Ten years ago, I decided my life was lacking: there was a giant puppy-shaped hole in my world that I set out to fill at the Pasadena Humane Society.
I found two dogs that fateful Saturday: Mac, a dachshund-beagle mix who looked like a Dr. Seuss character come-to-life with big brown eyes that could melt the hardest of hearts, and Charlie, a Chihuahua-terrier mix who circled compulsively in his overcrowded cage and watched me leave with his neck craning and ears perked up until I was out of sight. I adopted them both, and decided I was going to be the best puppy parent ever.
It’s been ten years, and I look back on that day and wonder if it might have been the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. They both mark in my house if I let them out of my sight, so they’ve been banished to the backyard. (Don’t fret. I put them in the laundry room in times of inclement weather and for bed.) They bark incessantly, in spite of my attempts to use citronella-spray bark collars, a motion activated sprinkler, a birdhouse that supposedly emits a high-pitch noise when they vocalize, and bark collars that vibrate instead of shock. Mac grumbles and growls like a petulant teenager any time I try to get him to do anything he doesn’t want to do. Charlie still circles compulsively, and now also has seizures and will bite the ankle / calf of anyone who comes into my house if I don’t lock him away. He also startles easily and when he does, he releases an odor that we fondly refer to as “fish-butt”. It’s repulsive.
This is all in spite of several different training classes at Petco and a cool grand dropped on a specialized trainer who finally looked at me and said, “I think we have to accept that this is a neurological issue. Some dogs just can’t be fixed. *shrug*”
Sweet. Cool. Awesome. Thanks for the hope, man.
The other day I glanced out the window and saw Charlie running in tight circles under one of our palms trees, his eyes glazed over, his tongue lolling out to one side; every third or fourth circle he would stop briefly, bark at the tree, and then resume his exercise. And I thought… there’s a lesson there. I brought him in to cool off and put him in his “bedroom”; later, when I let him out, I found he had marked his bowl, contaminating the clean water I had left him with. Again, I thought… there’s a lesson there. So here they are, friends. The lessons I’ve learned from my rotten dogs:
1) Worry is not only fruitless, it kinda makes you look silly. Is there a more accurate metaphor for worrying than my stupid dog circling under a tree in the heat, barking at an imaginary threat? How much time and energy do we waste in this same posture, when we should be living boldly, walking out into the world without fear, knowing that we are made powerful in His strength and protected by His wings?
2) When we try to claim something that is meant to be communal, we diminish it for everyone. This doesn’t just apply to Charlie peeing in the water bowl he shares with two other dogs, but again, I think it’s a pretty accurate metaphor. Sure, he claimed it for himself. But he also made the water undrinkable. Gifts that we’re given, stories that could be used to further faith, connections that we could share to build up others… these are all things that we are meant to engage in freely and leave open for others to enjoy as well.
3) Grace is a mindset, and so is forgiveness. My dogs infuriate me on a near-daily basis. My neighbors are sick of their barking. I’m tired of having to herd them into the laundry room when I’m having friends over. But man… what a lesson in grace and forgiveness they’ve given me. (Is it weird to say I have to practice holding grace in my heart for a couple of mutts? Probably. But it’s also accurate.) And some nights, when they curl up on the couch next to me, or I give them a treat and they wag their tails absentmindedly while they chew them (and guard them, and swap them, and hide them jealously), I remember: I make all the same mistakes as them. And I am forgiven the moment I ask to be. Because of love. Plain and simple.
And hey, the good news is, small dogs tend to live very long lives! So here’s to many more opportunities to practice love, grace, and forgiveness. *shrug*