The right ending to our tale of 14 puppies

We should have had her spayed right after Roberta gave her to us. But it was one of those things - we just didn't get around to it. So one August afternoon, Peaches gave birth to 14 puppies. The kids were thrilled. But it crossed my mind once or twice that I had no idea how we'd find good homes for so many adorable mutts.

The father was a purebred golden retriever. And not until now had I wondered why Roberta had named our dog in the plural. Peaches didn't resemble a peach, either. She was jet black with long retriever hair, an agreeable blend of many breeds. But she was indeed a peach, although once when her round pups were lined against her tummy, we affectionately called her "Pea Pod," and that name pretty much stuck.

The kids and I had a blast with the pups, but as our cuddly friends grew, the cleanup job on the backyard lawn increased as well. I usually ended up with the chore after the kids had left for school in the morning, and after eight weeks the job was getting old. Besides, the time had come to start to get them settled into permanent homes.

So one weekend the kids and I piled into the van, puppies in the rear, yipping and playfully biting each other's ears and tails, and we headed for the local humane society. I didn't think I had the patience to deal with all the phone calls a newspaper ad would bring.

But in northern California at that time, shelters were full of animals, and if they weren't adopted quickly they were put to sleep. I tried stifling that bit of information, but it wouldn't stay submerged; I cried the whole way.

When we arrived at the shelter, I dried my tears and smoothed my puffy eyes. I walked alone (the kids were not cooperating) up to the counter and cheerfully announced I had 14 wonderful puppies for them. The woman, without looking up from her paperwork, snarled, "We don't take puppies." I cried all the way home, this time with tears of relief.

So I placed an ad for "free puppies" in the newspaper. I don't think we got a single phone call. In the meantime, the kids and pups grew more inseparable. Only Happy and Callie, our two cats, were allowed to spend the nights inside, but from the giggling and the look of the blankets in the morning, some pups had been overlooked at bedtime.

The gate on our backyard fence opened onto the elementary school's grass field. Every afternoon, scores of kids arrived to play soccer or T-ball. The children loved it when their games were over, for then I would open the floodgate, releasing 14 roly-poly, tail-wagging puppies for them to play with. Surely a parent wouldn't mind taking one or two home? The parents loved the pups, too; but their disciplined ability to decline our offering amazed me.

Certainly the divine plan could not have been for us to keep all 14 puppies, even if they had been given perfect names.

I desperately searched the heavens for a solution. The odd idea came to put another ad in the paper, this time asking $10 for each puppy.

It worked.

Placing a value on the mutts somehow had an effect. I made a deal with the kids: If they would prepare the puppy chow and clean up the yard every day until all the puppies had homes, I would give them each, in turn, $10 for every pup sold. Twenty years ago, that was a hefty sum for three youngsters under the age of 10.

When he was about 11 weeks old, the last puppy - Boots, with four white socks - had gone. It was a sad day; the yard was much too quiet. So Saturday morning I had the kids get their money jars out. They proudly carried their savings as I drove them to their favorite place - the toy store.

After much deliberation, they spent their earnings. My son stocked up on model airplanes, paint, and glue; the girls bought toys, games, and a stack of books.

They were praised for spending their money wisely - and I explained that it helped to pay the employees for their hard work. Their money could very well even go as far as feeding families of factory workers in Taiwan.

Yes, the dog pound might have seemed easier. But I liked this ending much better.

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