I promised I'd never again succumb to puppy love after my little Puff died last summer.
So why did I spend the last month stepping over chew toys, shivering through midnight backyard bathroom runs and patrolling the house with a roll of paper towels and bottle of Urine Gone?
Because three months without a puppy in our house was long enough.
By Thanksgiving, I could feel my daughters' longing build. My youngest child called one night from the grocery store, asking if she could bring home a stranger's unwanted dog. My 19-year-old started making the rounds of animal shelters. My oldest bombarded me with Craigslist ads.
I bent but didn't break. I still miss Puff, and I like my freedom. And a clean, quiet house has its rewards.
So I called a friend who runs an animal rescue group. And we became a foster family for two homeless puppies.
Jolie and Mr. Hendrix, we called them. Or, more often, Hey you . . . .get off, come here, stop that!
I don't consider myself an animal nut, but I'm an easy mark for those who are.
I fell in love when I saw their pictures -- the scruffy little sweet-faced girl and her chubby green-eyed brother.
Jolie was spunky and smart; she walked in ready to explore. Hendrix was timid and sweet, content to cuddle and nap. Together, they resembled a running comedy routine.
This wasn't our first time fostering. Years ago, we took in Lady, a gorgeous life-of-the-party young shepherd, who had been found wandering alone in a Burbank park.
Then there was Davy, who had spent months shuttling from kennel to kennel, after being tossed as a puppy from a moving truck. Bella, a sweet, sad-faced corgi, so abused by a previous owner that she wet the floor out of fear whenever anyone spoke. And three little Lab-mix puppies whose pregnant mother had been dumped at a shelter by her callous owner. Every one of them found a permanent home.
But it had been 10 years since we'd had a puppy, and I'd forgotten how much work they require.
Up at dawn every morning for the first of three daily feedings. Trips outside with them every hour. Middle of the night wake-up calls. We had to watch them every moment, or they'd steal our socks, pee on the floor, drink water from the Christmas tree reservoir.
Our own outings had to be synchronized so the puppies weren't alone too long.
But the rigor was matched by the rewards.
It's hard to explain to pet-less folks the joy of watching puppies at play. Jolie liked to study herself in the mirror, perch on the end of the bed to watch TV, carry her bowl through the house when she was ready to eat. Hendrix watched with a forlorn look on his face while she scrambled into flower beds and baskets that he was too fat to reach. He'd pounce on her when she wasn't looking and squeeze under the bed in hide-and-seek.
Their favorite toy was a used dryer sheet; folding laundry became a pleasure because we knew they'd be occupied, for a few minutes at least.
We turned the hallway into doggy-central, crowded with crates, blankets, old slippers and tennis balls. We named the downstairs bedroom the Puppy Corral, and every night the dogs slept there, snuggled up against one of us in bed.
The hardest part of fostering is letting go of animals you've grown to love. But I kept reminding my daughters, and myself, that our job was to prepare the puppies for permanent homes.
Finding those homes is the job of the rescue groups; they've become the salvation of the region's overburdened shelter system.
"These are animals that might otherwise be euthanized," said Ed Boks, general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services. "The rescue groups perform a tremendous service" by bailing out doomed dogs and cats and sponsoring fairs to find them homes.
Our puppies were part of a litter of six. Their mom and siblings stayed with Amanda Brand, a publicist for the film industry, idled now because of the threatened Screen Actors Guild strike.
She's been in the rescue business her whole life, she says.
"When I was a child in England, I'd bring home a dog every week. They find me," she joked, "and I can't turn them away."
The Internet has revolutionized the rescue system, she said. "There's this great network of people who go around to shelters and send e-mail blasts every day" about dogs in need. "They'll say, 'Is anyone looking for an Australian terrier mix?' or 'This dog is going to die on Friday. Can anyone find a home for him?'
"It's the hardest thing to see. You know you can't save every one, but the rescue groups work together now, and we're placing more animals than ever."
The one thing they need is more foster homes, for stints that can last days or months, with expenses borne by the rescue groups.
"It's not for everyone," Boks acknowledged, "but we tell folks, 'If you want an animal but you can't make a long-term commitment, this might be ideal for you.' "
It was for us. It satisfied our puppy lust. And when Amanda came this week to take them back, we hugged them, said our tearful goodbyes, and promised to show up at their adoption fair in Simi Valley on Sunday.
Then we gathered up the pee-pee pads, chewed up yogurt cartons and sticks they'd dragged in from outside. And realized, with a grudging sense of relief, that we could once again leave for the day and not have to rush back. We could sort laundry on the floor without socks being dragged off and sleep soundly without their whimpering soundtrack.
So why do I miss sleeping with one puppy curled up on my chest and another wrapped around my head like a furry Russian hat?
Contact Los Angeles Animal Services at (888) 452-7381 for information about volunteering.