Tell me have you ever heard
About this little five-letter word?
What comes around goes around
I’m telling you, baby,
It’s called karma …
— “Karma,” by Jessica Andrews
On a June day in 2009, I called Steve. “Come over and meet my foster puppies,” I said. “It’s gorgeous out. We can sit in the garden and have cocktails.” When Steve arrived, there was a pitcher of martinis and three four-month-old pit bull mix sisters. I had picked up the puppies from Rocket Dog Rescue that morning. They came from the now-closed Kern County shelter in Bakersfield, notoriously dubbed Doggie Auschwitz, which was located in a rural area where people rarely spay or neuter their pets, leading to an influx of over 500 dogs a month. Even with the help of rescue groups from California and beyond, only a small percentage of the dogs made it out alive. “These are the luckiest pups in Bakersfield,” I told Steve, and I wasn’t exaggerating — they had been just seven hours from the death chamber when Rocket Dog stepped in to save them.
As Steve arrived, the pups were climbing all over Jazzy. Just moments ago, she had been enjoying a peaceful nap on the sun-drenched lawn, and while she was easygoing as always, even Jazzy had her limits. She playfully rolled over on her back, but when those needle-sharp puppy teeth were too much, Jazzy would chase them and butt them with her nose just like their mama would have done. Every time Jazzy found another place to lie down the pups were right there, nipping at her ears, her legs, and her tail as Jazzy’s bright blue eyes begged for mercy.
The youngest and oldest were black and white, but the middle sister had a silver-colored coat and golden eyes. “I really like this one,” Steve said. A few martinis later, Steve left with a puppy.
In about a week Rocket Dog found good homes for the other two sisters. Steve named his new baby Blue, in honor of big sister, Jasmine Blue, and over the next year, they became inseparable. They played constantly: games of chase on the beach, wrestling matches in the backyard, and their favorite, tug-o-war (which Jazzy always won). When Jazzy became sick with cancer, Blue knew something was wrong. She went from the bratty little sister to the caretaker, sleeping beside Jazzy for long hours and only playing if Jazzy felt well enough to initiate it. When Jazzy lost her top canine and three other teeth to the tumor, Blue could easily have taken her tug-o-war crown, but she didn’t; she let Jazzy win every time. When Jazzy passed away, Blue was as devastated as everyone else, sleeping with Jazzy’s favorite Ugly Doll tucked under her chin and turning down her favorite treats.
On a September day in 2012, I called Steve. “It’s time for you and Blue to meet Skylar Grey,” I said. When Steve and Blue arrived, Skylar raced across the garden and, in all her puppy clumsy glory, body slammed Blue, who was none too pleased. She growled and gave Skylar “The Elvis,” with her left upper lip raised; and then “The Double Elvis,” with her left lip raised, and then her right; and finally, the “Full Vampira,” raising her front upper lip to bare her canines. She ducked under the lavender and then ran to the rosemary bush trying to find respite, but Skylar was so small she fit anywhere — there was no escape.
Blue finally gave up and rolled over on her back, but when Sky’s needle-sharp puppy teeth were too much, Blue chased her and butted her with her nose just like her mama would have done. Every time Blue found another place to lie down Sky was right there, nipping at her ears, her legs and her tail. “Stop that,” I said to Sky as she nibbled on Blue’s ankle. “This is not KFC and that is not a drumstick.” Sky flopped beside Blue, her tongue — so long it could be the Eighth Wonder of the World — hanging out the side of her mouth, covered in dirt, as her sides heaved with exhaustion.
Sky quickly got her second wind and pounced on Blue again. My mind flashed back to the first time Blue and her sisters came barreling into the backyard and piled on top of Jazzy. “This looks familiar,” Steve chuckled. Blue realized she had no choice but to lie there and take it — Sky was like The Tasmanian Devil with Energizer Bunny batteries and no off switch. Blue gasped for air, her tongue unfurled like a flag of surrender. “Sorry Blue,” I said as her golden eyes begged for mercy. “Karma is a bitch named Skylar.”