During the calendar quarter when my dog, Sophie, stopped enjoying our longest seven-mile walks, she would come home completely fatigued and slightly wobbly in the legs. Each day, before heading out the door, I considered leaving Sophie at home; yet,each day there she was–ready in Spirit and game in appearance–to go for another four-, five- or seven-mile “hike” with me.
What surprised me the most, during this time of her life and mine, were the personal, internal emotional reactions that I was experiencing toward Sophie’s change in life phase. Frustration and low levels of anger were arising on occasion, as I contemplated the loss of my walking partner. My emotions aside, the one thing that was completely obvious was that a shift in Sophie’s physical needs had occurred.
Sophie was a newly anointed senior dog; and, as such, we needed to make some adjustments to our daily physical routines and schedule. Looking back, I realized that Sophie’s once, twice-daily ball catching extravaganzas had fallen away quite naturally. Why was I having so much trouble letting go of our walking routine? What was I missing?
That is when I had to face the fact that my frustration and mild anger were about my loss of Sophie as my personal walking partner, more than being about Sophie’s changing physical needs. Apparently, I could accept Sophie’s aging, but her having to “abandon” her role as my personal walking companion, during our joint walks, was difficult.
A personal, psychological shift was in order for me–internally. I decided to rechristen Sophie my exclusive, writing partner. She was and is an expert in her “new” role. She naps as required, lifting her head for a timely pat whenever I lose my train of thought, need a break or require some much needed emotional support and encouragement.
It is uncanny how the reframing of a relationship or situation can cause the heart to reopen in understanding, respect and Love. And, isn’t that ultimately what our best relationships are all about?
Sitting across from the banker, he chats easily with me while taking down some new contact information. The subject of dogs comes up.
We talk about dog adoption as a major commitment. Living with a dog is like having a perennially inquisitive child who is a lot of fun–an instant party really–and who is also capable of some serious mischief (read: potential object destruction).
“I had a friend who lost a dog recently,” the banker continues. “She’d had the dog for fifteen years and, after the dog’s passing, vowed she would never get another dog because the pain of losing the first was too great.” The banker pauses here looking to me for a response.
I cannot think of anything appropriate to say, so I refrain from speaking.
“Is that your experience?” he asks me more directly. The subject of our recently losing a dog had come up.
“No…,” I work on collecting my thoughts. “I think of relationships in terms of refuge. Consider how many dogs one person is capable of granting refuge to in the context of one human lifetime. Four? Five? Or more, if the person has the means, time and space. Think about how many animals we could save from being euthanized.”
“Yes, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” he responds with new consideration.
With our business concluded, I move out of his office, through the building and into the sunshine, thinking to myself, “People is your attatchment to your pain so great that you could not consider giving a fellow creature in need a place of refuge?” The walk home is long and sweet–though I would prefer to be sharing it with a four-legged friend.
*Notes on dog adoption. Animal adoption is a major commitment. On the plus side, dogs can grant us incredible companionship, devotion, loyalty and comfort with the added bonus of our having an “in-home personal trainer” in the form of a consistent walking companion. On the serious-considerations side, dogs present a major time and training commitment, with expenses for appropriate care, food, kenneling, extra space requirements, as well as cleaning obligations.
A dog with exceptional social skills—both people and canine. I want a dog diplomat.
A dog who is safe to have off-lead and who comes when called.
A dog who is smart and learns quickly.
A dog who is reliable with children.
An excellent walking companion who can keep pace with me.
After volunteering briefly to walk dogs for a local animal shelter, I realize what I am feeling is not going to be fulfilled by simply being around “dog energy” once a week. I want a dog of my own—to enter into the committed relationship that is formal, long-term dog ownership. When I have this realization, we are living in graduate-school housing, which does not allow canine companions (except for service dogs). To honor my desire and ensure that hope survives, I find a dog leash and hang it on the coat rack next to our front door, holding space in my heart for the dog who would be.
Moving to a new region of the country a year later, we make sure to find older housing that allows dogs. In meditation, I am granted insight into the fiscal parameters required before I can begin searching for my new friend. In the mean time, I add more yoga classes to my schedule and make an official list of desired traits for my future companion, all while reading books on dog care and watching dog training media. Another year passes. I am finally financially secure enough to begin looking for my future friend.
The search begins at our local Humane Society. Soon, we are going about every two weeks. This ritual becomes difficult. Coming to know some of the dog personalities, I can sense their expectant hearts looking for a safe place to call home. Yet, no one dog feels like the match for the puzzle piece I hold fast in my heart.
Then, one day when we are out of town, we drive past a small, hand-lettered sign for another community’s newly opened animal shelter.
“Should we take a look?” I ask my family as we drive past the sign.
“We have the time today,” my husband responds.
Turning the vehicle around, we follow a series of small signs to a beautiful, brand-new facility off of a dirt road and a high hill. Pulling into the parking lot, we note the facility’s amazing design. We are facing full-length, slide-away “windows” that allow fresh air to circulate through the building.
Walking inside, there is the normal clamor of dog voices punching thick sanitizer air that pervades every shelter. Because we are in a smaller municipality and at a facility I have not checked before, the number of hopeful hearts is not quite as overwhelming and the personalities are new to me. My heart feels a little more settled about approaching this shelter’s walk-through.
“Are you the one?” I ask as I approach each dog, relying on my heart and spiritual sight to help me.
There is another aspect of this shelter that is unique. In some cases, it keeps dogs in “family” units, giving the shelter the feeling of a group home instead of a prison. Coming into a large, indoor play area, where the wall-length windows are recessed, I see my family through the open air about twenty-feet away. They are still in the parking lot, looking directly into the space where I am standing.
Along with other dogs, a litter of three-month-old puppies are in the play area, surrendered a week ago. There are two males, who look like Black Labs, and two females—one looks like a Doberman mix, while the other appears to have some German Sheppard in her, except that she has drop ears. But what catches my eye is the luminescent spiritual crown floating above the head of the female puppy who appears to be a Sheppard mix.
Receiving permission to move in among the dogs, I pet each puppy and then pick up the puppy with the spiritual crown. Turning to face my family, I ask, “Is this the one?” Everyone nods in affirmation.
This is how our dog, Sophie, came to live with us. We waited almost three years for a dog and searched for six months. We celebrate ten years together this week. The fulfillment of wishes, held deep in the heart, can take time, a long time. Patience and sincere willingness to be faithful to one’s feelings regarding “the proper order of things” creates an enduring sense of peace in those willing to abide.