What My Dogs Have Taught Me

So, a while back, I started writing this blog post for Janet in the hopes I could convince her how badly I wanted a dog. The original title: ‘My Arguments for a Dog’.  About halfway, I realized it wasn’t about that at all.  My blog had turned into what my two dogs, Sam and Haley, had taught me in their short lives: how to stop being so selfish, what unconditional love looked like, and how to be a better parent.

Not to knock my ex-husband, but relationships with humans invariably contain some uncertainty and directionally different growth. Sam and Haley also taught me dogs were my animal of choice, not cats and certainly not birds. The dogs taught me just how thin the line was between love and anger like nobody else…until I had Jessie.

I’d wanted a dog during my childhood, but we couldn’t afford one, so I endured a dog free upbringing. When John (my ex) shot down my request for a dog shortly after our marriage, I was devastated.  How could he not want a little puppy? I did not give up, pestering him until we reached a compromise: we would adopt a dog eventually, but I had to start small. If I could keep a little creature alive, not do too much damage to it, I could adopt a cat and then a dog.

For the next Christmas, John bought me a gorgeous, ornately carved wooden birdcage.  I ran down to the nearest pet store and explained to the helpful young man what I needed. “I want a big, beautiful bird, maybe a Macaw or Cockatoo, for my big, beautiful birdcage.” I said with a smile. I was so ready to be a pet owner.

“First off, you realize those birds can live up to 50 years, right? Second, since your cage is wooden, you can’t put one of those birds in there, they’ll chew right through it. Your best bet is a finch or a parakeet.” The mean man said.  What? I haven’t done anything for 50 years!  That sounds like a very long time.

So, John and I became the proud owners of 2 Java Rice Finches. Just a heads up: these birds hate people. They hated my very existence. They would squawk at me when I walked by their home, attack me when I put my hand in to feed them, and yell nonstop when I cleaned up their mess. I quickly realized what a mistake adopting the birds had been but I couldn’t take them back: I was in this for the long haul.

One died about a year after we got them, not sure why, but I worried it would hurt my chances for a dog so I argued, ‘Hey, one outta two ain’t bad!’ Yeah, John didn’t find that funny either. I felt sorry for the finch left behind so I decided it needed a companion.  I tried to convince John it needed a little friend…a little dog friend.  Let’s just skip the cat, shall we? I must admit, I used the ‘a dog would protect me when you’re gone’ card since John works midnights. Hey! That worked.

Haley was the cutest puppy in the world.  Hyperbole aside, Haley was an adorable little dog: black with tan markings and 3.5 pounds when we got her at 6 weeks old.  She was all cuteness wrapped up in a furry, sharp toothed little package. She spent the first couple of days sleeping on our chests, the sounds of our heartbeats giving her comfort.  I fell hard for Haley. She was my first little baby girl, my pride and joy, my neurotic little bundle of kisses. I loved her so much I figured, what the heck, I should get another one.  I feel great owning one dog, I’ll feel twice as good with two.  That’s how I feel when I drink too, unfortunately.

So we adopted Samuel Adams (John named this one), Sam to friends. Sam was everything Haley was not: male, big, loud, happy, not the brightest of the bulbs, but a sweet and friendly dog. They fought, like siblings do, and clamored for my attention, carving a place in my heart still there today. I loved them through their illnesses (dogs are more expensive than I realized), their destructive behavior (Sam, quit running through the screen door!), and their perfectly timed, just as I was falling asleep, barking.

We became a family, the four of us, and traveled everywhere together.  We camped, hiked and huddled together for warmth. We started basing all our life decisions around the dogs: ‘We can’t live here – no backyard for the dogs.’ ‘Can the dogs fit in the back of this vehicle? Yes? We’ll buy it!’ When we found out I was pregnant with Jessie, our whole world changed.  But not as much as it would have, had we not adopted Sam and Haley first. Because of them, I was better prepared for the huge shift in our lifestyle Jessie brought with her.

The dogs paved the way for me to become a parent. Without them, I would be the worst parent around, not just somewhere in the middle, wallowing in the mud. I loved them and knew, without a hint of doubt, they loved me too. They taught me it was normal to feel that much anger at something you loved completely.  Very important concept when you have kids. Even when I chased the dogs in the backyard, yelling and screaming at them, those rotten dogs with fear in their eyes, they knew I loved them.  The just wouldn’t let me catch them.

Dogs don’t have hidden agendas.  They just want to be loved.  They made me realize I deserved to be loved unconditionally, too. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having Sam and Haley in my life. They made me more loving and forgiving, more gentle and caring. Yelling, screaming, and chasing aside.

Oh, the last little finch? I did a bad thing, but my heart was in the right place. I definitely had an Oh S*!t moment, though. I felt bad for the little bird. I wanted her to fly with her cousins on the other side of the window. Yes, in my infinite wisdom (in my 20s) I decided to let her go.  Fly!  Be free little bird.  So, we let her go.

She flew 10 feet and landed on our back patio. She stood there and watched Haley walk up to her.  Haley killed her.  Oh S*!t, I didn’t see that coming. Apparently, the bird didn’t either. For years I felt like a murderer and yet Haley didn’t see what the problem was. She had no idea why I was chasing her around the backyard, as I yelled and screamed. She had no idea at all, my rotten little baby girl.

So, the animal I adopted to show the world I could take care of another living thing, the bird, was eaten by the animal I truly wanted, the animal I was able to adopt because of the bird. There has got to be a scary/moral/funny/weird lesson in that story, right?





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2 responses to “What My Dogs Have Taught Me

  1. Bonnie

    Great story! So, did it work? Are you getting a dog? Well, maybe you could volunteer at the local animal shelter, instead.

    • No, no dog yet. We live in an apartment out here in the Pacific Northwet (sic) and I want to wait until we rent a house. A friend did bring the cutest pug over for thanksgiving, though, perfect size for an apartment! This summer Jess and I will volunteer at a shelter and if we happen to find the right dog…

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