To the Dog in My Home Who is Not Mine, on Her Birthday

When I saw Beef’s photo on the Humane Society website, I cried.

This sad little pup, with a sagging flower tucked behind her ear to distract would-be adopters from her haunted eyes, was the type of dog I wanted.  Cute, yes, but also needing to be saved.  I like saving things: pets, plants.  Also people — but that’s a story for another time.

When I saw Chop’s photo on the same Humane Society website, I felt … less.

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She was adorable of course; a fluffy, round, black puppy, 10 weeks old and fresh from a foster home.  She had only known love and care and she was wanted.  Sweet, new, German Shepherd-mix puppies are a slam dunk in an animal shelter — in fact, there was a waiting list for her.  She was completely different from sick, timid Beef who had never walked on a leash before and chose to slither during our first outing instead.

But, Husband wanted a “farm dog”.  He wanted a working companion.  He wanted a pure-bred dog from a breeder. But, in a rare moment of me standing up for myself, I refused. So to make sure she wasn’t ruined by shelter life, it needed to be a puppy with the right past. She was picked by him.  She was his.

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So when everything ended almost a year ago now, I assumed Chop would stay on the farm. Logically, it made sense for the 60-pound farm dog to stay on our 10-acre homestead.  She was still a puppy and had only known all of this land that was hers where she could truly run, and all of those barn kittens she could knock over and all that produce she could steal off of the vine.

But when everything ended, her future was unclear.  People told me to give her up.  That moving her would be too much to handle.

But she needed to be saved.  So three weeks after I moved out and left her behind, I came back for her.

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I can’t say it was always easy to have her around. I still struggle.  She is everything Beef isn’t: a big, clumsy, shedding dog who needs toys and walks and and and. I frequently resented her.  She was too much when I had nothing to give.  She became a representation of everything I didn’t think I would have to do by myself.  I didn’t think I would have to lift this enormous dog into a U-Haul three times a day to drive across the country to rebuild my life.  I didn’t think I would have to train her how to walk on a leash because she was meant to run free on the farm I loved.

But I know now that everything that makes her different from Beef helped me recover from my divorce.

Beef was my warm water bottle: gentle comfort and quiet reassurance.

In the first days, when it was just Beef and I in our big, donated house, I struggled to roll out of bed.  “Roll” is accurate but “bed” is not —  I dropped a futon mattress on the floor in the dining room because I couldn’t drag it any farther.  Beef was there during those painful early days when I was still in shock.  I clutched onto her and hid in the stairwell because every car that drove by felt like a threat.  Beef was there, being the warm water bottle I needed.

But three weeks later, it was time for CHEERLEADING.  Enter Chop: “LET’S GO AND DO THINGS AND LIFE IS SO GREAT LOOK AT EVERYTHING THAT’S HAPPENING TODAY IS THE BEST DAY.”  Chop got me out of the house and walking every day.  Chop provided adequate weight and warmth on that sad futon mattress when it felt wrong to be sleeping alone.  She was fluffy enough to soak up my tears. She was big enough that I could  wrap my arms around her in a satisfying hug when I was too raw to share anything with another human.  And sometimes, she still is all of these things.

So Happy Third Birthday, sweet girl.  In the end, I needed you to save me.

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