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Sunday, April 14, 2024

I Fostered a One-Eyed Goblin. She Changed My Life in Lockdown

I know 2020 has been a disaster, but personally, my 2019 was worse. First I lost my job, and then I went through a difficult breakup with my partner of several years. When I had to move as a result, I purged most of my belongings and immediately regretted it. And just as I thought I was starting to get my bearings, my dog—sweet little best friend—died.

Thus, by the time Covid set in, my confidence was the size of a pinto bean. The mandatory shelter-in-place orders were just a cruel, ironic slap in the face right when I was telling myself things could only get better. I felt like I was being sucked into a black hole. Advice like “Get some exercise!” and “Eat healthy!” came frequently and from well-meaning places. But I just couldn’t. The only thing that was bringing me joy was sour cream and cheddar Ruffles with white wine. I sorely needed a way out of this prolonged, self-indulgent mope.

I love dogs. After Billy passed away, I considered adopting again, but I wasn’t sure I was ready. One compromise seemed to be fostering. I could take care of a pooch temporarily and help it find a home without having to go through another painful loss. So a couple months into the year, I applied to be a foster with Muttville, a senior dog rescue in the Bay Area. Not an original idea, it turned out. Muttville received 700 adoption and foster applications within the first two weeks of the shutdown. Five months later, they were finally able to match me with a dog in need: an 11-pound, 12-year-old, one-eyed chihuahua named Radish.

Why a senior dog? There is something inherently rewarding about how pathetic they look—this geriatric creature needs me in ways that a puppy does not. Everyone wants puppies; not everyone wants a decrepit goblin with dental disease. Perhaps part of it, too, is some kind of weird schadenfreude—at least I am not as pitiful as this animal. So while some of my friends were using Covid to get designer poopadoodles and shitzapoos that they could train and take on hikes and post on Instagram, I was washing doggie diapers full of vaginal juices because Radish’s uterus prolapsed (don’t Google it).

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Illustration: Elena Lacey

Radish had a mess of things wrong with her. She only has one eye that can see—the other eye is there, it’s just small and blue and nonfunctioning, and I have no idea why. She had severe decay in her mouth that made her breath so bad that every time she yawned I had to dive for cover. The vet diagnosed her with allergies, and until she started on regular doggy Claritin, she was basically Sneezy the dwarf. Her jaw was broken (caused by the mouth decay, according to the vet), and she had a crusty growth on her nose. She just looks hilarious, I’m sorry. Every time she gazed up at me, I’d start to giggle. For the first few days in my apartment, Radish was afraid of her own unsightly reflection in my full-length bedroom mirror (which, honestly, I related to). I had to cover up the mirror at night or she couldn’t sleep, growling at the damn dog that wouldn’t stop staring at her.

At some point she developed a massive, fleshy growth hanging out of her lady parts. I was instructed to “keep it wet” and had to go buy some KY jelly. I walked with Radish to Walgreens, and when I picked her up to go inside, vaginal fluid splurtted all over my white T-shirt. In this state, I had to ask for the location of, and then purchase, a bottle of lube. I thought about explaining myself, but why bother? When she got all of her teeth removed I let her lay on my pillows, and she promptly drooled blood all over them. After she was spayed, she had several accidents on my rug. Things felt different down there, I guess.

If all of this sounds awful to you, you’re so wrong. I loved Radish, and I loved her both despite and because of her messes. I had a tangible job to do every day. My life was no longer just me feeling sorry for myself. It was about making Radish feel better so that she could find her forever home.

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Photograph: Elena Lacey

My quarantine changed with Radish. Instead of waking up exactly one minute before my first work meeting and rolling over to turn on Zoom, Radish and I were up at 7 am every morning ready for a walk. Every time I’d get my keys and put on my shoes, Radish started to freak out with pure, uncontainable excitement. She bopped up and down on her hind legs, and let out shrill little vulture squawks. She tried to gum her leash. Her joy was infectious. Suddenly I was interacting with other humans too. It’s astonishing how just a few phrases—like “Good morning!” and “What’s your dog’s name?”—make so much of a difference in a day where no other human interaction occurs. It’s actually difficult not to talk to someone when you are both attached to animals who are sniffing each other’s buttholes. Mornings became a happy time. I was getting out of bed and getting dressed. There was time to make coffee and breathe the ash-filled San Francisco air.

Even when her uterus was prolapsing and she had to wear both an Elizabethan collar and diapers, Radish was all smiles and tail wags. There was something about her unending exuberance that made me snap out of my months-long self-absorbed funk. If she could be happy running into door frames with a plastic cone on her head, I could be happy working from home.

And she was obsessed with me, which always helps. I wish I could find a man who would look at me like she did, one-eyed but all-in. At night she slept curled in my arms like a tiny teddy bear. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without her sprinting after me. When I would shower, she’d lay on the bath mat and regularly stand on her hind legs to peek behind the curtain and check on me. When I did try to leave the apartment without her, she screeched like a deranged vulture. It’s not a sound that a dog makes, but then I’m really not sure that she’s a dog.

“You’re a good person,” people, even strangers, would tell me. It’s a weird claim to make about someone when you don’t have all the facts, but the compliment did make me happy, and I appreciated the general feeling of smugness regardless of its accuracy. Radish doesn’t make me a good person, but doing this small deed does give my life a measure of meaning. There is so much in the world that one person can’t change right now. But I could be a hero to a small little life in need.

On October 18, Radish was officially adopted. On October 25, she went to her new home. Her new family had cooked her a chicken as a welcome gift. Her new dad is a retired gentleman who is deaf and was looking for a buddy to watch TV and walk around the yard with. It seems perfect. I sobbed for hours. I needed a purpose, and that little purpose was gone. The next day was Monday, and I woke up at 7 am out of habit. There were no tail wags and velociraptor croaks to get me awake, but I did it anyway and went for our morning walk alone. I plan on fostering again, but not to fill the new goblin-shaped hole in my heart. I want to be the person that Radish saw.

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