An Ode to My Dog

I wasn’t born a dog person. We didn’t have pets growing up, or at least, we didn’t have them for long. (That’s a whole other post with mystery, intrigue, road kill, and hilarious lies to children. I’ll get on that.)

I’ve had a few pets since I moved out of the house, a goldfish I kept alive for three years, a couple of sickly cats here and there, and a Basset Hound I flew across country several times before I realized that our relationship was at best adversarial. (That dog actually ate my engagement ring. I never recovered it.😤)

I named all my pets Zaphod. I didn’t want them to have an identity crisis, however, so I changed the spelling for each animal. My siblings and I came up with 36 ways to spell “Zaphod.”

I figured I was just unlucky in the pet department. I didn’t actively dislike them like my mom did, but I hadn’t ever found a true-love connection with an animal. I really didn’t get the dog parents out there who put boots on their dogs and called them fur babies. I’d roll my eyes a bit when I’d see the bumper stickers–Who Saved Who? Pah-lease! It’s a dog, and dogs are good for petting, guarding your property, and eating fine jewelry. My husband shared this opinion, so we heartily mocked pet owners everywhere and basked in the superiority of our dander-less home.

I don’t know what happened, but a year after we got married (different guy, different decade, different ring) I suddenly flipped a switch and decided I wanted a dog. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t shake it and I started nagging the hell out of my poor hubby. He was confused, and understandably so. We essentially had bullet points in our wedding vows addressing pets. But I persisted, asking if we could revisit the conversation next month, or in the spring, or after the next thing.

The answer was always ‘no,’ and that was reasonable. I was the one who’d lost my damn mind and reneged on our animal truce. So I did would any good headstrong protagonist of her own save-a-puppy story would do–I tricked him. Sorta.

We had friends who were fostering an older puppy found abandoned, wandering the streets. They really wanted to keep him, but their dog wasn’t having it. I was besotted as soon as I saw the pictures on Facebook. I messaged them immediately and arranged for us to meet George. It was “just a meeting,” I told my hubby. We weren’t committed to anything. And we both believed that going in, but fate had a different idea.

George, shortly after we adopted him. About 10 months old. He’s a Pit mix the best we can tell.

It was love at first sight for both of us. No world could exist where we and this dopy, sweet, floppy, pup weren’t together. And so George has been a member of our family for a little over two years.

The first year with a puppy was eventful. He did all the puppy things, to include eating an entire stuffed chair, disemboweled three very pricy dog beds, and ripping up our leather sofa. He also had a sock and napkin fetish. There were definite moments of frustration, but he was so sweet that we couldn’t stay angry for long. He grew out of those antics as everyone promised me, but he also grew into is 65lb frame. He thinks he’s a lap dog and if you are sitting, he must be sitting on you.

It wasn’t until a year ago that I fully understood George’s ability to sense and respond to my emotional changes. I had no idea how intuitive he could be.

I have a number of dear friends who like me, also struggle with mental illness. Many of these beautiful souls I’ve met during an impatient hospital stay or through group therapy. There is a kinship that we shared from the onset, and I have lasting friendships that have been forged through the pain of emotional scars. Until relatively recently, I’ve tended to have the most acute symptoms of those in our circle. Someone was generally taking care of me or helping me through a rough patch. In a crisis scenario, I’m generally the patient.

That changed last year. It’s not my story to tell, but for once someone was looking to me for support. I was stable and roles changed. This was a different kind of crisis for me. I didn’t know if I was strong enough or if I could help my person in the they way they’d helped me. I’d only ever experienced mental illness as a sufferer, not as a caregiver.

From the moment I got back from the hospital, George sensed my distress. He knew something was different about this emotional state. Already a cuddley guy, George wouldn’t leave my side. He nuzzled me, slept next to me, and offered me so many kisses that I had to eventually push his sweet muzzle away from my face.

George often sleeps at my side while I’m writing in my office.

I didn’t have to explain friendship dynamics, worry how to phrase the situation to lay-people, protect dignity or fight stigma. I didn’t have to remember important details or call all the people on the list. The beauty of it was that I didn’t have to talk at all. I could just turn off my phone, borough under the covers, and bury my face in his ridiculously soft ears. He made no demands of me. He asked no questions. He just offered his love and companionship.

I finally got it, the dog-thing. It didn’t seem quite so outlandish that some owners paint their dogs’ nails or dress them up. While it’s still not my style to put magnetic paw prints on my car, I have to admit that we just celebrated George’s birthday, and I may have made him a bone-shaped hamburger and a batch of peanut butter bacon dog treats. I accept that I am ridiculous.

George is only three, and hopefully we’ll have many good years together. But he won’t live forever. I know that I’ll always have a dog. That a dog is part of my self-care plan. Caring for a dog provides me with structure and routine, and the dog’s unconditional love gives me something that meds, therapy, and even loved ones can’t provide. So, happy birthday, George!

He approves!

2 comments

  • This is an amazing post. We humans still don’t understand how dogs can read our health, mental or physical, like how they can signal epileptics that they’re about to have a seizure. Or how they understand when we’re not feeling well, or when we’re going through a rough patch. I’m glad you and Brian have George. He’s good for you both.

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