Monday, January 9, 2012

Canine Lessons

I have owned four dogs in my life: Bay, Daniel, Macey, and Emma. They have each taught me unique lessons and helped to complete me as a person.

Bay was my childhood dog. Technically, he was my oldest brother's dog, but he became my dog when my brother got married and left our parent's house. My comfort with Bay struck my mother as odd. Prior to this German Shepherd/Doberman Pincher mix coming to live with us at Baltzey Valley, I had been petrified of dogs. But Bay changed that. Bay made me feel safe. Bay made me feel loved. And, most importantly, Bay gave me a purpose. The first book I ever checked out at the public library was a book about how to teach your dog tricks. With the passion that only a third grader can possess in the summer, I taught Bay how to sit, stay, lay, rollover, and shake. I spent my days, from sun up to sun down, with Bay. He taught me how to take care of something beyond myself, and he taught me how to be a true friend.

Daniel was my teenage dog and the first dog my father ever allowed to cohabitate with us. I chose this little Border/Lassie Collie mix from a neighbor's litter of pups. He was black and white and possessed that Border Collie spark of intensity and focus. He dominated obedience classes, and he knew it. Through my teen and college years, Daniel waited up for me no matter how late. He sat under the dining room table while I typed term papers and pulled all nighters. He loved late night snacks and Saturday Night Live. When we were relocating after Stuart was born, we moved in briefly with my parents and Daniel. Daniel loved Stuart instantly and got up with me for every feeding and every diaper change. Daniel taught me the importance of hard work and the satisfaction of accomplishment.

Macey at 12 years

Macey was the first dog of my adulthood--the first dog for whose care I was totally responsible. She was a concious decision--we researched breeds before ultimately deciding on a Border Collie, we read every puppy book we could check out at the library, and we put up a fence in our backyard--all "before" we brought her home. I distinctly remember the moment when I fell in love with her. We were teaching her how to go down the four front porch steps. She was at the top, and I was coaxing her, "It's okay, you can do it." She was looking at me right in the eye with that Border Collie intensity and focus. It was clear that she was weighing what seemed an impossible feat against her trust in me. She stared intentily at my eyes and, then suddenly...LEAPED into the air toward me. She obviously didn't connect that she could come down the steps to where I stood; she simply connected that this human standing four feet away, whom she had grown to trust, wanted her to come to her. When Macey took that leap into the air, she also took a leap of faith--faith that I was trustworthy and would catch her. I caught her, and--in that moment--I fell in love with her. Macey was the fourth member of our family, and she knew instinctively how to fulfill that role as playmate, problem solver, protector, and confidente. Macey taught me about trust and giving, and she reminded me that home is where your story begins.

Emma was a wish that came true. We had talked about adding another dog to our family for months. On a warm spring day, Macey and I visited the park and headed out to buy lunchmeat in Amish country. We came home with lunchmeat...and a Border/Lab mix who we would name Emma. She is now five and continues to teach me lessons. Emma has taught me the importance of having fun...and that the best things in life often happen when you allow yourself to depart from the original plan.

Emma won't be my last dog. I have lessons to learn as I complete my journey...the kind of lessons you can only learn from man's best friend.