Learning to Love Dogs
By Elisa Morgan
I have a regret.
Most of my family and many of my friends won't be surprised when I confess. They rejoice that I've finally come over to "their side" - the "right" side. Some smirk at my enlightenment. A few of the more mature smile winsomely as I admit my transition and welcome me like Jesus welcomed the lame and leper - healed.
My regret? I wish I'd learned to love dogs earlier in my life. Cuz if I had, I'd have been able to have many, many dogs rather than just one or two. I didn't figure this out until just a few years ago.
It's not that I wasn't exposed to Fido Fondness. We had dogs growing up. A Lassie-like Collie named Sam who uncharacteristically pulled my sister off the teeter-totter, was diagnosed with brain cancer and subsequently had to be euthanized. A Cocker Spaniel named Lacey who birthed two litters of puppies before the very startled eyes of us as elementary-age kids. And Martini with a Twist (my mother's exotic name choice), an American Eskimo whose tail corkscrewed above her hindquarters.
But when I was six, I caught cat-fever over a little black ball of fluff in a litter across the street. While my mother had never even considered a cat qualifying as a family pet, something in her sensed my feline passion and she finally caved. I adopted little "Velvet" and for nearly two decades he was my world. Then came a slew of cats as pets I chose for myself and each of my children.
Dogs smelled. They made bigger messes than cats. They barked. And they bit. I've been bitten three or four times - just for approaching a front door or sitting in a room where a dog didn't like the looks/tone/scent of me. When my brother and then a dear friend lost their dogs, I had to learn to care, because they cared. When my son begged - literally begged - for a Rottie pup, unlike my very own mother with her kind concession, I dug in my heels and refused. My husband would have loved a dog too. But no, I was a cat person!
Why do we have to be one or the other? You've heard the jokes, taken the personality tests, bought the t-shirt and coffee mug. Cat people are creative and sensitive. A dog is loyal unto death, after all, dog is God spelled backwards.
Then one day when my son was adult enough to make his own choices, he drove out to the country and came back with Darla, a six week old purebred Rottie. I liked her fine. From a distance. He moved out and took her with and I enjoyed her here and there as a grand-dog-mother does. Until she came to stay for a bit while he was gone. After a four month stay, a piece of my heart went with her when she left. The resulting hole in my heart HAD to be filled. So I scoured shelter websites until I found three-year-old Wilson and brought him right home. Soon Darla returned to live out her days with us for good. For the last eighteen months of her life I administered insulin and then guided her by her collar through blindness until she made it abundantly clear that she was "done." Here's a picture of Darla on her last day:
Looking back over my dog-phobia, I wonder just what it was I feared. Responsibility? Mess? More to-do's? Not sure. I still like cats. But I don't have any. Neither do either of my children. Nope, we all have dogs, one or two or more of them.
Maybe it's just that sometimes we don't get somewhere until we get there. We can regret what we didn't know or didn't like or didn't understand but the reality is, we didn't know. We didn't like. We didn't understand. We dislike disorder until it flows through a home filled with children. We prefer keeping people at a distance until we learn the joy of radical hospitality. We resist wrinkles until they caress the face of our husband.
We like cats until we meet a dog that somehow touches a part of us we didn't know was there. And oh, how patient God is when we insist on growing at our own pace.
Today I walk Wilson solo, praise him for downing his dinner (he's old and has to be coaxed), shampoo his Rottie-Shepherd mix fur and ... pick up his poop. Really. He follows me from study to kitchen to bedroom, ready to sit in whichever room I choose for as long as I choose to sit there. Nightly, he curls his 60-inch frame (standing on his hind legs) pill-bug style at my side as we watch TV. Having grieved the loss of Darla last summer, I'm more mindful of his finiteness as my faithful friend.
And I look ahead and wonder, when he's gone, how many more dogs will I live to love?
Yep, I wish I'd learned I love dogs sooner. But here's the thing: I love dogs now.
Elisa Morgan is an author and speaker and the cohost of Discover the Word and contributor to Our Daily Bread. Her books include The Beauty of Broken, Hello, Beauty Full, and She Did What She Could. Connect with Elisa @elisa_morgan on Twitter, on Facebook and Instagram @elisamorganauthor.
Elisa has a selection (about DOGS) in The Wonder Years - a compilation of wisdom from 40 women over 40.