A friend asked me to check on her litter of six-and-a-half-week-old puppies while she went out for a few hours. These are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, the breed I fell dramatically in love with last New Year\’s Eve (http://mygreenvermont.blogspot.com/2009/01/call-me-casanova.html) so I was honored to be asked.
For a Cavalier litter, this is a large one: three males and three females. Five are black-and-tan, marked like miniature Rottweilers, and one is the rusty-red that Cavalier devotees call “ruby.”
The minute I arrived I scooped them up and deposited them on the grass outside, where they promptly did what good puppies do and were praised for it. Then I scooped them back inside (it was a windy, cold afternoon) and sat down on the floor.
You remember Gulliver and the Lilliputians? You\’ve watched those documentaries of divers beset by Great White sharks? That\’s how it was for me, except these sharks were small and mostly black. Six pairs of tiny jaws fastened on six of my fingers. When I gently pried them off, they immediately found six toes. When I hid those away, they made for my pants, my shirt, my hair.
And as they chomped they looked at me with their big, round , wide-apart eyes set in big, domed heads with tiny noses and blunt muzzles—the full set of neotenic features shared by most mammal babies and designed by Nature to trick any other mammal, no matter what species, into nurturing behaviors.
Every once in a while a pair would break off to do miniature alpha-wolf rollovers on each other, complete with growling and eye-rolling. And those who lost hold of my clothing or skin would instantly find a fraternal ear or paw to gnaw on. High-pitched cries would ensue, sudden shifts in position, more alpha-wolf rollovers and then, in the blink of an eye—utter silence. The Sensational Six were asleep in my lap.
No, that\’s wrong. It was only five. A sixth girl (properly known as a bitch, but that seems a bit harsh at this point) was toddling about looking lost until she found my fingers. I picked her up and cradled her in my hands, like an almond in the shell. I rubbed her tummy and she kept her eyes on mine, and then her eyelids drooped and she was asleep. I set her down among her brethren and got up quietly.
And somehow I managed to leave them all there, every last one, when it would have been so easy to put one under my shirt and run.