My husband, (Big) Brennen, is thankful that I am a professional pet sitter because it satisfies my craving to bring all strays home. Before caring for animals was my primary vocation, I wanted to adopt and nurse every living thing I came across, the canine variety being my biggest weakness. Although I still love to help animals, I have become a bit more practical and can now survive without making each one of them mine. In September of 2005, just two months after we relocated to Phoenix from California, I found a little dog. B, my then-eight-year-old step-son, was my willing accomplice in acquiring her. We entered a local pet store innocently enough. All we needed was food for our dog, Kermit. A rescue group had set up shop, so I couldn't resist checking out the goods (I've since learned not to go to pet stores on adoption days). They had only pit bull terriers, as far as I could see, all sweet as could be. The rescue volunteer explained that all of them had come from the gulf coast area, part of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. During that time and for many months afterward, homeless and displaced animals were sent around the country in search of homes. B and I soaked it in.
There was a sharp, quiet scratching sound that didn't seem to belong. Something coming from a small crate on the floor. I bent down and was startled to see an adult rat in the crate. A very active rat...bouncing around in a blur. "She came from the gulf, too, with these bigger guys," explained the volunteer. "She can hold her own, but we have to keep her separate, just in case. She seems to really like you. Would you like to hold her?"
B and I looked at each other. "Okay." We were unified.
What she pulled out of the crate was not actually a rat, but the smallest, poorest excuse for a dog we had ever seen. She had golden wiry fur and needle claws. She wiggled so much I could hardly hold her. After a brief exchange, we put her back in her crate and thanked the volunteer. Off we went, in search of kibble.
Neither of us could resist one more peek before departing. It was a bit like a circus freak show. Such a tiny little devil, she was. As we approached for the second time, the scratching started again. "She really just sits there, usually," said the volunteer. "She really likes you." We observed her, but didn't take her out again. "It's like she's chosen us," B said.
I told the volunteer that we were interested in adopting her. What? Did that just come out of my mouth? I called Big. "No. No. No. Let's stop and think about this. No," is what he said.
I've never been one to take no for an answer. On Sunday, I called the volunteer, and she said she'd be back to the pet store on Tuesday, and she'd bring the little rat.
On Tuesday evening, we selected the tiniest collar and thinnest leash (so as not to drag her neck down), and then collected our new dog. "THAT'S IT?" Big said when he saw her for the first time. "No. No. No. That is not a dog. It's a rat. No." I reminded him that he'd already said yes. "But that was before I saw it," was the excuse he gave. "This is insane. No way."
Yes, way. We drove her home in my lap, Big shaking his head and sighing in disgust the whole way. "Fine. But I get to name her," he declared. Whatever.
He was decisive. "N.A.S.H.A."
"No, that's too princess-y," I argued. "You want a sissy name for such a little dog?"
"That's just the point," he said. "It sounds like a Russian princess, but it means something more. It's an acronym."
"Not A Siberian Husky Again." You see, all my husband ever wanted was a Siberian Husky, and I keep bringing home just the opposite. The uglier and more freakish the dog, the more I like it.
"Okay," I agreed. "N.A.S.H.A. it is."
N.A.S.H.A. did have a little bit of the devil in her. She was actually, truly, an ankle-biter. And she actually, truly, drew blood with her needle teeth. So we all went around sopping blood up off the carpet behind us. You could hold her sitting in the palm of your hand, yet she could do more damage to the veins in your feet than a knife attack could. Big hated her, but he bought her a little pink furry coat as winter approached.
And she then acquired a vital accessory: her forever collar.
We were living in a furnished apartment, waiting for our home to be built, when N.A.S.H.A. became part of our family. She was relatively potty trained, thank goodness. Despite this, a few weeks after she came, we kept smelling the very distinct aroma of dog poop in our master bedroom. We searched closets, corners, and under the bed. Sometimes the tide would swell, then fade again, but to some degree, it was always present. Big and I each accused the other of having a medical issue that needed attention, and each of us denied it.
One afternoon while we were making the bed, we lifted the box spring and it sort of fell back down onto the bed frame. We noticed a bit of dried poop under the bed. Unfortunate as it was, we had a sense of relief. At last, some evidence. We weren't nuts! Big went to dispose of the pile and noticed that there was a small tear in the fabric in the bottom of the box spring. Hm. Odd. He investigated to see how badly it was torn. When he did, another pile of poop appeared on the carpet below the tear. "What the f(¢%?"
He tossed the mattress and turned over the box spring (insert horror movie climax audio track). Our Russian princess had deposited her droppings inside our box spring, climbing up inside through the hole she created each time she felt the urge, then dropping back out, an innocent, for weeks. We both gagged. Words were said. The entire bottom fabric from the box spring was removed. We soon. Moved. Out.
Since that most develish and plotted act, N.A.S.H.A. has improved. In fact, you'd never believe it, but now, at nearly eight years old, she's become almost angelic.
She was spayed when she came to us, but she's still a mama. She has the heart of a mother and probably should have had her own litter. Several years ago, she nursed a family friend's tri-colored Collie. Mr. Shane. He travelled to see us for Thanksgiving, but he couldn't quite navigate the stairs to sleep with his mom. Though N.A.S.H.A. had never spent the night out of a human bed since she came to us, she chose to stick by him on the lower level, on alert. Whenever Shane tried to get up, she was right there, ready to break his fall, should his comparatively gigantic body falter. She accompanied him outside and to the water bowl. She didn't leave him alone for a moment. She knew the end was near.
She also attended to the babies when they were born, creating a bolster on their sides so they wouldn't roll off the couch before they could roll, and making sure they got their share of french kisses, helping to build their immune systems.
And for Kermit, she was a hero. Her older "brother" fell quite ill with Addison's Disease. She could sense if he was going to pass out, and she'd let us know by frantically scurrying around him moments before. And when Kermit developed a non-specific seizure disorder, she would lick his eyes for about forty-eight hours before his seizure cycle would begin. Her mysterious diagnostic abilities have amazed us.
In general, she's a ten-pound seven-year-old puppy of unknown terrier lineage. She's scrappy. She's yappy. She'll bark at the wind. She loves sprinklers, waterfalls, and water gun fights, but will only swim if her life depends on it. Her favorite toy is "sock toe," which is literally a sock toe that was cut off B's soccer sock for some long-since-forgotten school project. She throws it up in the air to herself and catches it, and the whole family protects it for her as one would a toddler's blankie. She punches me in the leg when she wants a treat. She always looks dirty and tangled, even if she's just been groomed. She loves to kiss on the mouth. If you come over, you will be hers. She will insist on laying in your lap or up against your leg, and she will demand to nuzzle in your neck. She prefers males. Especially Big. The guy that got her that furry little pink coat and the forever devil collar.