“Ohhh! So you want a dog. Okay. You didn’t say that before.”

“Well, I guess so. Was that not clear?”

“I just kept hearing about how much Jeb wanted a dog. I never heard you actually say that you wanted one.”

Did I?

Somehow the simple statement from my friend’s mouth made me feel both vulnerable and relieved. As if the secret I’d been keeping from my own self was at last revealed.

The parent of a wonderful canine companion herself, my friend was deep in the end-of-life stages with her dog. He was regal in his old age, but ailing. Throughout the conversation of “should we get a dog” over the past months, my friend had bluntly suggested, “Don’t do it.”

Now, on her back porch, her grey-haired dog curled not far from her feet, she looked across the table at me and said, “If you want a dog, then you definitely should get one.”

“Really? But you’ve been saying all of this time that I shouldn’t do it.”

“Right. But that was when I thought Jeb was the only one that wanted it. But if you want it, too, then you certainly should do it.”

As I’m recounting that afternoon conversation, I realize there is a certain absurdity in giving so much thought to a pet. To be concerning myself (and even writing about) the issue can seem petty and hyper-analytical.

When people in the world are without homes or clean water, the pet choice is a luxurious option to even consider.

But since I have the opportunity to actually have this choice, why think it to death? People around the world adopt puppies and dogs every day. It’s quite typical. If you were to ask my son, he’d tell you, “Everyone has a dog.”

So what’s with all the deliberation?

For one, any of this discussion needs to be held in the context of the fact that I tend to over think things. And part of what fuels my over thinking, are the memories of times when I didn’t think enough. Or so I tell myself. Meaning, that if I would have given more consideration to future outcomes, my choices may have been different. Basically, I don’t like disappointment, failure, or regret, and would like to avoid these feelings, if at all possible.

What I fail to realize as I’m over-analyzing something, is that disappointment, failure, and regret, are part of the messiness of life, which cannot always be avoided, and can oftentimes enrich this earth-walking experience we humans briefly have.

Twenty years ago, I was dedicated to facing fears and living from my intuition and heart. There were times when I got demolished in the process. Part of that era included me diving into loving my dog Ella. And part of that experience was me realizing the depth of commitment it took to care for a dog.

Now, at the age of 42, with a 12 year-old son begging me for a canine companion, I still want to live from my instincts and heart, but with some balanced reason.

I don’t want to be the person that oogles over a puppy, only to find myself with chewed up furniture and a hyper-active dog, running circles in a back yard full of poop piles. It seems too many people fall into the cuteness of a puppy, only to realize they don’t have the stamina to maintain the 10 – 15+ years needed to responsibly raise it.

That said, I also don’t want to avoid a potentially life-enriching experience out of fear, or painful memories from the past.

In fact, I’ve had a sense that maybe (just maybe), with twenty years of life experience behind me, a solid home life, and a supportive husband, I may have another chance at this dog thing. Maybe even a chance to do it a little differently. If I’m honest, maybe I’ve entertained the thought of having a dog, because it meant that I could redeem myself. Assuage my guilt for not having been perfect at it when I was 22.

Of course, that’s some heavy pressure to put on myself and any possible puppy. (Note to self).

But for that moment on the back porch with my friend and her aging dog, it was liberating to hear someone accept the plain truth. I did want to try again. Until the instant that she reflected those sentiments to me – “Oh, you want a dog…” – I had not been fully aware it was my heart’s desire. With my head-strong focus only outlining to Jeb all of the practical implications of a puppy, I could hide from my own feelings. Avoid my inner wish, out of fear that I would fail.

I know, I know. It’s just a dog. All of this soul-searching over a hound.

Well, that hound is Mae, and she turns 12 weeks old today. And, as with every morning that I’ve come to the computer to write in this last week she’s been with us, she is sleeping on a pillow at my feet. She is offering me, and our family, something that has yet to come into words.

We have a dog. And it feels simple, plain, and true. There is lots of love, and it feels very, very right.

2016-01-09_wet Mae
first time at the beach

Dog Tales

From early childhood there were two things I always loved and longed for: babies and dogs.

When I was 21, I got the dog. An eight-week old Golden Retriever/Black Labrador mix, offered up through an ad in the paper for free. There was one female left. I took her home and named her Ella. That was twenty years ago.

At the time I was hopeful that I had found a fairly permanent home in an old farmhouse, on acreage, in Oregon. Surrounded by blackberry bushes, with the river down the road, life there with my boyfriend, who worked on an organic farm, seemed full of potential. We had three roommates; one couple, and a single man. The couple crocheted hemp hats to earn money, and though they struggled to pay the rent, they didn’t hesitate to stock up on expensive herbs, in bulk, at the local, natural foods store.

The single man had a good heart, but battled with addictions that only came into my awareness after months of a deteriorating home scene. Unbeknownst to me, my boyfriend had begun dabbling along with him, and when all came out in the open, the house soon disbanded.

I had always considered myself a responsible person. The eldest child of three, my mom recounted stories of how I naturally assisted with my younger siblings. I got good grades in school, went on to college, and completed three years before having a revolutionary summer vacation that opened my mind to travel and the kind of life experiences I’d only been reading about in books.

It was during that summer of travel when I had met the organic farmer and fallen in love. Though I had tried to resume my college studies in the Fall, sitting at a desk felt impossible. When the farmer called and asked me to come and till the land with him in Oregon, it was just the invitation I was looking for. I withdrew from school and moved to the farmhouse.

That dream did not last for long. We never did get crops in the ground, and my pup, Ella, was about six months old when the Oregon farmhouse fell apart. I was stunned and lost. Despite my better judgement, I was also still clinging to the relationship with the farmer. When he flew to his hometown in New Hampshire, Ella and I were not far behind. I tried to disguise my attachment, by announcing to friends and family that I wanted to learn to spin wool, and New England was the prime spot to apprentice on a sheep farm. Though my spinning interest was sincere, it was the farmer that inspired my cross-country road trip with Ella in my Subaru.

In the years that followed, I had a stint at a Vermont sheep farm, a final break-up with the farmer, and some beautiful time living in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. I loved the land and the people of the East Coast. Ella and I were able to piece together a semi-nomadic life, with me working random jobs and supporting us on little money. I was in my twenties, full of enthusiasm, writing poetry, playing music, and making my way through the world with my dog.

2016-01-06_Ella and I

Under the circumstances, I think I did pretty well as a dog caretaker. There were many times, however, when I fell short of ideal pet ownership. My life situation was far from the kind of stability that provides a foundation that fleshes out a dog’s full potential. With Ella, I always took care of the basics, and I loved her tremendously (probably to a fault), but in my survival mode, I was often distracted. Though I did the best I could, deep down I knew that in adopting a puppy back in Oregon, I had taken on more than what I should have.

My housing situation eventually settled itself when a friend bought a house in the Vermont countryside and invited a few friends to live there with him, rent-free, indefinitely. I was one of the lucky ones to be asked. There really were no strings attached, he just wanted to share his fortune with good friends. But I still had wanderlust. After a spring and summer there, I was feeling inexplicably called to Kauai. I had never been to Hawaii, and never had any marked interest in the islands before, but suddenly, it became a draw that I could not deny.

At the time, any canine coming from the continental US to Hawaii, was required to spend one month in quarantine on the island of Oahu. If I drove Ella to California and flew to Hawaii from the West coast, I wondered how she would fare on the five and half hour plane trip. If I gambled that the flight would not be too traumatizing, I still could not bring myself to quarantine her for a month, especially on an island separate from where I was residing. If I went to Kauai, it was clear that Ella was not coming with me.

Faced with this dilemma – a strong urge to go to Kauai, and my love and obligation to my dog – I was completely torn. I berated myself for even considering leaving my trusted companion behind. It didn’t help when a friend questioned my plans one day, stating, “If I had a dog, I could never leave it.” His words ripped through me, stinging at any notion of myself as a compassionate and responsible parent.

In the end, the draw to Kauai won out. I think, somehow, I also knew that my life was still unstable, and it was almost unfair to continue to drag Ella through my questful meanderings. When our roommate’s dog was sadly hit by a car and killed, it became obvious that Ella would possibly have the chance to fill a void, as well as remaining in the home she had become accustomed to.

The day I pulled away from the Vermont house, with Ella in my rear view mirror, is forever burned into my heart. I ached with sadness, imagining her awaiting my return. I chastised myself for not living up to the responsibility it took to be her mother. I had abandoned her, and this felt unforgivable.

My cross-country trip to California didn’t take me directly to Kauai. That’s a different story for another time. But I did finally make it to the island. There, I recall one sunset swim in the Hawaiian waters, the ocean calm in the bay, my body surging with grief for Ella and disdain for myself. Friends and written to tell me she was doing wonderfully, but I couldn’t release my missing or my guilt. In my heartache, I vowed to myself: never again. Never would I bring a dog into my life before I was perfectly ready. Never would I take on something I couldn’t see all the way through.

That was nearly twenty years ago.

This morning, I have an 11-week old Labrador sleeping at my feet.

It’s been a psychological journey of great import to bring me to this moment.

And I haven’t even written of the actual unfolding of events that brought her here.

Maybe tomorrow.



Puppy Love

It’s as close as Jeb will have for a sibling, and the nearest thing to a baby that the Bohemian and I will raise. On New Year’s Eve, we welcomed a new addition to our family. She is a four-legged, furry friend, and due to my up-in-the-night-to-take-the-puppy-out brain, I will not bother finding the creativity to give our new dog a pseudonym. She is simply Mae, and she is simply fantastic.

Jeb has been begging for a dog for the last seven years, and I’ve continued to put him off, citing many logical reasons for why getting a dog is just too impractical. Over the last six months I’ve begun seriously opening my mind and heart to the idea of actually welcoming a dog into our world.

If we were going to really do this doggie thing, I had wanted to go about the process with careful preparation. I began reading Cesar Millan to Jeb at night, and we all watched episodes of his series “The Dog Whisperer.” I poured over the training suggestions from the Monks of New Skete, and for the last few months I’ve been perusing Amazon.com, adding dog-related necessities to my cart, then filing them as “Save for Later.”

I have wanted everything precisely planned and well-thought out, any detail within my scope, considered and addressed.

With this formula in mind, I had hoped we’d find our perfect pet some time after the new year, but most likely not until the Spring.

It was certainly not in my scheme my to take a dog that we had never met. Nor had I imagined that Jeb, the Bohemian, and I would commit to our new family member, via text, in the airport, five minutes before boarding a plane. We sealed the deal with a thumb-tapped message that read something like: “At the risk of sounding impulsive, we’ve had a family meeting and decided that we would like the puppy…”

I would like to write more about how this adoption unfolded, because what ensued felt like a metaphorical labor for me. The Bohemian was right there beside me, as we passed through the many stages in finally bringing Mae home. But this morning, despite the fact that I set my alarm early to accommodate her pre-dawn potty break, along with some bonding belly scratches, I have run out of time. The clock says it’s time to wake Jeb for school.

Throughout my typing of this post, Mae has diffused her morning energy by wrestling with a rubber chicken not far from my feet. She has now exhausted herself, and fallen asleep with it resting by her head, as one soft ear flops over its feet. Outside the real roosters crow with their reminder. It’s time to go.

None of this is exactly what I had planned, and yet, it’s more than what I had hoped for. I trust the telling of this tale will find its outlet in the midst of puppydom.

For now, I get it. This is puppy love.