In honor of National Dog Day, I thought I’d tell how Holly came to be our dog.
Holly is a rescue… sort of. On a warm November day in 2007, my kids wanted to go to the flea market. This particular market boasts of being the largest of its kind on the Gulf Coast. I don’t doubt it. Long rows of vendors sell their wares under covered walkways. The super frugal salesman can set up tables in the back parking lot for cheap.
Everything you can imagine is available: animals, books, candles, clothing, electronics, musical instruments, plants, pictures, purses, rugs, shoes, tools, toys… The list is almost endless. You could easily spend half a day browsing — even longer if you stop to eat.
I wasn’t shopping for anything in particular on this November day. In fact, it was my son who wanted to go. Kat and I were pretty much along for the ride. Mike knew exactly which booths he wanted to shop. So he took off while Kat and I walked the aisles.
I remember glancing at a couple of booths near the front of Row A. One of them had the most gorgeous ferns and potted palms. As we passed the greenery, my eye landed on a large metal cage sitting on top of a wooden table at the next booth. Oh, happy day! Inside were tiny pit bull puppies. I just had to take a closer look. That little adult voice of caution was speaking inside my head.
“Don’t get too close.”
“Don’t make eye contact.”
“Ok, well could you at least not let it lick your hand?”
About that time the vendor walked up and asked if I’d like to hold one. This man didn’t give me a good feeling. He and his wife both looked as if they’d partied a little too hard the night before, and getting up early was a struggle.
“Nooooo!” said the little adult voice inside my head, more loudly this time.
“Yes, please. That brown and white one right there.”
As soon as I held that wriggling, licking, sniffing, smiling pup (yes, I am positive she was smiling) I knew I was in big trouble. She kissed my face and beat me with her tail and that was pretty much all I needed to decide I was in love with this dog and it was in love with me.
I had not totally lost my mind yet, though. My husband’s face flashed before my eyes. No way was he going to let me bring home a puppy — let alone a little pit bull. I had the sad thought that I’d just have to give her back and walk away… no, RUN! But let me hold her just a few more moments.
It was then that I noticed several things. The puppies were too young to be taken away from their mother. Barely old enough to be weaned. Yet, it had been done. But it was not in their best interests. They could have used a few more weeks nursing.
The puppies were dehydrated. Partly because they’d been weaned too soon. But they also didn’t have anything to drink. I don’t remember if it was me or another bystander who asked why they did not have water in their cage. The vendor replied, rather rudely, that they’d just knock it over again and he was sick of cleaning it up. The flea market had only been open an hour or so by that point. How sick of it could you be? It’s just water.
And most ironic of all, the puppies were covered in fleas. Who sells puppies covered in fleas!? Which brings us to the logical next question… Who BUYS puppies covered in fleas? [Author of this post sheepishly raises her hand. That would be me.]
I asked the vendor, “How much do you want for them?”
“Seventy-five for females and sixty for males. Cash only. They got no papers. The momma and daddy are here if you want to see them.”
“Yes, I do.”
I saw “Daddy” first, approaching him with the standard caution used on dogs I’ve never met before. This was a massive boy with the classic triangular pit bull head. A huge brindle fellow, probably pushing 90 pounds. Very stoic. Had no problem being approached, petted, talked to. I noticed he didn’t react much. A little too stoic, perhaps. Definitely not like his energetic little brown and white puppy.
And then there was “Momma.” I’ve not seen a sadder-looking dog. Not utterly pathetic or neglected like an ASPCA commercial. But legitimately sad. Her coloring and pattern were almost identical to the puppy I liked so much. But this old girl looked tired and worn out. Her bag of milk was hanging low and beginning to dry out by the looks of it. She also tolerated petting with ease yet showed no signs of healthy interaction. No wag of the tail. No eye contact. No sniffing my hand. And she was definitely not smiling.
It was obvious at this point that I was dealing with back-yard breeders. I could not give the puppy back to these people. Wasn’t going to happen. I knew in my heart of hearts that the puppies not sold at the flea market that day stood a good chance of being taken to the dog pound to be euthanized, or worse. “Momma” was nothing but an incubator to make money for this shady man and his wife.
“I want that little brown and white puppy. How much?”
“That one’s a male. Sixty bucks. Wait… it might be a female. [Inspects dog.] No, it’s a male, I think.”
Personally I thought it was a female. But if he would take sixty dollars for it instead of seventy-five, far be it from me to argue.
Now that I had made up my mind to take the little brown and white puppy home, I had a couple of problems to overcome. First of all, I had to convince my husband. The phone call went something like this…
Sam: “Hi. What are y’all doing?”
Me: “Oh… just shopping. [long awkward pause]. I’ve found something I want. [Second long pause…]
Sam: “How many legs does it have?” Darn… he’s good.
Me: “Ummm… four.”
Sam: “What is it?”
Me: “A dog.”
Me: “Oh, please! You know how much I love dogs. And we have a fenced in yard and our very own house now.”
[Third pause, much shorter than the first two… ]
Me: “Oh, come on! It was just my birthday, and Kathryn’s is coming up in a couple of weeks.” I was absolutely not ashamed of playing the double birthday card.
[Fourth long pause…]
Sam: “What kind of dog?”
[Fifth extreeeeeemely long pause…]
Me: “A pit bull.”
Me: “Oh, come on! The best dog I ever had was a pit bull. All that junk you hear about them being vicious is ridiculous! You should see this little puppy! I can’t leave her here! Talk to your daughter a minute.” I was also not below thrusting the phone into my daughter’s hand, who just happened to have a birthday coming up, and let her work on her daddy.
Kat works her magic and hands phone back to me.
Sam: “How much is this dog?”
Me: “Sixty dollars. Man says it’s a male.”
Sam: “You don’t have sixty dollars.”
Me: “The man will hold it long enough for me to go get the money.”
Sam: “Well the answer is still ‘No’ but if you’re going to bring it home there’s not a lot I can do about it.”
Kat and I were able to wear down my reluctant husband. But my husband still reminds me that I owe him to infinity and back and still have light years to pay on that debt!
With the first problem solved, I had to tackle the second. I didn’t have more than a few dollars cash on me. I’d have to convince the vendor to hold the puppy until I could leave the premises and find an ATM. (This was Saturday.)
The vendor was willing to hold the dog for a little while. Kat and I dashed around the flea market until we found Mike and informed him of our plan.
Mike: “Wait, we’re getting a DOG?”
Me: “Yes, but I’ve got to go get some money. You don’t have sixty bucks I can borrow, do you?”
We all hopped in the car. But instead of heading to an ATM, we went to the closest Walmart. Besides the money to pay for the pup, we needed dog food, dog dishes, a collar, leash, some toys, and definitely flea shampoo… all the prerequisite dog stuff.
Though the Walmart was maybe a mile from the flea market, the Saturday crowds made things take longer than I would have liked. Once back on the premises I nearly jogged to the pit bull booth. I could see the brown and white pup in the cage with the others. I heaved a sigh of relief.
Another shopper caught on to what was going on when I returned with my money. I almost cried when he said, “Too late! I just bought the dog!” And I almost slugged him when he said, “Just kidding!”
It turns out the little pup was a girl. Back in those days cash back off debit cards at Walmart could only be given in multiples of $20. I owed the man $75. Of course he wouldn’t have $5 change to give me back for my $80. So we brought Holly home that day for $80, fleas and all.
Kathryn was the one who named her. I thought Holly was a rather strange name for a pit bull. But Kathryn was allowed to do the honors since she helped me wear her dad down! On the ride home Holly rode in the back seat, scratching her fleas, and pooping on the new towel I was so glad I’d thought to purchase.
That would be the beginning of our life with Holly. It’s been a great one, full of laughs and heartache sometimes, too. We still battle fleas, especially in the warmer months.
Holly has had several bouts of serious illness and been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. She was on the verge of being put to sleep once. Thanks to the very man who fought so hard to convince me not to bring her home, she is alive today.
I attribute Holly’s health problems to the backyard breeders who sold her. The mother was most likely over bred, and the puppies’ health did not seem to be a big concern to the vendor. No idea of bloodlines. Although I would still bring Holly home a thousand times over, I am not an advocate of flea markets allowing unlicensed breeders to sell animals.
Holly’s medical issues plagued her and us for years. A very persistent veterinarian and the peers in his practice were finally able to give us some answers. Those experiences, including the time Sam saved her from being put to sleep, are tales for another day.
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