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I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas

Christmas at our place was rich with stuffed squash, soup, pies, ambrosia, and fresh bread; all the usual suspects.

Unlike past Christmases, however, this one also contained something more out of the ordinary. Specifically, we had ourselves a hippo this Christmas. No, not on the table.  In our living room.  He’s pretty cute, actually.  This hippo is likely to eat up quite a bit of my time in the coming weeks, which is why I’m breaking from my usual postings about food and policy to tell you about him. If postings are sparser than usual, I can guarantee you that his skinny shoulders carry a good part of the blame. So, who is this hippo? Well, he’s a bit unusual, as hippos go.  First, this hippo is not especially fond of water.  Second, he’s neither as corpulent nor as leathery as you might expect.  This hippo—rather, this Hippo—is a tiny, terrified little creature who accidentally found his way into our lives, and who now has a spot in our home.

All evidence thus far suggests that he’s okay with that.  Here you can see our Hippo exploring the basil in the garden.

Hippo has a sad story, and he’s got a difficult road to travel. He lived in a house right across from ours with three other dogs and two people.  One of his people died of a heart attack in his home last week.  Deep in depression and with no way to pay the bills or the rent, his other person committed suicide that weekend.  The dogs were alone with the body for two or three days before someone became concerned and called the police to check on the house.

The police came, and family was called.  When family came to pick up the dogs two days later, they left this one behind and told the neighbors to call animal control on the dog.  They didn’t want him.  They didn’t want any of them, in fact.  They intended to give all the dogs to a shelter, but this one ran from them.  Another neighbor, crying, came and told me and the Unicyclist what was going on.  One little dog was hiding beneath a car and refused to come out.  This dog was soon to become known as Hippo, thanks to the Unicyclist’s talent for naming small animals.

Hippo is underweight, skittish, and unfamiliar with the concepts of both play and potty training.  He spent December 23rd in our living room, plastered against the back wall of the plastic puppy kennel a neighbor lent us (a lot of neighbors got involved in this situation, as you have probably guessed by now), trembling violently and not making a peep.  He wouldn’t allow us to pick him up, and hated to be touched at all.  We were pretty leery of touching him at that, since when we caught him from the parking lot to get him into the kennel, he tried to bite through the oven mitts we were using.  I sweet-talked him enough to get the hungry pup to eat out of my hand, but only after about 10 hours together.  Yesterday,  he began to pop out of his kennel to explore the house, he snuck a few seconds to “conduct business” in the hallway a number of times (thank heavens for ceramic tile), and he got acquainted with a thick green-striped blanket I’m calling the snuggle blanket.  He actually allowed himself to be cuddled for a good, long while.  Yesterday was also the day we took him to animal control and signed up as his foster parents until he can be rehabilitated enough to find a forever home.  On a less happy note, yesterday was also the day he got his voice back.  Dear Hippo kept me and the Unicyclist about 38 winks shy of our necessary 40 with his incessant howling.  Nothing we did could make him settle down.

Can you see the bumps on the lower part of Hippo’s back in some of the photos above?  They’re hard to make out in the pictures, but those are his vertebra.  All his ribs and all his vertebra can be seen through his skin; that’s what I mean when I say “underweight.”  I spent some time today trying to fatten him up with dog food from the neighbor, as well as some whole-grain rice and vegetables.  He has been eating like each meal is the best one he’s ever had, and it may well be.  It may also be part of the reason that he’s making such good progress.  Today, Mr Hippo got acquainted with a harness and leash, and he went for his very first walks (possibly ever, based on the evidence).  He has also started leaping straight up in the air when he wants to look cute, and he has decided that his safe space is not longer  the back wall of his kennel, but rather wrapped tightly around my neck.  I wound up wearing him like a boa until the Unicyclist could peel him off no fewer than four separate times today.

Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by how much Hippo needs us.  Other times—like now, when he’s curled up in the snuggle blanket in the Unicyclist’s lap while we watch a movie—I am so grateful we have the chance to step in and help him through an ugly patch in life into something much, much better.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

15 comments

15 Comments so far

  1. Jessica December 26th, 2008 8:34 am

    Wow, Laurel. This post made me a little teary, as I love animals so much. I am so impressed that you guys had the time and energy to foster this needy dog. Not to go all Sarah Palin-ish, but there’s a special place in dog heaven for you guys. Good luck with the training!

  2. Mangochild December 26th, 2008 12:07 pm

    Laurel, I am tearing up at this post. You both are incredibly caring and have made a difference. I’m sure that Hippo is feeling much love with you. His story is a hard one, but reading your post, I know that he is healing both physically and emotionally under your care. Hugs to you all.

  3. kirbysmom December 27th, 2008 10:51 am

    That’s my girl! I am so proud of you. Love, Mom-o-saurus

  4. Laurel December 27th, 2008 4:10 pm

    Well, I learned from the master. (Psst, that’s you!)

  5. bigwavedave December 28th, 2008 1:35 pm

    It’s nice you could give a happy ending to what started as a sad story for Mr. Hippo. He’s a cute dog, do you have any idea what kind of dog and how old he is?

  6. Laurel December 28th, 2008 3:50 pm

    Well, we think he’s probably a miniature pinscher and chihuahua mix. We don’t know his age yet; when we get him to the vet through animal control, she will look at his teeth and give us a general idea. He’s not a puppy, but I doubt he’s too far out of puppyhood. Maybe 2 or 3?

  7. [...] this morning, awakened by the dulcet tones of one Mr Hippo singing to the sunrise, I got up, got dressed, and headed to the farmers’ market to see what [...]

  8. [...] When she wasn’t busy with Hippo, Laurel was making both savory and sweet kabobs. The savory version included eggplant, potatoes, [...]

  9. [...] Mr Hippo has now been crashing at our pad for a full week.  I think he’s getting used to his new digs.  He is out sunning himself on the stoop right now, which is his favorite things to do on sunny Phoenix afternoons.  Plus, he’s pretty content because he just gorged his skinny self on his first homemade doggie meal.  I need to do some reading to figure out the proper ratios of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates he’ll need for long term health, but this was just an experimental dish to see how it would go.  And to see how it would, you know, go through him.  I know a lot of doggies get stomach issues when their diets are changed, but this guy has been very regular despite a couple different kinds of canned food donated from the neighbors, some veggie and fruit snacks, and a previous diet that seemed to alternate between both dry and canned food, according to the neighbor who knew his family.  Here’s hoping Hippo’s unstable past has given him a stomach able to cope with pretty much anything.  Surely, surely, his neglected little stomach will love dishes like these? [...]

  10. Kim January 1st, 2009 7:19 pm

    Laurel, you and the Unicyclist have such a good hearts. I love the name Mr. Hippo and he looks so sweet…I also teared up. Did the vet say anything about a calcium deficiency? A few of the pics look like his feet turn out which could be a sign his bones weren’t getting enough calcium to develop…probably from being malnourished. I’m so glad he is starting to do better, he sure has great people to take care of him…what a lucky dog. Hope I get to meet him someday…he’s so cute!

  11. Laurel January 2nd, 2009 4:45 pm

    Kim:
    His feet do definitely turn out, but I don’t know if that’s a nutritional issue or a genetic one. However, now that he’s not so terrified, his gait seems just fine. And yes, he’s definitely doing better. Hallelujah!

  12. karen schaub January 14th, 2009 4:24 pm

    Laurel,
    I’m visiting your site for the first time and of course came across the posting on lovely Senor Hippo—wondering if you’ve heard of Dr. Pitcairn’s book which has specific recipes for natural/homemade dog and kitty food—my cat adores her food and I cook monthly for her by freezing individual portions.
    It might give you an idea of proportions of grain/protein and necessary vitamins.
    Hope your New Year is Bright!

  13. Laurel January 14th, 2009 5:04 pm

    Thanks, Karen! You are the third person to recommend this book, which I think means I officially have to get it. I really appreciate everyone’s tips and advice! Hippo is eating well, with no apparent digestive issues regardless of the fact that we switch up his food. I do want more specific information, though, and it sounds like Pitcairn’s book is the way to go.

  14. [...] have just been busy ’round here, what with testicles getting snipped and tossed and all.  (Hippo’s doing fine, by the way.  And his eye got fixed as well!  He’s a new pup.  One who [...]

  15. Simple Spoonful » The Story of a Dog March 20th, 2009 9:45 am

    [...] For several weeks, I have been ignoring the elephant in the room—at least as far as this blog is concerned. And by “elephant,” of course, I mean “dog.”  And by “dog,” of course, I mean Hippo. [...]

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