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When I was growing up, my mother always said “I hope you have 20 kids just like you!” Even as a child I knew this was an exaggeration. She really only hoped I’d have 10. But it certainly points out that I must have been somewhat of a handful.
Of course, I’m not sure mom realized how difficult it was to be the oldest of six. As I’m certain any of you reading this who happens to be the eldest will agree, they set the bar pretty darned high for us. By the time my youngest sister was born, her bar was lowered to limbo height, and she still managed to make them proud.
I imagine one of the things that made my mother’s wish for me appropriate was the wild abandon with which I used to bring home stray animals. Sometimes they actually were strays and not just some neighbor’s pet that had wandered off their porch. (I took “finders-keepers” just a bit too literally back then!)
It never once occurred to me that having yet another living creature to care for put a burden on my mother. I say my mother, because I’m pretty sure although dad grumbled constantly about having to feed and/or clean up after a dog, cat, rabbit – or a number of other species in a variety of conditions – it’s doubtful he actually tore himself away from his recliner and ballgame to lend a hand.
And so, a year ago when my oldest son dropped his dog off with me because he was moving into a living situation where there were already too many dogs, I had a momentary flash of my mother’s admonition. But Chris assured me this was just a temporary situation. (In dog years maybe!)
My own beloved dog, Lulu, has been effortless. Other than one shoe that caught her fancy in early puppyhood, she has been the model of what “good dog” is all about. I now say a daily prayer that she doesn’t learn anything from her visiting “cousin.” Yes, I used the word “visiting”– because I think if my brain ever realizes I’ve inherited another dog, it will twirl out of my head and explode.
Tre (aka Junior Monster) is the Don Knotts of the dog world. For those of you too young to remember who Don Knotts was, and why this is funny, he was a comedian who spent his time shaking and sweating profusely, ready to jump at the slightest noise. Tre will not only jump at noises, but also at moving lights and imaginary things that happen to startle him.
This would be completely intolerable with one, okay make that two, small exceptions. He is the smartest and most loving dog I’ve ever encountered. He knows the name of every one of his toys, and in my quest to try to calm him down (and allow Lulu to have at least one thing to chew on), I’ve managed to amass more dog toys than the local Petco.
Tre has taught me that a gentle voice and loving pat do much more to calm bad behavior than shouting and/or swatting. He has taught me that it’s important to remember to shut the back door before the automatic sprinkler system comes on, unless you want to laugh hysterically at a dog trying to eat the water and then run like a crazy woman with a towel trying to catch him before he manages to track mud all over the house. He’s taught me that if you are going to give someone a rawhide chew, you had better understand that purse straps can be confusing (and delectable).
I’ve marveled when I accidentally caught him opening my sliding closet door with his nose (now that explains how all of the hidden toys make their way back into the living room – I’m not losing my mind!) And I’ve snuggled with him when there are lightning or fireworks, to let him know he is safe and I will not abandon him.
Yes, I have moments where I want my old, peaceful life back. But just like with breast cancer, out of something worrisome and troubling has come an unexpected gift. In the past year I have learned a lot about unconditional love. Sure, dogs give that to us all the time, but as humans, it’s much more difficult for us to reciprocate. And quite often, it’s not just our canine friends we fail to love without conditions. It’s our friends, our families, sometimes even ourselves. Now there’s something to chew on!