Rita Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Visit to Eureka homeplace like summer camp for Missi and Sippi

My friend Frances is in Italy as I write this. I, of course, am still in Panola County, dog-sitting her two adolescent feists.

It was part of the deal when she took the two puppies off my hands a few months ago.

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“I’d love to have them,” she said, “but I’ve got some trips planned. Would you be willing to keep them for me when I go away?”

I was desperate to find good homes for seven puppies.

“Of course I’ll keep them,” I said.

I didn’t think a few more would matter.

It hasn’t.

It has only made life more interesting and entertaining at our humble Eureka abode.

Other people spend their evenings watching television.

We spent ours watching dogs.

Missi and Sippi are Frances’ pets. They were quite happy to rejoin the old gang at our place. Their mother, Lulu,  is still with us. She’s a black and white fox terrier who just showed up on our porch one night and stayed.  A few weeks later she delivered the aforementioned seven puppies.  These were welcomed by Brownie, the senior citizen lab; Buster, the neighbor wiener dog who wants to be the alpha dog, and Mo, the stray who stayed and is the alpha dog.

Margaret the cat remains above the frey, tolerating her dogs and her humans.

So we’re spending a lot of time watching the animals interact and get reacquainted. At first, there was much commotion. Lulu and Peyton, the last puppy that I just couldn’t give away, seemed to have forgotten who Missi and Sippi were. Hackles were raised. Snarls were heard. There was a lot of sniffing, tumbling and tail-wagging.

Not long after the reintroduction, the whole herd was scrambling, running, chewing and generally getting along…except for Brownie, who’d rather snooze.

They quickly found Rupert’s old sock and launched a game of tug of war. You don’t have to teach dogs to play that. They just know.

The trick is keeping out of their reach what you don’t want them tugging on. They keep pulling my blanket off the porch swing and Peyton grabbed Rupert’s swimming trunks off their hook.

I observe these visiting dogs becoming more spoiled by the minute. Frances keeps them somewhat confined (and I imagine under better discipline). At our place, they’re running wild, like teenagers without a curfew.

There’s a grassy slope out back that is apparently inhabited by many small critters that get the dogs’ attention. They spend every evening making tunnels in that grass, sniffing out whatever lurks there unseen by our eyes. They seldom catch anything. I don’t think they care.

All three puppies have inherited Lulu’s distinctive grin. They actually smile at you.

The meter reader thinks it’s a snarl, but I know better.

On their last visit, I was embarrassed that Frances’ puppies went home with fleas.

She’d picked the dogs up one afternoon, and the next morning she appeared at our office with a bouquet of flowers.

“I don’t deserve these,” I told her. “I sent your dogs home dirty and with fleas.”

“Yes,” Frances said, stooping to scratch her ankles.

In the meantime, I have treated the yard twice, and reapplied expensive flea repellent on the back of the neck of any creature who stood still long enough.

Rupert has been avoiding me.

But the dogs just keep smiling.