Girl’s Best Friend
(by Mir from wouldashoulda)
We had a dog, when I was growing up. Her name was Topsy and she was a miniature poodle; she was, without question, my mother's dog. She adored my mom, and tolerated us kids. Sometimes she tolerated us less than others. I liked the idea of having a dog, but the reality didn't pan out quite like the sitcoms I watched. Topsy wasn't big enough to serve as comfy backrest while I read, nor did she behave like those television dogs who just adored the kids in the house. Mostly she loved my mother and I came to believe that owning a dog meant you had to feed it and let it out and occasionally it might deign to let you pet it.
I grew up and moved out and—save for a rabbit I briefly acquired in college—was pet-less for many years. When my first husband and I got married, we talked about the big family we planned to have. We'd have a houseful of kids, sure, and maybe a dog. Maybe two dogs. Once we were more settled, that was. Well, we got "more settled" (whatever that meant) and discovered that having kids wasn't going to be as easy as we'd hoped. We tried for a baby for a long time with no success; then I got pregnant and miscarried. Things were not going according to plan.
While on vacation to visit his family out in the country, we discovered that his grandfather's neighbors had a dog tied up in the yard with a litter of puppies. As mama and pups were somewhat neglected, the puppies (who were not tied up) kept coming under the fence to visit (and scrounge for food and attention). I forget how many days we were there, but by the time we were getting ready to leave, we'd fallen in love with the runt of the litter. We worked up the nerve to go next door and ask the neighbors if we could have him. He waved his hand and said he'd be glad not to have to feed him, and that's how we ended up with a tiny black mutt barely big enough to be away from his mama.
We named him Huckleberry, and his sweet and mellow disposition turned out to be mainly the side effect of being half-dead from worms. Once he'd been fixed up at the vet's, he turned into a goofball with ten times the amount of energy we had, but we loved him to pieces because he was our surrogate baby. The first few nights we had him, he cried in his cage at night, so I slept on the floor with my finger stuck through the bars for him to lick. All of the love I'd hope to lavish on the babies I didn't have went to that crazy dog. We took him on walks and over to the park to play fetch. We snuggled on the couch and let him sleep in our bed.
Finally, I became pregnant with our daughter. It was a rough pregnancy, and while on bedrest, Huckleberry was by my side and seemed calmer, even—he was happy to lounge on the bed with me all day long. Once I returned to work, though, Huck changed. He developed separation anxiety and started destroying things in the house. We had to crate train him for his own protection (one day I'd come home to a neighbor explaining to me that they'd rescued Huck after he had eaten through the "wing" on our window air conditioner and gotten stuck in the window), and he barked and howled for hours in protest. He never did bond with that stupid crate.
Once the baby was born, I was home more and Huck initially seemed less anxious, but he became fiercely protective of his new charge and was aggressive whenever people came to the door. We worked with him as best we could between caring for a baby, and then a baby and a toddler, and then the marriage falling apart. By the time my husband moved out, Huckleberry was routinely "herding" the children into walls and trying to kill the UPS man. Eventually he was taken to a family member's 6-acre homestead, where he lived out the remainder of his days in a more suitable environment, with other dogs, and plenty of things to bark at.
Hindsight is 20/20; knowing what I know now, there's a hundred things I would've done differently. I wouldn't have gotten a puppy, for starters. ANY puppy. And I certainly never would've gotten a puppy mutt of questionable breed. Once Huck was grown it was clear he was mostly some sort of herding dog, which made him the wrong breed for our family. I also should've had a trainer come work with us the minute his behavior became difficult. I was a novice dog owner who'd only ever lived with a fairly persnickety dog in the past. I made a lot of mistakes with Huckleberry. I was very, very fond of him, but unfortunately for all involved, between his breed and the slew of family issues we happened to have, I don't know that I ever had the time and energy to form a really secure bond with him.
Now. Three years ago—after extensive breed research and dedicated stalking of our local pet rescues—our family adopted Licorice, a Shih Tzu/Poodle mix. We took her to training class right away, and that was as much (or more) about training us as it was about training her. I'd love to take credit for her charming disposition but I can't; I think she's just the kind of dog people are talking about when they tell you about how some animals seem to be all the most marvelous aspects of the best humans without any of the drawbacks. I think back on all of the crap that was going on when my first husband and I owned Huckleberry, and how the poor dog—who, really, just wanted a walk and for someone to toss him a tennis ball—ended up neglected in all of that, but at the time it seemed unavoidable, and then I look at Licorice. Because right now, our family is under a lot of stress, and things are busy, and we have places to go and things to do and we're in crappy moods a lot more often than I wish we were… but instead of feeling like "… plus, I have to take care of the damn dog," I feel like Licorice is kind of the glue keeping us all going forward together.
This dog is just as happy wandering around in the garden while I pick tomatoes as sleeping at my feet while I work at my desk. She curls up next to me on the couch and dances around with joy when my husband comes through the door. She endures every ministration from the kids and gives them kisses. She sits by my son at dinner every night, knowing he'll likely drop something delicious. She's a furry little ball of love and acceptance, is what she is. I love her so much that I tell my husband that whenever it's her time to go, he's going to have to have ME put down, too. Licorice just plain cheers me up. She can (and does) jump straight in the air about to my waist-level (pretty impressive for a dog of her size), particularly if she's excited about something. She sits in my lap and leans into me for ear rubs when I'm sad, and races around the house and skids around corners on the wood and makes me laugh when she throws her toys for herself. We taught her to sneeze on command for treats, and now whenever she wants something she goes into a sneezing fit, automatically, hopeful it will win her the kibble or the walk or the piece of bacon in your hand.
She works better than any anti-depressant I've ever taken. True story.
Life is still stressful, and there are plenty of things I wish were different, but I truly believe that one 12-pound mutt is largely responsible for my continued somewhat-sanity in the face of adversity this year. Is that weird?
I feel silly, discovering the infatuation of this "puppy love" in mid-life, but maybe I just never had the right dog before Licorice. Or maybe I didn't have enough life experience to truly appreciate how awesome unconditional love is.
Am I turning into a crazy cat lady, minus the cats? (Is there such a thing as a crazy little dog lady? I've never put Licorice in my purse!) Do you credit an animal with getting you through a difficult time? Is there a way to quantify the happiness a beloved pet adds to our lives?
(for more Mir, go here)