By Colleen Halupa

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer traveled to the Island of Misfit Toys.  I live on the Island of Misfit dogs.

 “You have how many dogs? Are you nuts?”

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said this to me.  At the most current count, I have 21; however, at the highest point I have had 23. There has only been one year since I was an adult that I did not have at least one dog. For many years when I only had 15 dogs, I also had 21 horses, 7 cats and a pot-bellied pig named Hamlet.

How did this all happen?  It started when I was three on Thanksgiving Day. My grandfather came to the door and told me he had a turkey.  In the box was a black cocker spaniel puppy I named Skippy.  My mother did not allow Skippy in the house unless it was bitter cold. We did not have a fenced yard, so Skippy had to be chained.  One day I came home from third grade and he was gone. My mother told me he got stuck under his doghouse and I never played with him enough. She lied and told me someone took him to be their pet, but I think even then I knew better.  He went to the pound which was a terrible place that killed more dogs than they adopted out. Black dogs do not survive long in most shelters. Skippy likely did not live even a week past that day.

When I was 10, I had saved all my birthday and Christmas money and begged to get a poodle. My parents finally acquiesced, and I bought him with my own money.  He was a white mini-toy with apricot ears and I named him Pom-Pom.  I was careful to do much better by Pom-Pom than I did by Skippy.  He stayed in the house and was never chained.  I took him outside to make sure he did not go over to the neighbor’s yard.  I taught him to do tricks (even jump rope) and he was a large part of my life.  When we went for ice cream, he would eat his on the shelf in the back window of our old Buick. But when he was four, he got cancer. Most people (including us) could not afford to take their children to the doctor let alone a dog, but Pom-Pom had surgery to get rid of the tumor.  Three years later the cancer returned, and he had several lumps form on his body.  My parents agreed to get them removed because they knew how much I loved him.  But one day when I was a sophomore in high school I came home, and Pom-Pom was gone.  My mother told me he had bit her hand and showed me the small break in the skin.  She did not think he was going to get any better, so she took him to the vet and had him “put down.”  She thought it would be too hard for me. I never got to say goodbye. It had happened again.  

My high school boyfriend (who I married) had a mother that disliked pets in general.  He convinced her to get a mutt he named Sparky. Sparky was hit by a motorcycle on the railroad tracks near his house and died. He was heartbroken even years later about Sparky.  His parents did not understand. He convinced them to let him get another dog he named Rags, but his mother made him get rid of him after we started dating. My mother agreed to take him, but he did not get along with Pom-Pom.  Another black adult dog to a shelter to die.

Put these two human misfits together, who never fit in with their families and like animals more than most people, then what do you get?  You get dogs, dogs, dogs.  We had dogs for over 30 years. When we were in the military, we had to keep the number of dogs we had down to a reasonable level; usually two or three at a time.

Dogs started suddenly to appear like a rabbit out of a magician’s hat.  This happened before we were getting ready to make our last move.  We already had been convinced to take a Rottweiler we named Benny who had been hit by a car and had a permanently crippled leg. It all started with him, slowly and then started picking up speed.  One night my husband and I were taking a walk and saw a huge ball of fur rolling around on its’ back in the middle of the road like a tic trying to pop.  We took her home, sheared her and found out she was a Shih-Tzu with multiple skin tears from the mats that were full of maggots. In honor of her mats, we named her Mattie.  Her trauma left her with a heart murmur and the vet said her life would be shortened, but she lived to the ripe old age of about 15 and died in her sleep.

A year later Jack, a large puppy with one brown and one blue eye, ran up to us in almost the same place from a driveway where a man was tinkering with his car.  We thought the dog was his. He was not and had been running around several days. We picked him up and took turns carrying him the mile or so home his legs dangling to our knees. He had been on the road a while and was a ratter. When he got a field rat, I would yell and chase him around.  He would stop and look at me, give me hope, and then swallow it whole. Afterward he would vomit them up bones and all in all sorts of places, usually in the house.  

When we made our final move, we had Benny, Jack. Mattie, and Hamlet the pig, and we got two Corgi puppies on the way. After that, it was as if the midnight howl from 101 Dalmatians announced our arrival to a house in the country with 20 acres away from any roads other than lumber tracks. Dogs started coming out of the woods, literally.  We picked up Zeke, a boxer/Pitbull mix that was all scarred up on Valentine’s Day on the country road.  He had been used to train fighting dogs.  I pulled the truck over, popped open the door and in he jumped.  He lived to be 18 and is still with us buried underneath the flowers in our meadow.

Isaboe, a beautiful white Border Collie puppy, came through the woods with a pack of wild dogs to harass Hamlet my pig.  The wild dogs left, she stayed. Rufus, a black hound/retriever mix whose DNA was questionable (the nuts fell much too close to the tree) arrived and would not leave. Lattimore, a large yellow lab full of buckshot and heartworm did the same.  Nine dogs now.

One day a year later driving out in the country I saw what I thought was a squirrel running down the middle of the road.  It was a small beagle mix with a bloody, injured paw. Penelope “Pooch” Pitstop’s left front leg is just bone with footpads, but she rules our house.

We then got the great idea to get a dog of our own choosing. Home came Abbie the Australian Sheppard. A week later, was Splash found under my closest neighbor’s front hedges and they called me. Next, Tea the coyote was found in a drainage ditch.  She lived with our neighbors, got shot because they let her run free, and kept sneaking over on her crippled leg to our house until she stayed permanently…on our sofa mostly. We picked up Gibbs, a Jack Russell, and Kate, a young lab in the middle of a forest after a firebug burned 2,600 acres of woods in our area.  Next came Ziva (yes, we do have half the cast of NCIS since we ran out of names) who was huge! When we hit 15, I said absolutely no more.    

 As old ones (at the ripe old ages of 15-18 years) died off, they were magically replaced with new ones. People gave us dogs they could not keep. Our county shelter puts down 80% of the dogs they take in; we just could not allow them to be destroyed. Next came Sasha the needy Pointer with an extreme case of heartworm we cured.  

We went to the Louisiana State Fair where a sucker is born every minute and that sucker was me.  The Rescue Agency volunteer saw me looking at the dogs they had there and handed me a leash with a half Bassett Hound/half Cur with walrus feet that curve out so far it is a wonder he can go forward.  Meet Gustav von Frankenweenie. Mr. and Mrs. Misfit now had the Island of Misfit Dogs; full of buckshot and heartworm, crippled, and deformed. But loved.

We kept going. Even the dogs we chose are misfits.  Barney J. Beagle who snores like a foghorn and lays on top of me to sleep. Amara the Rottweiler with a nervous and skin condition who pulls her fur and ended up needing an eye lift. The dog get plastic surgery and I don’t. After chasing after all of them, I need it more (smile).

We said we were absolutely done.  Then we found Ralphie, a 100-pound Great Pyrenees, who appeared at a busy crossroads and followed us into an actual pet store right before Christmas.  No one claimed him.  Home he went with broken ribs and bloody foot pads. Twenty-one and holding.

This February we found a white beautiful dog with ice blue eyes who was hit by a car and left to die.  We took her to the vet to get her legs fixed. We called her Adalind and planned to keep her.  It did not work out that way; her injuries were far too great. You would think with 21 dogs I would not mourn a dog I knew less than 24 hours, but I did terribly. It was the cruelty that got me; she was still a puppy. We cried as we held her for her final sleep; she was not alone anymore. But I could not move on.

I then got a harebrained idea. I found a black puppy in the pound with blue eyes (in honor of Skippy, Sparky, Rags and Adalind) I named Freya.  When I went to get her, I asked to go see the dogs that had been there the longest; unadoptable.  A tan Sheppard with violet eyes spoke to my heart. Madelaine, Mad Dog for short, because she is crazy in an annoying but good way, came home too. I finally felt better.  Twenty-three and then we lost two very old dogs.  The old ones are hard, but not as hard. Holding steady at 21 again.  Blackjack!

My husband and I changed our lives, bought more sofas for them to watch TV on (Animal Planet), a king-sized bed, and learned to live with a not-so clean house. We pay hundreds for food each month and we do not even want to discuss the vet costs. Our days of unplanned travel are long gone.  You need a patient pet sitter for 21 dogs. But do we regret it?  No. Any small twinge when I want to take off to Bali spontaneously evaporates at the flap of a tongue over my face, or a look into loving eyes.

Misfits all of them.  But aren’t we all misfits in some way?  Just waiting for someone to understand us and accept us as we are. Only dogs do that. Humans cannot even if we try.

Skippy and Pom Pom, did I do good?  I hope so. 


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