It's A Dog's Life
It's a Dog's Life
One bright Saturday morning in may thirteen years ago my husband to be awoke early and cheerfully said "let's go see some puppies." And even though we have known each other since the 6th grade I had yet to learn that "let's go see" translates to "let's purchase, buy, bring home" as I did learn several years later when he went to "see" about a boat and that boat wound up in my driveway..but that is a story for another morning. That sunny morning we drove to Massachusetts. I knew he was interested in getting a dog. I wasn't against the idea. I love animals and had wanted a dog when i was growing up. I was excited. But I will also say we were 6 months away from our wedding day. In retrospect a puppy was not something we needed at the time. We arrived at the breeders home and my husband sat down on her kitchen floor and a puppy, all clumsy and wobbly fell into his lap. My husband looked like a five year old. His grin spread wide like the Grinch when his heart heart grew five sizes that day. A half hour later we were driving home and an hour later little Phoebe threw up all over me and our relatiosnhip was over before it even had begun. Phoebe, it turned out was a lot of work. Which puppies are if you are not familair with puppy training. It is almost equivalent to having an infant in your hosue, which I can say because I have now had both. Phoebe was up at 5 am ready to play and run. We would take her for very long walks and still her energy was not drained. Mine in contrast was. She needed to be walked twice a day and trained and trained and trained some more. It wasn't what I thought it would be. I was a busy woman. I had flowers to order, bridesmaids to corale and a full time job. I really couldn't understand why the dog had to stop and sniff every little blade of grass , the same blades of grass she had jsut sniffed less then ten hours earlier. I thought Phoebe would just go with the flow. She would follow commands and obey the rules because that is what dogs did. I had a very Lassi-esque idea of of what owning a dog would be like and Phoebe was not living up to the expectation. What made matters worse was Phoebe's ambivilance towards me. She was always delighted to see Greg. She would come when he called. She would sit and stay when he commanded. I could call her until the sun set, until the moon was high and she would just look at me , as though I wasn't saying anything she could understand. My husband said it was because my voice wasn't low enough. But I knew the truth, she didn't like me enough to be bothered. From the beginning Phoebe and I had a casual relationship. It was obvious to her because she was a smart puppy that I wasn't going anywhere and she would have to share my husband. So when he wasn't around she would reluctanctly respond to me and I in return would bride her with treats off my plate and lots of cheese. She loves cheese. a year after we were married we moved to our first home in Nw Britain and Phoebe became a wonderful protector. She had and still has a fierce bark and yellow eyes that can look menacing if you don't know her. She managed to scare away people who wanted to sell us things we didn't need and people who wanted to help us get saved. She barked at the mailman until he threw her a bisquit and she barked when someone came past the house. Our life moved along and with each new baby Phoebe adjusted. She never growled or snapped. She was walked less and given fewer treats but still she barked fiercely at strangers and stayed close. When we first moved to Portland another dog wandered into out yard as I was outside playing with the boys who were 1 and 4 at the time. Before I knew what had happened Phoebe had this intruder pinned to the ground. We were her pack and she would give all for us. And yet I still felt like she wasn't living up to my expectations of how a dog should be. She was happy being in another room. She only wagged her tail for my husband and rarely showed affection towards the kids. It felt disappointing. I felt let down. And it took a simple conversation with my husband to bring it all to light. This spring my husband and I did what we have done for the past several years. We flip our garden soil, we pick out plants. We buy annuals and vegetables. We plant and in the beginning I help to water and weed. I like to dig. I enjoy making holes in the ground and placing plants in. I enjoy picking out colorful flowers and arranging them in pots. But as time goes on I forget to water and I forget to weed. I once joked to a friend , who is like my husband, an avid gardener; that I love perrenials because they just show up year after year. How hard can gardening be? Gardening is not easy. There is a science to knowing what plants need, how much sun, water, shade. The truth is I do not enjoy watering, or weeding. I enjoy the look of the garden but not the work that goes into it. My husband came in the house a couple weeks ago with a few tomatoes. I said "wow look at those! Tomatoes already?" " He nodded and looked just slightly aggravated. He said "yes already and you would know that if you helped to weed once in awhile." I nodded back but then I realized he was asking me to be something I am not. I am not a gardner. I have tried. But a true gardener loves the whole process. A true gardener enjoys picking the weeds, deadheading and keeping plants fed. This is not who I am. I smiled and said" The truth is I don't like weeding. I would rather sit in your pretty garden and read a book while you do the weeding." He looked genuinely disappointed for a moment but his smile returned. It has taken several summers of frustration for my husband to realize he did not marry a fellow garden enthusiaist. I promised to stop digging holes and planting perenial beds that he would have to later weed. I also added " I do have other good qualities you know." " Yes ," he said' You do". Although at that moment he was probably working hard to conjure up a few. We have the tendency, I believe to not always accept people for who they are. To somehow take the base model with the idea that we can add what we want as time goes on. That with a little extra work we can make someone fit into the mold we have created in our minds of who they should be. Sometimes we do this before we even know someone well and sometimes even after we have known someone for a length of time. We say things like " I love him but". "She is great excpet". There should be no "except" only acceptance. the truth is relationships only work when we accept people for who they are. We accept their strengths and weaknesses, love them for their talents and try to over loo where they may fall short. Whether someone is organized or constantly in disarray, affectionate or unable to display affection, a true gardener or one who just enjoys the beauty of the garden, each relationship we have feeds some part of our soul. Inspirational writer jonthan Lockwood Huie says "happiness lies in accepting everyone in our lives exactly as they are. We cause ourselves untold misery whenever we believe others to be imperfect and try to change them." We can focus on people's weaknesses, sometimes it is easier then finding their strengths but really don't we all know our own wekanesses? I could list some of mine for you but the list seems to grow each year. She talks too long when given a captive audience" so I will move on . Phoebe grew old without us noticing and last Decemeber we rescued a puppy in the hopes of giving Phoebe a little boost. it worked for awhile and she still has some spark in her even though she is now 13 years old. Ellie , our very large Great Pyrenese/Lab mix is a loveable , clumsy mutt. She comes when I call. She follows me from room to room and her excitement in seeing our kids is beautiful until she knocks them down in her enthusiasm. I have spent more time with Ellie and done most of the training myself. I read books and watched many episodes of "the Dog Whisperer".My conversation revolved around postive reinforcement and calm, assertive energy. It finally dawned on me that Phoebe wasn't being a bad dog. That Phoebe loved my husband because he was the one who sat on the floor and welcomed her into his life. My husband was the one who walked her with patience and trained her with his kindness, while I jsut wanted an instant Lassie. I wanted the beauty of the garden without all the work. Ellie is a lot of work. She gets into trouble. stuffed animals have lost eyes and dolls have lost arms and legs. I have quickly tossed these chewed items into the trash, making me either an accomplice or an enabler. She is after all still a puppy. Which is hard to believe since she is about 100 pounds. Looks can be deceiving. I find myself reminding my husband how Phoebe was when she was a puppy and I know that even though I have joked for the past 13 years that Phoebe has only tolerated me, we have been intricately connected by those we love. And that even though she was not living up to my idea of what a dog should be she has always been true to herself. Phoebe is now a gentle old dog who still wags her tail for my husband and comes to me when I open the cheese drawer. but she is who she is. And I realized as I watched Ellie, our new puppy dig up our back yard while Phoebe just watched that I had misjudged Phoebe all these years. I had held Phoebe to a standard that she has never been wired to live up to. Yes she is a dog but not all dogs are created equal. She has not been the affectionate, lassie-esque dog I thought she should be and so each day I set her up for failure in my eyes. Each time she didn't come when I called, each time she would run when I said "stay". She had failed. When in truth I had failed her. I did not understand that just she is not only a dog she is also her own person. She has a personality and she has likes and dislikes. Yes she and ellie are very different dogs. Ellie wants to sit in your lap and Phoebe is happy sitting in another room. Ellie will wag her tail fiercley for anyone and Phoebe only wags her tail for my husband. She has always loved him most and intead of admiring her for her good taste in men, I resented that she wasn't the dog I thought she should be. Cesar MIlan, The dog whisperer says " you do not get the dog you want, you get the dog you need." I suppose this is true of people as well as dogs. People come into our lives because we need them. We need the gifts they have, we need the lessons they can teach. I needed Phoebe to teach me humility, to show me that we may all look similar and we have mechanics that make us move and think and feel in a similair way but within those mechanics are the intracies of emotion, gender, humanity. We cannot live without one another. We thrive on the love , support and intimacy our relationships allow us. It is up to us to treat one another with kindness and respect. For love is patient and love is kind. When we welcome people into our lives we should do so in a way that does not set them up for failure but rather brings their strengths to the surface because we all benefit when our talents are encouraged,nutured and shared. Our realtionships spread before us something akin to gardener's empty bed in spring. We will reap what we sow.
Phoebe and Ellie, enjoying a walk
Ellie and me