(Or How Dogs Change Everything)
There’s a sign hanging in the training building I have seen or heard with every trainer I’ve ever worked with: “It’s never the dog’s fault.”
It’s true. It’s not Helo’s fault if I can’t figure out how to get him to understand what I’m asking of him. It’s not his fault he’s a dog and not a person who walks on all fours.
But I blame him, and his predecessor Sunshine, for so much anyway. And it’s ok. I think my trainers will let me.
On April 15, 2006 I met my sister at the Hacienda Restaurant in Warsaw to collect a middle-aged Golden Retriever. Three days before I got the dog, I came back from Rome, having cancelled the wedding plans with the Great Italian A$$hole (it’s a great story, ask me about it sometime when we’re drinking adult beverages). It needed to happen, and one of the reasons it did happen was because I knew I had something waiting for me very soon.
I grew up with dogs, a dog specifically, a beautiful Lab from hunting trial lines who kept me sane and kept me safe from myself for more than a decade growing up in that house. But in my adult life in Fort Wayne, I had not been able to get (or was afraid to allow myself) a dog. Sunny was the perfect dog to bridge that gap.
As I drove away from the restaurant, I looked into the rear view mirror and saw a scene I would see constantly for the next six years–that big soft red-gold head propped between the back seats, dozing as she watched out the window. That big sweet dog accompanied me to therapy sessions, got me off my couch and introduced me to my neighbors. My desire to give her more room led to the purchase of my house.
She slept under my desk in the bureau, and went with me to everything from fire scenes to school board meetings. She spent an afternoon with the Bluffton police chief while I covered a court hearing.
I know that her constant presence in my life healed my heart in a way I could not have predicted that day I watched her hop into my car. I know that what she nurtured in my soul prepared the way for A. When she became ill at the end, A came to my house and helped me put her on her bed. As Sunny was unable to stand or walk, my friend J came the next morning with me to take her to the vet. When it was time for her to cross the Bridge, I held her head in my lap and her leg in my hand as I thanked her and told her it was OK to go.
A week later, that little fuzzy ball of black fur with the speckled tan paws showed up, a polar opposite of that old Golden in every way possible.
With Helo, it became clear from moment one he needed a job. Sunshine possessed no motivation for anything beyond rawhide bones and belly rubs. Helo, though, he wanted to be with me all the time, assist me in whatever task I was doing, climb on my lap, chew on my hands and shred anything he could find.
Within a few months of his arrival, we were in obedience classes. We walked every day to the football field at a nearby college campus and I wore his furry little butt out with tennis balls and soccer.
When I moved in with A, Helo’s life became fields and groundhogs, barns to explore and new roads to run. But it wasn’t enough. So we got him another job (hopefully) and with it, more people for me to meet, friendships to build and adventures to have.
I blame Sunshine for so much of this, for starting me on this journey by being safe. I blame Helo for the rest of it, for needing so much more from me than I thought I could give.
In the book of Tobit, there is a dog. The dog came out with Tobit’s son and journeyed with him. That is all we know.