Agatha & Christie – A Remembrance

I got married. I bought a house. I was finally a grown up. I only needed a dog.

The Search

The Philadelphia SPCA was a bleak place. The cacophony of barking dogs was deafening and the smell reminded me of childhood field trips to the hippo pool at the Baltimore zoo.

My eye was on shepherd mixes (the most likely shelter dog type in those days). The first dog we asked to meet only responded to my husband and I couldn’t coax him to my side. I knew this wasn’t the dog we should bring home with us. And I felt like I was signing his death warrant. I probably was.

Feeling overwhelmed by the stressed-out adult dogs, we made our way to the puppy room. I found a pair of sisters whose brother had already been adopted. Their cage tag said they were shepherd mixes.

The Choice

I had done some reading and tried to test the puppies for temperament. The roly poly one was perfect. She approached me in a friendly way. Roly Poly didn’t startle easily when I made a noise and was the right mix of cautious and curious.

Skinny Mini, her sister, had some issues. When Roly Poly approached me, Skinny Mini would yip and drive her off. Skinny Mini looked nervously around her at every strange sound. She didn’t seem quite comfortable in her own skin.

Obviously, we should adopt Roly Poly. My husband had another idea. “I hate to break up the set. Let’s take two.” So much for all my book learning–I agreed. I’m very impressionable.

The Results

We named Skinny Mini “Agatha.” and Roly Poly became “Christie” (we had been watching a lot of Mystery on PBS that year).

Our years together were tumultuous. Agatha’s neuroses shaped the relationship and I just didn’t know enough to work with her.

Housebreaking was never 100% reliable and with two dogs, it was hard to know which little present was left by whom.

Sometimes Agatha and Christie were the best of friends, for good or ill. Some of the things they did together:

  • chased each other down the long halls and slid on the carpet runners at the end
  • howled for fifteen minutes every time we left the house (I still wonder if that’s what caused my neighbors to first try crack)
  • destroyed not one but two very expensive couches.

But the worst thing they did together was fight–nasty, loud, vicious fights that sometimes drew blood.

The End

We hoped they would settle down as they grew older. Instead, they grew worse.

At thirteen, Christie developed Cushing’s disease and eventually started having seizures. As she came out of the seizure, Christie would walk stiff-legged and dazed over to Agatha. Incapable of reading Agatha’s warning signals, Christie wouldn’t back off. Soon we’d have a whirling scene of teeth and fur and blood.

I’ll never forget rushing Agatha outside to the porch while I sat with Christie trying to find her injuries. My husband arrived home to find me sobbing and covered in blood. We spent the last few months of Christie’s life keeping her strategically separated from Agatha.

Two old dogs in a garden

Agatha and Christie at 13 years old.

When Christie died, Agatha seemed puzzled that we came home from the vet’s office alone. But I took out her leash and Agatha and I went for a walk. I was so glad to still have her–my little neurotic dog.

Agatha blossomed on her own. I knew by now it would be unwise to bring a new dog into the life of my fourteen year old. Agatha made it clear from the beginning that she wanted to be an only dog but I wasn’t able to hear her.

Agatha lived to sixteen years old. Despite being arthritic, nearly blind, and completely deaf, Agatha’s last years as an only dog were happy ones. She lost all signs of her previous neuroses and settled into her own skin in a way she never had before.

I still regret that Christie didn’t get the same chance at happiness.

Lessons Learned

If I knew then what I know now, I would not have hesitated to find a new, happy home for Christie. She would have been easy to place. She was lovable and sweet. I think she would have loved having another dog to play with. Christie enjoyed chasing the big dogs at the dog park (but at 35 pounds, she was so far behind the Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Vizslas, I don’t think they knew she was chasing them).

I’ve read some pretty contentious comments on dog blogs that treat “forever home” as a war cry. I disagree. I believe we need to love our dogs to seek out what’s truly best for them. Not what we think is best for ourselves.

I wished I had been able to love Christie enough to do what was right for her.

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  1. Agatha and Christie were beautiful. Thank you for sharing their story. :)

    “I believe we need to love our dogs to seek out what’s truly best for them. Not what we think is best for ourselves.”

    I have to agree with you. Not every home is right for every dog. In a perfect world, every pet would stay in the same home for their whole life. But in this imperfect world, sometimes, it is better for a pet to be rehomed – whether for his own sake, or for the sake of the rest of the family.

    A friend recently shared with me that she was thinking of rehoming one of her cats because she has two females who urine mark over each others scent all over her house. She said she was afraid of what people would think if she rehomed her cat. I asked her – if her cats are unhappy and she is unhappy – how is that a good thing?

    There’s not one right or wrong answer to every situation. And not one of us is perfect. Sometimes that’s not an easy thing to remember. :)

    • Thank you, Angel, for your kind reply. I think your advice to your friend about her cats was very wise. She’s lucky to have you as her friend.

  2. What a touching post. So glad I found your blog through the hop. I see you’re going to BlogPaws — so am I! Looking forward to meeting you in person!

    • I look forward to meeting you too. I always learn something when I stop by My Tail Hurts… even if I don’t visit as often as I’d like.

      Thanks for your kind comment.

  3. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing, but when you’re in the midst of something, it’s often hard to see it with such clarity. I don’t doubt that you gave Christie a wonderful, happy life, even if there was some dispute at times between her and Agatha. Sometimes we learn these life lessons so that we can go on to be better people and better dog owners.

    I have been lucky in my life with the dogs that we have brought home. I’ve felt that all of them belonged here and were in the place that they were meant to be. I have had fosters that I just loved, but knew couldn’t stay because they didn’t get along well with my current dogs. Even though I dearly loved one of them, there was just no way I could have kept her here and kept the peace. She went on to a wonderful home where she was very happy and lived many happy days there. I commend people who realize that they aren’t the right family for a certain dog and take responsible steps to find the right home for that dog. Giving one up isn’t easy!

    • You have been able to assemble a very companionable group of dogs. I love seeing Morgan in the middle of all that greyhoundness. It does seem like everyone is right where they need to be.

      Thanks for your kindness.

  4. It would be so difficult to rehome a dog you have grown to love. I’m not sure I could do it even if I thought it would be best for both dogs. I would probably live in denial. I’ve been fortunate to always have compatible dogs. They may have sibling differences, but sometimes I think they might just love me for my opposable thumbs.

    • Bwa hahaha. You don’t seem capable of denial if you’ve already figured out the part about opposable thumbs. I’ve woken in the middle of the night to find my dog stroking my thumbs reverently and sighing, “Ahh, can opener.”

  5. I agree, though it is never going to be an easy choice to make. You did the best you could with what resources you had. I am sure Christie was happy, she certainly looks so in the photo, even if her life wasn’t always easy. Thank you for sharing this story. I am sure you are not alone and you don’t know who you may have just helped make a decision of her own.

    If we ever adopt a second dog, it will be crucial that new dog and Shiva get along. She will be a big part of that decision and will let us know the right one. We owe her that. It may happen that we choose wrong, you just never know. If Dr. Patricia McConnell can make that mistake, I certainly can! If so, I hope I have the strength to do right by both dogs like she did.

    • I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time. It’s as much a reflection of what I didn’t know as a new adult dog guardian and what I’ve learned since then. Although thinking about Christie makes me sad, I’m still happy to have had her in my life and hope that we gave her fun times as well.

      I was glad you mentioned Dr. McConnell and her experience with Hope. It was following her process that started me on the path to writing this post.

      As for a second dog, if there’s one in your future, I doubt Shiva will be shy about expressing her opinion. You’ve done a great job raising her.

  6. Dear Pamela,

    Your story has made me weepy. I known what it’s like to have 2 dogs that live together but are NOT best friends. Rufus and Jordan were like that. And Rufus and Georgia too, so it MUST be Mr Thumper who’s the “problem”!

    You can never know that it would definitely have been better to separate Agatha and Christie. You’re only imagining that it might have been, in hindsight. For all you know, Agatha might just have mellowed in the final years enough to be neuroses free! (as Rufus has!)

    I’ve had the same thought. Not to have given one up, because that would have been too difficult. But that Jordan would have been happier as the only dog (he was the first of the pair to be adopted). I guess that’s why we become better dog owners as we trundle along. Every one teaches us something. I think you make a good point about forever homes.

    I think I’ll go weep some more now. You’re such an emotive writer. (Am I using the right word?) What beautiful names they had, btw. I thought since your post title had Agatha and Christie in it, that you were going to reveal Shadow’s mutt mix here!

    Have a Super Sunday xox

    • Thank you for sharing your story and comments. And you’re right, all this is hindsight and I’ll never know what would have been ideal. Deep down I know we have to live the life we’re given and that once we make a decision, that’s what we have to deal with.

      When I started out with Agatha and Christie, I didn’t know just what I didn’t know. And I did the best I could with the little knowledge I had (most of the time).

      All these experiences are part of what got me where I am today. A large part of the reason I adopted a purebred puppy was so I could make it more likely that I could bring other dogs into my life without conflict. So I did learn something and made my next choices accordingly.

      I’m glad my post touched you. I sometimes feel my writing is a bit distant and I’m trying to bring more emotion to it.

      As for Shadow’s mutt mix, I can only guess. As a shelter dog, I have no idea what’s in the recipe.

      • Mutt Rescue says:

        Wait … Do you really believe purebreds are easier to introduce a second dog into the mix? I have had both over the years and it is all about the dog’s personalities not whether they are purebred. It is true that some breeds are easier going and dogs from shelters have often had bad experiences that will color their view of the world – sometimes for life. You can still bring home two purebreds and end up with an Agatha and Christie situation.
        I loved the story and you are right that it is not always best for the dog to stay of the home is not working out. The one thing I would say is consider that since we don’t know the subtleties of dog language, you may have who was the neurotic dog backwards even if she was the one who ended up bloody.

        • Oh no, you caught me being sloppy in my language. You’re absolutely right that the personality of the dog is the most important thing.

          What I meant to express is that I was hoping to stack the deck in favor of getting a dog that would be friendly to others. The odds in my favor? Adopting Honey as a puppy, getting her from a breeder who understood the importance of early socialization, having one parent who was known for being particularly good with other dogs, and picking a breed who had strong tendencies toward being friendly to people and other dogs.

          Thanks for offering a smart correction.

  7. Thank you for sharing. It sounds like you are still agonized over your decision. As you know I struggle with fights. It is a horrible and scary experience. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And I understand about thinking twice about keeping an animal. I have given one up before, for reasons I couldn’t control. It was the best decision I ever made. My dog had the best home ever and I was still able to visit whenever I wanted.

    I wish I had some consoleing words, but I don’t. I know sometimes things don’t work out between pets and owners. And that there are tough choices to make. I have been there. I’m feeling a little guilty because I am probably one of those “war cry” blogs you speak of. I don’t mean to come off that way. I was told constantly we should get rid of Brut or some of our other dogs to solve problems as if that was the only real option we had. I needed more options than that.

    I’m am sorry to hear of your experience with Agatha and Christie, it still sounds like it pains you very deeply and to have thoughts of how it could have been different for you and them.

    I trust you did the best you could with them. You still took care of them, you were still there for them. Neither of them will forget that. I hope you take in these comments. We have all made wrong choices and things that may have harmed our pets. By nature they are still animals. No matter how much we train them and domesticate them, they all have a bit of the wild in them, some more than others. Just because you didn’t separate them doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have reacted in the same way with other dogs or animals. Maybe you serviced them by keeping them together, so they didn’t end up back in a shelter or worse. You have to look at the whole picture and take what you learnt and use it for the next generation. (so to speak)

    You have never said harsh words on my blog about anything I have written about it and our two packs go against most of the grain of “proper” dog ownership. Please take everything into consideration. Are you making the same choices today that you did with Agatha and Christie? I highly think not. Owning dogs is a learning and growing experience that helps us heal. Maybe there was something you were suppose to learn about yourself that you couldn’t if you had only taken one home. I hope you are able to see everything for what it really was. I bet if you asked either one of them, they were both happy to have you as their owner. :)

  8. Hi Y’all,

    Just stopped to catch up with y’all. You need to be more “dog like” with yourself…live in the moment…or like my Human…learn from mistakes…close the chapter and move on…

    My Human says that’s what you’ve done…learned and moved on…I rather think your still living with regrets for decisions past. I’m a dog. I sense these things! I hope posting your remembrance helps.

    Thank you for sharing.
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  9. I appreciate your honesty in this post. Sometimes we make rash decisions and continue on thinking it will get better with time. It’s so hard to recognize when you’ve tried as hard as you can and that it’s time to let go.

    I hope writing this post was therapeutic…it truly sounds like you did everything you possibly could for both sweet girls. And who knows what would have happened to Christie if you hadn’t taken both home…

  10. Your story really touched me… sometimes we have to make tough decisions, and it’s never easy. I can imagine that it was really hard for you – it sounds like you did all that you could for those pups.