how changing my mind opened my heart.

One month ago, I told most of my friends, colleagues and close relatives (and anyone interested in listening) that I was not at all interested in getting another dog. Not even close to interested. Our beautiful dog Emma died last spring after years of painful decline, and my heartbreak and grief slowly manifested into an appreciation for the freedom that not being a dog owner allowed.

Without a dog, I could ride my bike home from work without rushing or worrying. I took my time, noticing things that didn’t enter my sensory experience when I was hurriedly making my way to check in on our geriatric girl. Without a dog, our small condo no longer needed extra space for dog food, snacks, toys, or a dog bed (though we did have some of these due to our continual dog sitting stints and our visiting neighbor dogs). Without a dog, I only needed to drag the vacuum out once a week at the most, and I could wear black clothing and fleece without needing to pretend that I was wearing mohair.

I was in awe at the new-found peace that existed in our pet-less home space as I spread out on the floor to soak up the entire sun spot on my own or ate popcorn without having two (or more) begging eyes glued to my bowl. I loved the spaciousness that not walking a dog afforded me, and for a few months I worked hard to use my time wisely, filling side tables with books that I planned to read and breaking into impromptu yoga sessions (just because now I could do such things without distraction).

Without a dog, though, my partner moped around dropping hints at her longing for another canine companion. Without a dog, what did we have to talk about or take pictures of? Without a dog, where was the meaning in our lives?

Perhaps I’m being melodramatic. But there is truth in the fact that we are inherently animal people. Our identity as a couple has been as pet owners for the entirety of our relationship. Not having a pet to focus on shifted the way we responded to one another in the silent emptiness of our home- in both good and challenging ways…

So, just less than a month ago, we bit at a friend’s anonymous link notifying us of the need for a home for an 8 year old beagle/ cattle dog mix. Within minutes of seeing this little dog’s picture and description, I had the application filled out and emailed to Vashon Island Pet Protectors. An hour later, we had set a time for the weekend to meet her.

Junebug

Fast forward to today: here I am typing happily away with a little dog snoring at my feet. The couch is covered in wiry dog hair, there are animal shaped toys strewn around the floor along with a gnarly looking bone, and there’s a leash hanging near the back door with a small plastic bag tied to the looped handle. We are officially the happy companions to “Junebug”, a little dog with a loud bark and a huge ability to make us smile. She’s by no means “perfect”, and she has some issues that I could live without. But I’d rather not live without her.  Largely, I’m thankful for Junebug’s imperfections. They mean she’s unique. They remind me that she can love me despite my own issues. We can be perfectly imperfect together.

Mostly, I’m thankful for the ways Junebug reminds me to wake up to the world around me; the sounds and smells that fill the park near our house, the significance of structure, and the importance of making time for play. It took this little dog to remind me to wake up just in time for spring blossoms. And it took this little dog to remind me that I can love bigger and stronger than I gave myself credit for.

Luke
               –  Mary Oliver

I had a dog
who loved flowers.
Briskly she went
through the fields,

yet paused
for the honeysuckle
or the rose,
her dark head

and her wet nose
touching
the face
of every one

with its petals
of silk,
with its fragrance
rising

into the air
where the bees,
their bodies
heavy with pollen,

hovered-
and easily
she adored
every blossom,

not in the serious,
careful way
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom-

the way we praise or don’t praise-
the way we love
or don’t love-
but the way

we long to be-
that happy
in the heaven of earth-

how a wild rescue dog taught me about love

 

faint echo of you
remains everywhere I go
I miss you, old girl

Last Monday at 10:20 am, we said goodbye forever to our sweet old girl Emma. It was a tender and painful day, especially since we had spent the past 15 years making sure Emma knew she was loved regardless of her quirky and neurotic cattle dog ways. And Emma gave us more in return than we could have ever expected.

Emma came to our world in the form of a skinny and skittish coyote-looking rescue dog who was frightened of everything. Emma whimpered and yelped far more than she ever barked and she fulfilled her herding duties by nipping at the heels and backsides of the children in our lives. She was a dog on a mission, and that quickly turned out to be chasing as many balls and sticks as possible and making sure that when we left the house, the garbage and cupboards were given a thorough examination, leaving piles of trash and torn up containers in her work zone. When we were with her, Emma made sure that she was either near us or watching us as much as possible, and up until her last breath, she offered a gentle and trusting presence to our lives.

With Emma’s death, I’ve lost one of my greatest teachers of unconditional love, trust, and the value of free-spirited play. Emma has taught me more about the significance of letting go and the importance of cultivating patience than any spiritual guide could have, and even in her absence, I can feel the pull of her teachings in our tiny little home. I recognize the spaces of time that I filled by kissing, loving, feeding, cleaning, and being with her and her pile of toys sits as a reminder that the floor is as good a place as any to work out unwanted frustrations or negative energy. Just grab a plush toy and shake it wildly and in just a few moments, all worry melts into nonsense and the world seems to be a better place.

So, today, in honor of our sweetest and most wildly unique Emma dog, we will take our time and soak in every moment. The bright blooms of spring and the vigorous flight of the birds in our yard seem to echo our bursting hearts. Every tender moment a reminder to love fully and to live in a way that matters.