Anyone who’s read my blog for the past couple of months knows how I feel about dogs. It’s not that I don’t like them. As a species I think they’re generally fine and great to have around as long as they’re across the street, next door, or tearing their way through someone else’s underground sprinkler system (in case you didn’t know, dogs love to dig up anything that’s supposed to be firmly embedded beneath the earth…especially if it costs about $1,000 to repair).
We all have our personal boundaries, and I like to maintain a huge wake when a Canis lupis familiaris comes sniffing around my brand new knee-high, chocolate brown, super-soft suede boots that I siphoned unmarked bills from our vacation fund to buy. I just love expensive footwear, so in other words? Back the hell off.
All things considered, when it comes to canines, I’m a “smile and wave” kind of girl. The smile serves as a decoy. It says “Hey! You’re cool. I’m cool. Now please don’t attack me and dig your cuspate, frothing, serrated mandibles into my left calf as I sprint past your driveway on my morning run because your awesome owner never turns on the electric fence anymore due to your deceivingly docile nature when you’re laying at his feet eating nasty dog biscuits.” The wave is meant to establish authority, so you know that when I’m bounding by your house, I’m the one in charge. Alternately, if you happen to be a two hundred pound Bullmastiff and I’m on the ground pinned underneath you? It becomes a fairly effective cry for help.
I don’t know about you, but I process pretty much everything through my pseudo-bionic senses, and I don’t particularly care for dog smell. Or dog breath. Or copious amounts of dog saliva. Or wearing a dog hair fleece when I run to the grocery store to pick up a $6.99 rotisserie chicken to feed my family for dinner (everyone is so over the new Taco Bell located inside the gas station where you can get a twelve-pack of chalupas, Captain and Tennille CD, ginormous can of WD-40, and a bag of pork rinds all at once).
All the people sleeping under our roof understand that Man’s Best Friend is not mine, and as the primary dog chaser, puke cleaner, hair remover, and everything disgusting scooper in the house, my vote far outweighs yours. If you know me, you’ll begrudgingly acknowledges that the most direct route to my heart is straight through the front door, on two feet and upright, shoes off at the entry, and please pick your coat up off the floor while you hang your backpack on that cute little hook I installed in the laundry room. My fuse is pretty freaking short at the moment and I’m not your maid.
But as I’ve learned, a carefully plotted life often has plans of its own.
As I mentioned on Monday, my husband’s grandfather/best friend/coolest person on the planet passed away last weekend at the age of eighty-nine. In addition to amazing memories and enough love from all of us who knew him to fill an ocean, Gumps left another very important thing behind. Brandy.
Brandy is a rescue dog, physically abused by her original owner and adopted by Gumps when she was just a pup. Understandably skittish and now thirteen years old, she’s bonded with nobody. No one, that is, except the person she searches for every day and can no longer find.
Against her every wish, she’s been with our family since Sunday, pacing back and forth while she explores each room with her cataract-clouded eyes. Restless, she spins in circles trying to find a place in our house that feels like home. First one spot. Then another. Switching rooms. In the middle of the floor. Back in a corner. Out of sight. On her blanket. In everyone’s way. She tests countless options, but nothing feels right.
As of the past couple of days, she’s shifted from a state of mild annoyance to outright resignation. When I walk into the room she lifts her head, cocks it to the left, looks me in the eye, and immediately turns away. I’m not anywhere close to someone she wants to see. Grief-stricken, she lays listlessly on the floor, refusing to eat unless I bribe her with bacon, bologna, or sausage; a desperate attempt on my part to communicate in a language that every dog speaks.
Brandy perks up a little when it’s time to go outside, but her arthritic hind legs make it hard for her to go up and down stairs. Our youngest, Essa, wants nothing more than to wrap her up in a huge cloak of love, but the kids have to keep their distance. She’s already snipped at me, our neighbor, and even my husband, Scot, who’s a natural magnet to any mammal with four legs and my absolute opposite when it comes to short words containing the letters d-o-g.
She’s a mess, so much so, that some well-intentioned people have recommended giving her to a no kill shelter or putting her down.
But I can’t bring myself to seriously consider those options. Unless the vet tells me she’s in unbearable physical pain, I’m not letting her go. I can’t. If I do, I’ll be giving up on myself. And that’s not how I roll.
Before the unspeakable spoke last weekend, we hadn’t planned to adopt a dog, much less one that on a surface level appears broken past the point of repair.
But maybe, if I can find a way to open my heart to her, she’ll return the favor. Just a little. I don’t expect a miracle, but if we can walk together, if she’ll let someone stroke her back, whisper in her ear or at least lie next to her and be still, our family will be able to give her something worth holding onto until the end.
Our love can’t fill her void, but it can serve as a buffer. Her presence can’t bring Gumps back, but she can remind us, every day, of someone we never want to forget.
Perhaps, in some inexplicable twist of fate, we were all meant for each other in ways I don’t yet understand. I have got to get her teeth cleaned before Brandy and I release a flock of doves in the back yard, sing Kumbaya, and intertwine our souls, though. I can smell her breath from across the room and her halitosis majoritis seriously bums me out.
At the end of the day, maybe life’s not about getting what you want after all, but getting what you need instead.