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Simple Dog, Complicated Story - Part I

I had one of these "Aha!" moments today as I spoke to someone about my sudden reluctance to go for walks - the kind I really enjoy, where I get out into the woods and dive into a full sensory experience - that I find invigorating, refreshing, and rejuvenating. I'm going to explain this in parts - as it's a lot to unpack, and as it turns out, surprisingly emotional for me. The woman I spoke with - she got the super condensed version as I started to simply answer the question - "what do you think is getting in the way' and my brain went into this game of association that reeled back a few years and started pre-pandemic level Covid. I told her I really needed to hash this all out - and then I'd likely blog about it...and so here, it begins...

The only four-legged member of our family is an Australian Cattle Dog Mix (that's what the papers said) who became part of our family in 2020. He was seven years old at the time. We had another dog prior, who became part of our family a decade earlier and oddly enough, was also seven at the time and was with us for nine years. I suppose the "seven year itch" applies to relieving the commitment to a pet, as often - or perhaps more so - as human to human.

Our family's first dog - Angel - came to us when Richard was still pretty healthy, and was with us through the downspiral - when Richard was in and out of hospitals on a pretty frequent basis, and we practically knew the local paramedics by shift. She was a trooper, and an easy dog to leave alone at a moment's notice. Her first year of transition to us was a little tricky, but once settled in, she was a well-mannered dog and a terrific companion. She didn't eat a lot as she was only about 12 pounds, and well...little dog, little things to clean up after, and she barely shed - she was a purebred Maltese, and that certainly made things easier. She took to people and other dogs easily, and if we had to make an arrangement for her because our life was suddenly upended, it was easy to find coverage for dog you could put in your purse. She was a snuggler, and warmed up your lap, or even your back if you were face down on the bed. When she took her leave and made that leap across the rainbow bridge in April of 2019 it was a sad, sad day. My daughter was practically inconsolable, my son, very stoic.

Once I processed the loss, I felt the guilty tinge of relief. Had we not been dealing with Richard's health, and living on high alert for so long, I'm not sure that would have been the case. But any and all of my emotional resources were pretty tapped, trying to keep life as normal as I could for my kids - though our version of "normal" was likely not in most people's playbooks, along with the complex state of mind that comes with being a primary caregiver to a husband who seemed to have given up on things long before his body actually did. But without Angel, I had one less responsibility - and any relief was somewhat welcome.

On February 14, 2020 I came home from work with dinner in hand for everyone. A delicious sushi spread that I knew everyone would be excited about. It got progressively harder for us to go out to dinner as Richard's mobility challenges grew, and we are all big sushi fans - so I was excited to bring this treat home. As I opened the door, I shouted ahead, "I have a surprise for everyone!" which was met with "And we have a surprise for you!". I placed the food on the kitchen counter and could sense the anticipation. As much as we love sushi, I knew there was something more - no one gets that excited over tuna and salmon. But to what, I had no idea.

My daughter started to explain that she and her dad had gone to a...and that's about as far she got when the dog scurried out of her bedroom. I was startled. I was confused. They could tell.

"It's not long term, Mom. He's just here for the weekend." The dog was excited and much larger than Angel, and was wagging that tail - that kind of thick, muscular tail that will knock anything not well balanced over, leave divots in the wall, and perhaps a slight bruise if repeated in the same spot.

My daughter started telling the how and the what and the when and that we were simply fostering him for the weekend and bringing him to an adoption event on Sunday (this was Friday). I rolled my eyes, knowing full well what the strategy was, and did not take this news the way the family expected me to take this news.

To be perfectly honest, I was angry. I wasn't consulted. I wasn't considered. The reality was that this dog would become my responsibility. And my plate was full and overflowing.

I was assured and reassured and reiterated to over and over that this was temporary and after Sunday things would get back to our version of normal. I checked and double checked with my husband that he was okay with this as this dog was the kind he was allergic to, and that I wasn't comfortable putting him in a situation that could very much impede this health.

I hadn't seen my husband that happy in a long time. Everything we did was shrouded by his failing health. Our daughter's homecoming dances, or her recitals; our son's concerts and field performances, his senior night, or his high school graduation - there was always an abbreviation to it, as we all lived in state of constant fear and readiness. And my husband lived in either a state of pain or complete numbness, rarely somewhat in between due to his neuropathy. So much pain that he powered through, as he was a proud father, and wanted to celebrate the simple joys, but often simply couldn't. And when it was the flip side, when the numbness took over, he wanted to avail himself of possibility of embarrassment from a failing physical situation. He missed many a milestone over those years, often choosing to bow out so that he didn't feel like such a burden, no matter what we told him.

But with the dog - he was like a little kid, grinning from ear to ear as he and the dog clearly had bonded. Chase - the name he came with (and we stuck with - he'd had that name for seven years) - leaned into Richard - the dog version of a hug, and when he'd circle the wheelchair, that thwacking tail didn't bother Richard as the clang against his prosthetic legs rang out. He was confident that the next day and a half he'd be just fine. I think his joy saw to that.

I was on even higher alert than usual for those next 36 hours or so, Richard's asthma medicine at the ready, waiting for the moment we'd be off to some hospital. But it didn't happen. With all the maladies Richard had been through, his asthma had been in check for some time, perhaps because of all the other medications he was on, maybe he was aging out of it...maybe he was never as allergic to dogs as he thought he was?

As the day approached the reluctance to let the dog go grew strong. This dog had been through so much loneliness - and as I heard the story through my kids and husband - not all the pieces had added up...something about being dropped off at the shelter by a guy in the military who had intended to come back for the dog...and just never did. Supposedly, Chase was at the shelter for almost three years (the owner had kept in contact - until he didn't anymore) and when they were given the high sign for him to be adopted, he wasn't the most appealing of the bunch. He's a handsome dog, but a reactionary one. If you don't know what that means - just think...difficult. Though he was well trained with commands, he exhibited intensive food aggression (when eating from the dog bowl), leash difficulty, and not the most positive response to other animals. And when he barks - whether it's a happy bark, a fearful one, or a protective one - they all sound the same - very loud, very angry, and he's got a set of chompers that are a bit off-putting. He's the perfect dog to protect a house because no one wants to mess with 40 pounds of solid muscle (he was much leaner then) lunging at you with big, scary teeth - and I'm still convinced he's got some Belgian Malinois in him - and they can scare the bejeezus out of anyone. Even from behind a closed door, or over a headset, he sounds much bigger than he is. So as you can imagine, when walking through a shelter and the dogs react, wagging their tails, some whimpering, some happily barking, and getting up on their hind legs to get your attention, Chase didn't make the best impression. In all likelihood, if he'd get adopted at all - it would be someone who wanted a garage dog, or a fighter. Cuddles and sloppy kisses are the last thing that would come to mind. I didn't want this dog to go to a situation where he wouldn't be loved.

But we packed him up and went to the event.

After about 30 minutes, and some serious discussion with Richard, I removed the "Adopt Me" bandana and said we were going home. I could see how much my daughter wanted the dog, how much my husband needed the dog, and i couldn't bear the unknowing of the dog's ultimate fate.

Other than two days before that moment - couldn't remember the last time I had seen my husband that happy.

More to come...

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