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A fecal matter

*Note: I just want to point out that after more than 25 years as a writer, I finally got to use the word  “fecal” in a headline. Yes, it’s a good day.

I can’t help but wonder what those without pets or small children in their lives – anywhere in their lives – talk about when the rest of us are talking about poop.

The fact that I’m wondering this at all tells me that No. 2 has taken too much dominance in many conversations and thought processes, and yet there it is. It’s just as much a part of my regular daily conversations as is the rising cost of gas and what the weather will do today.

Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about, especially if you have children who are or were once small, have pets of any kind, or both.

DiapersWith kids it starts early. First, as infants, any time they’re not feeling well you’re told to watch their stools – that’s doctor-talk for poop. Make sure it doesn’t change color, or consistency, or frequency. If any of those changes, you’re told to collect a sample – in other words, put a small amount of their stool in some kind of container you’re never ever going to use again and take it in to the doctor. God only know what he’ll do with it, but you do it because he tells you to.

When the baby is still a baby but not yet a toddler, he or she will start to cut teeth. With that comes a whole new dimension of poop talk – mostly because it does change in consistency and frequency, and neither in a good way. When my oldest was cutting teeth he went through three or four onesies every day because the mess would go up his back and down his leg. It happened with every tooth, too, so we were overjoyed when he’d cut more than one at a time – that cut down on the possibility of 32 different sessions. Of course the messes were smaller and smaller the more the baby’s system got used to what was happening, but it was traumatic all the same.

Potty training brought a whole new level of conversations about poop, poopy, icky, whatever you called it. The actual potty training was easy for both my kids, but I swear one of them – and I won’t say which, so I don’t embarrass him – uh, oops – had real separation anxiety when it came to poop. He just didn’t want to let it go into the toilet. I would sit in the bathroom with him for an hour at a time, knowing he had to go, but watching while he told me stories or sang me songs or talked about the puppies or did anything but actually poop. Then we’d give up and less than 15 minutes later I’d find him hiding in the corner behind the chair, a funny look on his face. <sigh>

Once that gets over and you’ve made the transition, your conversations about poop pretty much stop for a while. Of course, my then-husband and I apparently enjoyed the conversations because we timed the arrival of Child No. 2 with the crossing over of Child No. 1 from diapers to big boy pants. Welcome another three years of poop talk.

There’s even a commercial for a bleach cleaner that brings poop into the conversation: A little boy brings his mommy into the bathroom, “Mommy, I made poopy!” “You did?! Where?”

You can’t get away from it.

Then there’s the pet talk, and really the point at which I realized much of my adult conversation has centered around doody.

My Lab mix, Max, will be 13 this year. He’s still spry, active, and looks very much like a younger dog. Some of his mannerisms, however, remind me of Walter Matthau in “Grumpy Old Men.” He has to offer one solitary bark to anyone moving outside while he makes his way to the sidewalk. He bullies Mia, my Newfoundland who is three times his size, out of the way of the food dishes until he’s done with them. And his every trip to the bathroom – or in his case, every walk we take – requires me to take a pick-up bag. I’ve nicknamed him “Sir Poops-a-lot.”

The fact that he goes all the time is not something that is lost on my now-young-adult kids, either. They’re well aware of his habits:

Me to Teen Girl: Would you take the dogs out for their bedtime trip so I can go to bed?

Teen Girl: That depends. Has Max pooped?

Me: He’s gone three times today, he should be good.

Teen Girl (after taking the dogs out, grabbing a bag to go back outside): He’s never good. He pooped again.

See what I mean? So, in getting back to my original point, just what do those other people talk about?

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A welcome stranger

Call it karma, fate or divine intervention –  no matter the name, someone is really making things happen.

The kids and I said good-bye to our dear Bridget, a 9-year-old Newfoundland, in July. Arthritis and finally cancer had made our happy pet live a life filled with pain and we couldn’t watch her suffer.

Max, the Lab/Border Collie mix that grew up with Bridget, had a difficult time adjusting. He’s become my shadow, never leaving my side when I am at home. He begs for food more, and is more destructive when we are gone (I’ll be replacing my back door this spring).

I’d been thinking of getting him – more than us – another dog, but what? We’re not “little dog” people, but are we really ready for another big dog? What if we were to skip the “giant” breeds and go to “large,” like Labs or Shepards?

Then there are all those other issues: Max now gets to ride with us when we go away for the weekend, and with two dogs that wouldn’t be possible; Max has started enjoying being “the only child” and getting spoiled with the extra attention; and there’s always the financial issue, I’m saving close to $20 each month on dog food alone.

Then karma/fate/God intervened.

A neighbor stopped by my house Monday night wondering if I’d lost a big dog. As I was holding Max back, I told him that no, we no longer had anyone other than Max. He proceeded to tell me a large dog, “I mean Great Dane big!”, had showed up at his house earlier that day and wouldn’t leave.

This neighbor and his wife and young son live with his parents and another sibling in a small house around the corner. They already have three small dogs, “and we really can’t take in another dog – and this one’s too big for me to know what to do with.”

Without thinking, I said, “Go get him.”

As I watched him walking the dog to my house, my eyes began to well up. I called the kids into the kitchen so they could see.

My neighbor was bringing us a young Newfoundland.

I was surprised at the dog’s appearance. It was well-groomed, happy, healthy and had a collar. Someone was missing this dog.

I set about making phone calls – the sheriff’s office, the nearby veterinarian, neighbors – and e-mailed a friend on the Cedar Valley Humane Society’s board. The next morning, complete with migraine, I made a few more calls. I talked to someone at the Humane Society who told me that yes, they did have a lost dog report that matched the animal in my home.

I called both the cell and home  numbers and at 4:30 that afternoon I got the call. The owner, in tears, told me she never thought she’d see her dog again. About an hour later she and her husband were there to pick up the Newfoundland now known as “Bear.”

I think we’re ready now to welcome another giant breed into our home. My son, when he first saw Bear, said to me, “What are the odds that another Newfoundland would find us in Coggon?”

What are the odds, indeed.

This weekend we meet a female Newfie whose family moved to the city and can’t keep her. She and Max will ultimately decide whether this is going to be a transition that will work.

I’m really hoping it does.

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