I wrote this about five years ago about our very first baby when I wasn’t sure I would survive being his dog mom… But I did.
RIP Jack (9/13/2004 – 4/4/23/2018)
I’m forever trying to recognize the meaning in things. Not purely to be able to stick a label on everything in some obsessive way, but to take an obstacle and rather than view it in an annoying or devastating way, to see where the positive could be.
When my kid starts puking all over the kitchen and we have to cancel our fun plans, I try to assume we both needed a little more cuddle time with each other. When I misplace my credit card in some location that I can’t currently remember I accept that maybe I didn’t need to drink another frappucino this week. When I can’t seem to get everything together to be slightly early to an appointment I realize I needed a little lesson in not getting everything totally right. I try to relax my shoulders from climbing up to my ears. To let my lungs have a little more space for what they’re trying to do. Aaaahhhhhh…
But ladies and gentlemen I have met my match. This challenge has pushed me to my limit.
I’ve decided this is an appropriate metaphor:
I feel like I’m hiking a brutal trail that circles the peak of a mountain. I assume there is a top and at some point I’ll reach it and experience the bliss of accomplishment, calm, peace. But every time I make it through a swarm of mosquitoes, past a close bear encounter or the lightning stops, I come around a corner and instead of the summit, there’s a ginormous boulder to scale. Or a blizzard starts. Or I’m bitten by a rattlesnake. At this point I feel like I deserve to be at the top. I’ve put in a LOT of effort and persevered, recovered from setback after setback and kept my determination. But no. No relief, no reward in sight. And it feels appropriate to hurl my body off the cliff. How long can I keep going?
My real life obstacle is not an actual Everest. It has been living in my house for nine years. It is furry, 70 pounds, and black (although increasingly grey). A “Lab-whatever” as I call him and his name is Jack. And although I love him, he is in large part my nemesis.
We adopted him when he was almost one – a big bundle of untamed energy amongst the hundred other one year old Lab mixes at the Humane Society. “Nobody wants them when they don’t outgrow the puppy stage”, they told us. We were heartbroken and wanted to take them all home but somehow were drawn to this guy whose name was “Riddick” at the time. We put a leash on him to “get acquainted” and he promptly dragged my then-boyfriend across a field. We assumed he just needed a little love to calm down.
We were wrong.
We worked to train him seriously on and off, but certainly consistently through daily walks. Once I knew we were having a baby I went at it semi-fanatically in a flurry of Cesar Millan books and a bizarre and ineffective trainer named Marshall – small in stature, big in insecurity and power trippiness. No matter the attempts, even now he will lunge like a madman at dogs behind fences, eat entire packs of baby wipes, destroy any window screens within reach, and even hurdle a couch at lightning speed to pounce on the threat that was… my tiny pregnant sister who he’d met a hundred times. What a gem.
He has destroyed every yard we’ve ever had, digging holes to wherever, breaking sprinkler and air conditioning cords in his wake. He has terrorized both the neighboring fauna, successfully killing birds, mice and a family of unfortunate possum babies, as well as an elderly gardening neighbor by alternately launching his body vertically up to bark at him over the fence and shoving his head under via holes he had dug to snarl viciously. (Note: terrorized the neighbor, didn’t kill him. I hope that read right.)
He has given me a bloody nose by running full speed and jumping at my face and taken my husband out at the knees NFL tackle style. He has eaten sticks, gravel, unused diapers, and early on, several towels, two couches and most of a laundry room. He spends his time either physically in contact with me, staring at me creepily and constantly from two feet away, or walking in front of me while flicking his head from side to side playing “lead the leader” – trying to guess where I’m going.
We adopted his dog brother two years after, purely as entertainment for Jack, in the hopes that he would wear out a little. Surprise. That didn’t work either. Instead he made it his mission to relentlessly beg and peer pressure this new dog, who I’m convinced would have spent his entire life smoking joints and simply laying in inconvenient places, to notch up the crazy. “Come ON man! Let’s get wild!”
When we moved into a rental last year which had espresso laminate on the entirety of the main level he began compulsively licking the floor (even when it had just been cleaned of all dropped food). Long tracks across the lengths of rooms in between luxurious 10 second power naps when we sent him back to his “place”. Walk, lick, walk, lick, walk, lick. On the dark surface, it was always visible. I couldn’t find an effective way to clean the marks off. Our floor appeared to have a relatively consistent and undesirable new finish and I was starting to lose my mind.
I assumed he now had legitimate anxiety. Or maybe was developing extreme anxiety on top of his regular level anxiety. The veterinary nurse suggested tryptophan supplements. He broke into the bag and ate forty at one time and still skidded across the floor to get to… nothing. She suggested a pheromone collar. Nothing. The vet diagnosed a potential food allergy, so we bought him ridiculously expensive pure venison and sweet potato dog food for six weeks. Nothing. (Except a truckload of vomit and diarrhea when his cleansed body switched back to regular food.)
I cringe when I hear yet another Lab-whatever dog owner say “Well, he’s five now so of course he’s calmed down a lot”. When is our turn coming? I don’t even think Jack wants to be energetic anymore. It’s more of an obsessive need. He does lay around a little more maybe, but should any teeny tiny situation seem to possibly require any attention, he is ON IT. On it like… maybe an angry crack addict. I don’t really know what those are like but he’s got aggression when (not really) needed, strength when (not really) needed, and speed.
I’ve coached myself more times than I can count into realizing that he is here to teach me patience. That perhaps his neediness is a reflection of my own in some way and I should give him the constant attention he craves. That he is simply another member of the family: you love them unconditionally warts and eating-poo-and-sometimes-throwing-it-back-up and all.
But now, I am out of ideas. I don’t have much left to give to this dog. In this new house he is incapable of being outside for more than 60 seconds without yelping. I’ve mostly adjusted to that – staying outside while he does his biz and immediately letting him back in to spare our neighbors’ nerves.
But last week he added this to his repertoire: a ritual of crying and barking for roughly half an hour right at our bedtime, and for no apparent reason. My husband and I look at each other with a pleading look. “Please?? PLEASE? You are the only one who knows. The only one who can do it. Please put me out of my misery?”
And you know the worst part (or one of the worst parts)? When this beloved thorn kicks the bucket in a few years we will all be devastated. Even imagining how his sidekick will function chokes me up.
He who has patiently sat as my children lovingly abuse him slightly. Who has plunked his head in my husband’s or my lap when we are heartbroken. Hiked for hours, played frisbee for hours, fetched in lakes for hours, followed a mountain bike for hours, walked by one of our sides every morning. Who has been a part of our lives for a decade and – if you want to get as philosophical as I’m capable of getting – witnessed the story of our family. And a few years later after I’ve gotten all the little black hairs out of everything, we’ll probably start talking about dog shopping.