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My Dear Watson
By Arlene Poma

I hate to see people cry.  Inmates and wards do not cry.  They stuff their emotions, and that makes it even worse.  I was a prison guard in California and if my inmates and wards had told me how they felt instead of acting out, there would have been some hope for them.  In life, only cowards pretend not to feel.  These people had suffered abuse all of their lives.  All I had to do is open their files and read.  Unfortunately, their stories were all the same.

At that time, I also knew about hiding feelings.  I knew about a very personal kind of pain.  I knew about keeping secrets and feeling alone.  For years I had slept with my eyes opened while staying with my first husband.  In two fits of rage spaced years apart, he had blacked out and tried to kill me.

I was born and raised in Sacramento.  I was “young and dumb” when I met my first husband.  Being the daughter of immigrants, my parents thought education would fix everything for their children. They believed if I went to college and graduated, everything would fall into place.  I would have a career, marry and have children.  Without dating skills and only moving out when I married, I was not equipped for marriage.  The man I had chosen to marry had all the signs of an abuser. I don’t expect others to understand why I stayed with my job as a correctional officer instead of leaving my first husband right away.  I did not leave because I didn’t want to tell my parents that I had married an insecure man with a violent temper.  I couldn’t tell them that I had failed in my choice of a spouse.  To them I had already failed in my choice of a career.

I had such a passion for the work I did.  However, my family never approved of my work; they were angry and disappointed that I was throwing my college education away to do something “menial.”  No one visited me in the years I had lived in Crescent City.

I had worked for the State of California since I was in my teens.  There were a lot of sacrifices I made to get into the academy.  There were a lot of sacrifices I made to keep my job.  As far as me getting in, I was a long shot.  But against all odds, I made it because I wanted the job, and I would not back down.  I had found my own way in a male-dominated profession, and I was good at it.  I was given a lot of responsibility since I supervised as many as 300 men at a time.  I knew I would never be happy working in an office again.  I knew I couldn’t quit being a correctional officer and expect to be happy in another profession.  This was where I did my best work.  I had truly found my calling.  If I left, I would never have another job like this again.  Once you turn in your badge, you don’t get re-instated.

No one, not even an abusive spouse, was going to get in the way of what I wanted.

I found joy in working with my inmates because I found out so much about myself.  Surrounded by murderers, rapists and the worst California could offer, I was firm, I was fair and I was compassionate.  I felt so much pride in my work.  As a part of law enforcement, I was the first in my family to earn the right to wear a badge.  I wanted to make a difference.  I worked very hard, and I had the chance for a promotion (sergeant) to Folsom Prison if I completed the 2-year apprenticeship and a few more years of full-time work.

There were no battered women shelters in my area.  But imagine this.  I worked around California’s “Worst of the Worst” inmates and supervised them, yet I didn’t have control over the monster I was married to.  I didn’t want anyone to know about my problem because I didn’t want their pity.  I didn’t want to hear my parents say, “I told you so.”  At that time, I felt that I had no one to depend on except myself.

I always pictured myself as one battered woman who WAS going to get out of her situation.   I had hope, I prayed to God for strength, and I didn’t give up on what I wanted for me.  I knew what I had to do in order to secure my future.  When I obtained enough job experience, I transferred to another prison as a correctional officer, separated from my husband and moved into an apartment.  At the same time, I was accepted to another academy.  I graduated in December 2000 and began my job as a Youth Correctional Counselor.  I had a caseload of young boys who had committed sexual offenses.  This was a promotion.  I moved again, found an attorney to represent me in my divorce and was only an hour’s drive from my parents in Sacramento.  My father was dying and I wanted to be close to him.  I received my divorce three days before 9/11.

Once I made the move to leave my husband, it was for keeps, and I didn’t look back.  After I left him and started my life over, I was ready.  I met my second husband, Jack, six months later.  Everything fell into place.

Then in 2001, I was forced into an early retirement at 43 because of an on-the-job injury, and I felt a deep and raw new pain.  The life I had so carefully created for myself, in spite of everything and everyone, had suddenly crashed into a million pieces.  The loss left me struggling for something else to do.  To me, retiring on a Worker’s Compensation injury was painful rejection with no closure. I didn’t know what I would do with the rest of my life.  I fell into despair.

There is a stigma associated with a person who is a prison guard in California.  People think you are paid a lot of money, but don’t know how to do anything else.  I knew that back then, and I certainly found that out when I retired and tried to get a desk job.  But after having the experience of making my own decisions, the last thing I wanted anyway was to work under a boss and in the confinement of an office environment.  I joined a handful of volunteer organizations, but they meant nothing to me.  I wanted to be back at work, and no amount of volunteer work could match the passion I had for my former job.

Then I met Watson.

Although I walked away from the marriage with nothing but a change back to my maiden name and a stack of bills my former husband refused to acknowledge, I also kept Barney, my ex-husband’s beagle.  Barney had faithfully seen me through almost 12 years of my life, and I was more than grateful to have him.

To my delight, my boyfriend loved dogs and had fallen in love with Barney from the start of our relationship.  If we moved into a house with a big backyard, we agreed there would be enough room for another dog.   We were interested in finding a shelter or a rescue dog since so many of them were up for adoption and needed good homes.

In 2002, online dating was a new thing, but that’s how I found Watson.  While searching through beagle rescue websites, I came across Watson’s photograph.  He was a handsome boy, and he was posed with his face intently staring at the camera.  As I searched more local websites, it was Watson’s photo which remained in my heart and mind.

My boyfriend and I agreed on trying to adopt Watson.  I received a call from a volunteer at the rescue group who was Watson’s adoptive mother.  Yes, the beagle was available, and she would bring the dog to our home over the weekend to see if he would be a fit to our one-dog household.

My boyfriend had an Australian shepherd-golden retriever mix from childhood to his teens.  Millie was the perfect family dog who could do no wrong.  Neither of us had worked with a dog rescue organization.  We didn’t know what she was looking for when it came to prospective dog parents.

Watson arrived, but paid little attention to Barney.  Georgie, the volunteer, explained that Watson had been found in a neighborhood and was rummaging through garbage cans for survival.  He was recently returned to the rescue organization by his adoptive family.

“Watson is a good boy who sometimes runs with scissors,” said Georgie.

The children were home-schooled, and at the time, they were reading about Sherlock Holmes and renamed the dog, “Watson”.  Shortly after they named him, their mother tearfully returned Watson to the animal rescue.  The family had no experience with dogs.  He destroyed everything in their home and constantly needed their attention.  I noticed he had this way of putting his head on my lap and staring dreamily at me until I acknowledged him.

I wished I knew what he had been through so I could understand him better.  But as Georgie talked about Watson’s brief history, I watched him as he pulled our pond plants out of the water.  One by one, he took each plant to a far corner of our backyard and left them there to die.  As far as he was concerned, he owned his new surroundings.

First impressions mean everything to me, and I immediately found myself admiring this spunky little fellow.  I looked at my boyfriend.

“What do you think?” I asked him.  “We can work with him.  Since I’m retired, now, I’ll have the time to spend with him.”

After we both agreed, I happily got out my checkbook and signed away for our newest forever dog.

“God bless you!” cried Georgie.  “God bless you!”

Georgie continued to say this as she got into her vehicle and drove away.  My boyfriend and I didn’t think much of her outbursts until we were left alone with Watson.  After several hours with him, we were afraid to leave him alone.   At first, he slashed every electrical cord in the house and chewed all the remotes to our TV.  In the backyard, he slashed all of our garden hoses.  If towels or clothing were left on the floor, Watson ripped them beyond recognition.  With books, magazines and loose paper, he did a better job than our paper shredder.

He destroyed the toys we bought him.  He scattered bits and pieces of fabric and stuffing throughout the house and in the front and backyards.  Sometimes, he swallowed selected strips of fabric and yarn.  Rawhide chews and hard plastic bones disappeared in less than an hour.

During the year, I did charity baking and sometimes prepared meals for volunteer crews.  On the night it was needed, the magnificent Hawaiian wedding cake, a new recipe I had carefully chosen and slaved over, disappeared from its aluminum foil and cardboard pedestal.  Sandwich bags of pretzels and sweets went missing, and I scrambled to replace stolen items at the last minute.

To perfect my charity baking, I took classes in cake decorating.  While learning about fondant, I had boxes of red fondant disappear from my kitchen shelves, too.  Watson’s stomach could not manage fondant, and he threw up.  My boyfriend and I spent hours scrubbing red fondant stuck to the pale carpet in our bedroom.

If Watson wasn’t destroying things or stealing food, he was always looking for food and eating what he found.  Most of the time, he wasn’t too selective.  He knew how to open the kitchen and bathroom garbage cans by leaning on the pedals, and you could hear the metal tops banging into the night.  He would shred what couldn’t be eaten, then scatter the remains on the floor.

What seemed to be the last straw was when I was watching television in another room before starting dinner.  When I finished watching the program, I walked into the kitchen and found the kitchen garbage can on its side with its contents scattered on the floor.  I picked up the phone and left a message for my boyfriend, who was still at work.  I remember crying as I cleaned up the kitchen.  I could never catch Watson when he did these things, so punishing him after the fact would be useless as well as cruel.  I went to bed and cried myself to sleep because I was so disappointed.  I had planned on making a delicious meal for my boyfriend, but I was too upset to even try.

But we would not give up on Watson.  We learned from Georgie that he had been crate trained in the past and that is what he knew.  For Watson’s particular needs, it gave him a feeling of security.  It was not something we would normally have done, but for now this would protect Watson and our home.  Whenever we left the house, we placed him in a large crate that Watson could easily move around in with his favorite toy or a chew bone and a blanket.  He already knew how to stay there, and he would sleep on his blanket or play with his toys.  Each day, I spent more time with him.  We took walks around the neighborhood or played in our front or back yards.  With my boyfriend home, we went to parks and took both dogs with us whenever we went camping, and he participated in all our other activities.  By adding Watson to our daily activities, he quickly became a part of our family and part of the pack.  He loved to ride in the car and looked forward to adventures outside of our home.

Seven years after adopting Watson, I finally decided to marry my boyfriend.  Although my boyfriend shared my living space, I was afraid to take the final risk.  As someone who had been in an abusive marriage which ended in divorce, I was gun-shy when it came to the thought of marrying again.  I wasn’t going to make another mistake.

For years, I observed my boyfriend and how he handled situations.  He was a kind and fair man who very seldom raised his voice.  It was always important to me to see how people treated animals as well as people.  Watson was a true test of patience at times.  But by dealing with our problems, my boyfriend and I were able to talk and laugh about them later. He was someone you could trust and you could count on.  After all of these years, I was delighted that I found my best friend.  I finally put my past aside and was willing to face the future.

It was Watson who ultimately completed our family.  He is eleven years old now and he is still loud, obnoxious and stubborn.  Over the years, we have found a loyal companion with a hilarious personality who greets us with a loud, “Woo woo woo,” whenever we get back from errands or a brief trip.  He is the one who plops down at our feet with a contented sigh, then goes into a deep sleep.  We have earned his complete trust.  He is also the fearless one who keeps the bears away at night whenever we go camping.

Now I am happy with retirement and look forward to each day, because each day is mine.  We have added a second rescue dog to our family. Dogs and horses happen to be my totems.  I have learned new crafts such as spinning and weaving.  And I returned to writing, which has become a new passion.

What has Watson taught me?

I’ve learned to take risks and shove any doubts aside.   Over the years, I have heard the soft, reassuring thud of his tail against the floor, and I now have the courage to look beyond what is in front of me.  I am reminded not to worry.  Choices are to be made, and they are everywhere.

According to Watson, you just go with it and expect most things in life to turn out just fine.  On a daily basis, he shows me how to take life as it comes.  He has taught me about patience and understanding.  Through his soft brown eyes, now clouded with blue, and the soft thud of his tail, he continues to remind me about love and being loved.

But isn’t that what dogs do?

Arlene Poma Bio:

Arlene Poma celebrated her 10th year in retirement (February 2012).  She is a writer and photographer based in Sacramento, California.

My blog is sheretired.blogspot.com.  I am working on my first novel in my spare time (everyone says that).  I also write and take photographs for HubPages, an online writers’ and social networking site.

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COMMENT (1) | animal companion, renewal
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Comments

One Response to “My Dear Watson”

  1. Diane
    May 2nd, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

    What a wonderful story about Watson.

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