FORT KENT, Maine — You’d think after having sled dogs for nearly 16 years I’d have learned by now to never say never.
Like, for example, back when I first got into mushing with my tiny trio team and uttered the words that soon came back to haunt me: “I’ll never need more than three dogs.”
By the time Rusty Metal Kennel had grown to six dogs, I changed that to, “I’ll never have dogs into double digits, and I’ll certainly never pay for a sled dog — and never, ever will I be entering a race.”
Dogs 9, 10 and 11 not only took me into the double-digit zone, they were bought and paid for by a racing kennel specifically, so I could run the Can Am Crown International Sled Dog Races.
So last fall, when my beloved Corky the shusky died of cancer, I was fairly sure I’d have another house dog. But in no way would I ever, ever even consider having a tiny dog.
Never say never.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I take the opportunity to introduce Rusty Metal Farm’s newest and tiniest resident: Chiclet.
I remember in the days after losing Corky, my BDN colleague and photographer Ashley Conti told me, “When the time is right, the right dog will find you.”
She was right, but I had no idea the right dog would come in such a small package.
A 4.8-pound package, to be exact.
I started looking for a new dog in November and began considering something on the small size after spending time with my friend Julie in Winnipeg, who has an even smaller dog — a 3.5-pound chihuahua named Lil Bean and Julie’s friend Kim, who has a small Yorkshire Terrier named Allie.
Hanging out with Lil Bean and Allie showed me that when it comes to personality in dogs, size definitely does not matter.
Back in Maine I went online and found Puppy Love Maine, a rescue organization based in southern Maine that works with a partner rescue group in Louisiana.
Specifically, I was looking for a dog under 10 pounds, an adult, able to live with cats and other dogs, non-yappy and non-aggressive.
Eventually, I stumbled on Chiclet’s profile and there was just something about her photos and profile that struck me.
By the middle of November, I’d filled out the somewhat extensive and detailed Puppy Love adoption form and sent it — along with contact information for my veterinarian and three references — to Laurie Blain, president of the rescue group.
Puppy Love, according to Blain, brings in 80 to 90 dogs from Louisiana every year to homes in Maine.
Sadly, that’s just a drop in the bucket for the dogs needing homes from the south — an estimated 90,000 unwanted dogs are euthanized annually in that state.
“The amount of puppy mills [in Louisiana] and a real lack of spay and neutering of pets is the problem,” Blain said. “Here in New England and especially in Maine we are good with our pets, getting them spayed or neutered, and our shelters are fantastic.”
Maine is so successful, in fact, that it can be difficult to find a new four-legged friend if you have a specific type in mind, as I did.
“A lot of our local shelters are bringing in dogs from the south, Puerto Rico and even from California,” Blain said. “We work to get those animals into homes.”
So it was that on Thanksgiving Day I received an email from Blain telling me that out of all the applications they had received for Chiclet, mine had somehow risen to the top and she was Maine-bound.
Because I had travel plans for the Christmas holidays, Puppy Love kindly arranged for a foster home for Chiclet in central Maine, and on New Year’s Day I was driving south to meet her.
It was love at first sight.
I walked into Foster Mom Dawn’s entryway, sat down on the floor and around the corner dashed this little black-and-brown dog that leapt into my lap and promptly curled up like she’d been my dog all her life.
“These rescue dogs do move around quite a bit,” Blain said. “They can have a number of temporary homes, but they just seem to know when they’ve met that one person who is going to love them and take care of them forever.”
As I type this column Chiclet — which appears to be part chihuahua and part Yorkshire terrier — is sleeping on the couch next to me, using my left arm as a pillow.
Not much is known of her past other than she is from the south — Julie theorized a wonderful image of her having spent time on the streets of New Orleans playing a saxophone for money.
She likely came from a hoarding situation, found herself in a high-kill shelter and was rescued by the Puppy Love group down there.
Now that she is here on Rusty Metal Farm, let’s just say having my first ever tiny dog has made me feel like a rookie musher all over again.
Sled dogs? No problem. I can deal with pretty much any canine calamity that comes along.
This little gal? If not for Julie’s calming reassurance following my panicked call to Winnipeg, I’d have had Chiclet on a lifeflight to Angel Memorial Veterinary Hospital in Boston after she started gagging on a small piece of pasta.
But I am slowly getting the hang of things and getting accustomed to having a dog with only two apparent speeds — zero and 120 mph.
I’m getting better at dressing her to go outside — a southern belle, she is not at all accustomed to northern winters — though at times when she balks at putting her jacket on and goes completely limp, it’s like trying to dress a partially filled water balloon.
The Rusty Metal cats are growing less irked at having this new creature in the house and having done the “treat math” are actually quite happy.
After Chiclet comes in from doing her business outside, I reward her with a treat. Since it seemed unfair that only she got treats, I include the cats that wait directly on the other side of the door for us to come back.
She appears fearless, ready for adventure and has thus far charmed everyone she has met.
No, there will never, ever be another Corky.
But there is a Chiclet, and for that I am forever grateful to Puppy Love and all the people from Louisiana to Maine who helped get her to Rusty Metal Farm.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.