, had said when we left the kennel with BonBon, "If anything ever happens, and you can't keep your dogs, call me, and I'll take them."

I reminded Dick of this and said, "Maybe she told other people that, too, and someone has brought back a poodle we could have." When we found no standard poodles closer to home, he finally looked up the breeder's name and called her.

Brigitte Copeland was in the process of closing down Copeland Kennels, after 26 years, to go home to Germany to take care of her aging parents. She had several poodles for sale, including Maggie, a retired show dog, who turned out to be exactly the dog we were looking for. Maggie, a six-year old, female, black standard poodle, was BonBon's littermate. Her Sister!

We flew to El Paso on December 18 to pick up Maggie, almost six years to the day we had made the same trip to pick up BonBon. Maggie is an American Kennel Club "finished champion," whose formal name is Champion Falkirk Hocus Pocus. While BonBon was living the life of a common pet, hanging out in our back yard with Chien, her sister Maggie had strutted around the show ring to the applause of the crowds. While BonBon, spayed at an early age, mothered stuffed toys, Maggie had nursed a litter of real pups.

When we put a collar around Maggie's neck to attach a leash to lead her from the kennel to our rental car, it was the first time in her life that she had worn a regular dog collar. A show dog doesn't wear a collar because it will wear down the fur around its neck. When Brigitte wanted Maggie to do something, instead of pulling on a collar, she led her by the ears.

Dick drove the rental car from El Paso to Phoenix, with me sitting in the back, tightly hugging Maggie. We arrived home in the early evening and took Maggie and BonBon into our back yard to introduce them. They sniffed each other and got acquainted while on leashes; then were let loose. They were standoffish, but everything seemed to be going fine, until BonBon did a fast run around the yard and "body slammed" Maggie.

The body slam was a signal that BonBon was ready to play-it was something Chien used to do to BonBon when he wanted her to chase him. Maggie, who had never been body slammed, turned up her nose at this crude behavior, and started to walk back toward the house, straight into the swimming pool. As soon as her front paws got wet, she realized she was in trouble, caught her balance and backed up, walked around the pool, and into the house, holding her nose high in the air.

Maggie's grooming put poor BonBon to shame. Maggie was coal black, although Brigette had described her as starting to grey, and BonBon was clearly going grey. Maggie had a fairly simple poodle cut, not the fancy cut she would have strutted in the show ring, but she did sport a wonderful puffy, pom pom tail with a little ring shaved at the base of it. BonBon had still a simpler cut and was overdue to be professionally groomed. I immediately got out a brush and started working on her.

At bed time, BonBon lay down on her bed in our bedroom, where she sleeps next to a very large, floppy, stuffed bunny we bought when she was new at our house to give her a "mother" to cuddle up to at night. She stretched out her legs and strategically placed her front paws on Chien's bed, next to hers, to keep Maggie off. But Maggie was not interested in sleeping on a dog bed. She was uneasy in her new surroundings, and spent the night stretched out on the floor next to Dick's side of the bed. We assumed she had slept in a cage at the breeders.

We took the poodles on leashes for a walk in the neighborhood the next morning. Maggie held her head high and glided along as though she were in a show ring; BonBon, harking back to her German ancestors, ran alongside the road with her nose to the ground, sniffing for game. Quite a contrast! We had to leave the dogs alone during the day while we went to work, but they were ignoring each other, so we were sure they would be okay while we were gone.

Dick came home from work early that day and took the dogs to the grocery store in what we call "the Dog Van," a van, purchased specifically for the poodles. Chien and BonBon loved sleeping on the back seat, looking out the side windows, or lying on the floor between the captain chairs in front, and being petted as we traveled along. Maggie apparently had never ridden in a vehicle except while in a cage, and she seemed a little confused about what to do. She chose to lie on the floor-and traveled along, facing backward.

Over the next few weeks, BonBon's depression disappeared, and Maggie's assimilation into the family became complete. Maggie was just as loving as Chien and BonBon had always been. The sisters became close friends, licking each other's faces in unison, running together to the wall in the back yard to bark at the dogs next door, and playfully taking turns sleeping on each other's beds. BonBon gave up body slams, perhaps because she was learning more dignified behavior from her more refined sister. For our part, we bought some professional "Black Star" color-enhancing shampoo to take to our dog groomer, after which both dogs pranced around in coal-black coats.

Chien's death was the result of bad Fate, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If Dick had not taken the poodles to the dog park that night, or had kept them on their leashes, Chien would not have died as he did. If the BMW had not happened along just when it did, things might have been different. However, we also had good Fate, in that we found Maggie because we called Brigitte when we did. If we had called even a few days later, Maggie might have been sold to someone else, and a few weeks later, Brigitte would already have left for Germany, and the phone would have been disconnected. The two sisters, separated shortly after birth and never expected to be together again, were reunited six years later to live out their lives together-due to Fate.

By Brenda Warneka

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