Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Year of the Dog

When I divorced my children's father, I took the kids, the barest of furnishings, and my dog. I left much behind, including assets. It's the kind of decision most people never understand having to make until they themselves must do it. I was criticized by people close to me for leaving the house, the 401K, the wedding china. I was even asked by the movers if I was sure what I was taking was all I was taking as they loaded up about half the space of a small truck. I was okay, I said. I had my kids and my dog, I said. Friends moved us into my sister's rental home, and we settled in for a new life, my kids and my dog, and we were as okay as we could be, but Buster missed Dakota, as he had spent about a decade with her in our former life.

I culled through the belongings I had and sold many of them on Craigslist or at a garage sale to help pay bills.  I watched shards of that former life go away and pondered both the grief and adventure of it all. I put my daughter in therapy to coach her through shock and change, and braced myself for the rebellion of my youngest, who was too young for therapy. I did not miss the big house nor the man in it. I did not miss the many belongings (except for a pasta bowl set, which I had really liked). And it was ok, because I had my kids... and my dog-- yet he was growing more and more depressed.

Worried Buster would not survive without his mate, I eventually returned him to my children's father. I had volunteered to take Dakota too and care for them both, but it was an all or nothing choice when he refused to let go of her, a choice I could understand. My dog was so suddenly like the baby brought to the court of King Solomon. You know the story-- the mother, out of love and the desire to preserve life, would rather give her child to another than divide and therefore kill. My dog, whom I had adored for all his quirks--who had an obsession for peeing on my ex's belongings, would sleep perched on the pitch of a dog house roof, wore an extremely comedic expression on his wrinkled face, killed a beaver in our backyard and bore the scars, hated snow, and loved to steal my daughter's rag doll-- was no longer mine. Yet unlike the baby that was eventually restored with his birth mother in that old tale, Buster would never be able to come home with me. And I was fine, I said, because I had my kids and I did the right thing for the dog. It gave me comfort to know he was happy with his mate. But two or three years later, Dakota having grown older and passed, Buster died too, and I grieved as though he had been with me all along. By then I had remarried, was caring for my husband's old husky, and had relocated hundreds of miles away. I had never regretted returning Buster to his former home, but his absence loomed larger than ever. While I would swear to my husband that we weren't getting another dog when our husky would pass (her hair, her random shitting about the house), I found myself shopping online in my spare time. I would visit the adoption center on Saturdays. And this Christmas, I found a litter of puppies up for adoption, told the kids I would think about it, and then a month later, after wringing my hands over the impracticality of bringing home a new dog to train, I learned a puppy in that precious litter was still available, and adopted him. It was a hard decision. It was also the right one.

Toby is my dog, a dog that lies in resigned hopelessness when I leave for work in the morning. He functions as a therapy dog for my son, company for my daughter after school, and a sentry to my home. He has been easy to train, sweet, forgiving, and devoted. And he has been excellent company on mornings like this one, when my husband is occupied elsewhere, my kids are gone with their dad for the summer, and I am feeling the absence of my husband's husky, Sydni.

Nearly two weeks ago, we called a mobile veterinarian to help Syd pass from suffering and old age into the great beyond. My husband wrote his ex-wife and his daughters with the news of his decision. In veritable prose, he described Sydni as going to a place where she could again climb fences, chase rabbits, and snatch salmon from wild streams. Like saying goodbye to Buster that first time, I knew then and still know this was the right decision, one that provided relief. But this morning, I thought about her stable, fuzzy presence, the charm of her contented smile when she napped, and her ceaseless giving of her "fur babies," which my kids and I would roll between our fingers when we plucked loose her shedding coat. When I was struggling to adjust to life in a new city in a new family arrangement, I would stroke her and tell her everything I wasn't telling others, and she would silently take it all in, letting me tickle her ears and play with her tail. I can say now though, that I am ok-- that our old husky lived to make sure we would all be okay, and having seen that, and the entry of a new puppy to our home, she was ready to go.

I am a practical person, one for whom there is always, as a college girlfriend once said to me, a means to my madness. I do nothing without a solid reason for doing so. I make careful, well-deliberated decisions. But I am a fool for dogs.

I love dogs. Loved them before I was even allowed or able to have one. I love the furry bodies, wagging tails, and insistent noses. I love that dogs have facial expressions with eyebrows that raise, furrow, relax. I love that dogs are so forgiving and so friendly. I love ears that perk and flop and puppy cankles and toe feathers and drippy jowls. Much to be said for dogs. My husband and I are both aware of the power of a dog, especially dogs that survive the end of your previous relationship, sit with you when you are sick, and  help you in your tasks (chewing on your socks while you are trying to put them on).  We love the heavy sigh the puppy gives when he settles down to sleep, the manner in which he drops his rope toy into our laps for play, or the way he obligingly lets us put his gentle leader on his nose for walks. Oh, much to be said for dogs.

It has been the year of the dog for us, seeing one die peacefully at home, her fuzzy head cradled by my husband, my hand feeling her side rise and fall for that final breath; and for bringing home one mellow, sprawling puppy who thinks playtime is 3:40 in the morning, and who, as he rests at my feet even now, provides a restful, comforting presence, and one of hope. We are going to be okay. We are okay.

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