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Happy Birthday to My Foster Failure

DSC_0717-1024x678(Adriana La Cerva, June 2014)

DSC_0051(Adriana La Cerva Armstrong, June 2015)

Adriana La Cerva Armstrong a.k.a. Ade was born on June 3, 2014. It’s ironic that she was born to a feral mutt in a bramble bush on Smith Street, yet I know the exact day her eyes opened. I met her when she was one week old, living in a muddy, trash-littered backyard with her seven litter mates. She’s been in my life ever since. It took three weeks of fostering her before I fell in love and decided to adopt her, officially earning the title of foster failure.

I had big dreams for Adriana, meaning I thought she’d turn into a sixty-plus-pound dog, but she weighs twenty-eight pounds soaking wet. Somehow, I always end up with the runts.

As far as personality, she’s pure tomboy, spending most afternoons outside digging for worms, hunting moles, chewing up sticks, or roughhousing. Although she’s tight with everyone in the pack, she wrestles with the biggest dogs the most. She holds her own, too. Mason and I have watched her drag Rosie, a dog double her size, across the floor by the collar multiple times.


Even with all her tomboy ways, she still has moments of pure sweetness. She likes crawling up in laundry fresh from the dryer or cuddling for naps with any cat, human, or canine. At night she sleeps under the covers, worming her way between Mason and I, so that when we wake up she’s squashed between us. Throughout the day, she’ll peek her head into the office to check on me. I think she has grave concerns about my stationary work. At times she stops to lick my toes or nibble on my finger, as though inviting me to play. I’ve never seen her hurt anything besides flies and moles.

Ade isn’t perfect by any means. Even though I’ve been socializing her since she was six weeks old, she’s still timid around people, probably because we live in the middle of nowhere and don’t see a lot of humans unless we drive to town. She’s great on a leash if I’m walking her, but she’ll take advantage of any poor sucker that doesn’t act like a leader. She barks more than we want.

I think what I love the most about Ade is her independence. Moments like right now, late afternoon, cloudy, and humid. All other six dogs are asleep by my feet or on the couch with Mason watching a NCIS rerun, but not Ade. Through my office window, I see her wandering the fence line, stopping to munch on a chestnut or eat the wild blackberries growing through the chain links. Occasionally, she’ll come across a forgotten tennis ball or rope toy, snatch it up and sprint across the yard, having the time of her life. I couldn’t have asked for a better companion. Adriana is living proof that sometimes being a foster failure is worth it.

The Magic 8’s Magic

My girl(Adriana La Cerva)

When the Magic 8, eight homeless three-week-old puppies rescued from a Tennessee ghetto, came into my life, I had no idea that I would need them as much as they needed me. But a week after they arrived, my dog died, and in those days immediately following Miss Annie’s death, I felt like the entire universe was f-king with me. Like I did something to deserve such a harsh judgment. I stopped eating real food, instead living on honey cough drops and green tea, and slept approximately four hours a night. I looked and felt terrible.

At first, I swear I tried to ease my grief by observing the M8 in action, but frankly, they seemed more like a burden than anything else; all I really wanted to do was crawl into bed, surround myself with my remaining pack members, and watch The Sopranos.

My mind was in no place to write about the M8’s devious and silly antics, let alone care about them, but unbeknownst to me they had already started to knit their magical healing powers into my vulnerable heart.

With EIGHT four-week-old puppies crying, eating, peeing, chewing, running, and playing, I was forced to take an active role in life, whether I wanted to or not; like mopping when several wormy poop piles greeted me every morning, or sitting outside in the blaring southern sun, herding the M8 away from the road, or even just the act of bathing, feeding and medicating them kept me from crawling into my own “den” and obsessing about my best friend being dead.

After about two weeks of moving through the motions, feeling nothing but numbness, the M8’s magical healing powers began penetrating my haze, and I started to notice small things that didn’t exactly make me laugh, but they sure caused a smile.

How could I not smile when Junior, a six-pound beast, squatted over his food bowl, all four legs spread wide for optimum balance, protecting his grub from his seven siblings? Or when Jeannie bowled over poor Charmaine while she was taking a poop or when Gloria got into a determined tug-of-war with a spruce tree a million times her size?

As they grew bigger, as their energy increased, their magic grew exponentially until one afternoon their antics caused me to burst out in laughter. I hadn’t laughed for two weeks, and I forgot how good it felt.

It was a game of chase that did it. I had thrown a bunch of wilting sunflowers into the yard for compost earlier in the day, and Livia, the ferocious, intelligent one, had found one and dashed over the grass, around the magnolia tree, leading the scrambling pack with that sunflower – the stem twice as long as her body – gripped in her tiny maw.

A few times she flipped ass over teakettle, but she always hopped back up and bolted forward, flower in mouth, while her litter mates chased in mad pursuit, ears bouncing, tails wagging, wearing stubborn, excited expressions. Nothing about what they were doing was complicated. It was a game of chase with a sunflower, but that’s exactly what made it so special.

Later that night, after eating my first real meal in fourteen days, a pound of strawberries and a Swiss cheese and tomato sandwich on sourdough, I crawled into bed with Adriana, the beauty of the M8, who curled up like an elbow noodle in the crook of my neck, her stinky sweet puppy breath washing over my face, and the idea struck me that their magic was so powerful because it involved finding joy in the simplest, cheapest things that the world has to offer, like playing tag with a sunflower, tug-of-war with a spruce, tearing apart a magnolia leaf, chasing a frog, or leaping into a cardboard box.

The M8 were feverishly alive, and it was contagious.