The Wrong Dog

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That dog I mentioned? The fluffy wondersnurfle? The one with the silky soft fur. Yah, turns out she wasn’t for me. Or I wasn’t for her. I had to break up with a rescue dog. Here’s the thing though, the thing that I keep turning over and over in my head. I wanted two dogs so much. I wanted to walk two dogs through the woods. I wanted to watch TV with two dogs and hang out outside with my two dogs. Until I had two dogs. And then.

Here’s the background: I was worried about how she, the new dog, would fit in at my small house. How the cats would adjust, how my current dog would adjust. But at the back of my mind, I was worried about how stressed I would be keeping a constant lookout for the new dog. Wondering if she would lose it and bite a cat, wondering if she would chew on something important, like a heel or a suit jacket or a report. I wasn’t thinking much about if I had to worry about whether she would pee and poop everywhere. Until she did. She peed and pooped in the house. She didn’t know commands. I kept her in a crate when I was gone, since she was peeing and pooping everywhere and she got increasingly unhappy with the crate. As in, started refusing to go in. And discipline didn’t work well because, as a rescue dog, she had been abused apparently, and would cower and try to get away from me, poor thing, whenever I raised my voice at her. And she didn’t respond to commands, because she sometimes entirely ignored me. There was no way to play to her desire to please me, because she didn’t have one. Training my current dog, I realize now, was easy because she loved making me happy. She’d bounce for joy when I told her “Good girl!” She still does. We just came back from a 5 mile walk that for an out of shape pup was apparently a little longer than she wanted, and each time she needed to rally, I’d just tell her “Good Girl! Almost there!” But not the new dog.

This is probably nothing new to people who’ve had rescue dogs before, and in reality, I should have done much more research into it. I did start researching house training adult dogs, and my shoulders just kept getting tighter and tighter: so much work, so much constant vigilance. No down time for me. And I was fraying at the edges. I was stressed at work. Stressed over what ended up being a break up. I had already had one totally lose it “Dirty Cry” session when something at work basically released me from a summer of stress (ok, it postponed it to a Fall of stress, but at least we have time to prepare for it). And the last time the new dog went on the carpet, Dirty Cry. Totally stomping my feet and crying until I couldn’t breathe kind of dirty cry. At that point, knowing myself as I do now, having worked so hard on not being perfect for everyone, not thinking I had to do everything right all the time, but most importantly, Letting the F Go of Goals, I called the rescue and said I was really having trouble. Later that day, the new dog was uncontrollable to the dog walker, which then told me that I really couldn’t handle the dog. I called the rescue again, told them it really wasn’t working out. Guilt, shame, worry, and stress about the dog. And we found her a new home and the tension eased. I had no regrets about her going to a new home. Sadness that I hadn’t been able to be her forever home and that she was sad when she was with me (or more like when I wasn’t home because she got lots of love and kisses when I was home). But the guilt and shame of not being the kind of person who can rescue a dog hit me hard.

I’m not who I thought I was. I rescued a kitten with a neurological birth defect. I had to teach her to walk and eat. She’s still not perfectly housebroken and I never resent cleaning up after her. She is my joy and my heart and she offers me endless hours of comfort when she snuggles up at night to sleep. She is one part my baby and one part my healer. I rescued a puppy bound for the local SPCA (which t the time was a kill shelter) and raised her the best I could.  Even though she was a high stress/anxiety dog, she is my sunshine and my light.

So this dog, this wrong dog, taught me so much. About myself. That I am not in a place anymore where I lose myself to take care of something else so that I can be someone I think I’m supposed to be: A dog rescuing hero.

This dog, this wrong dog, also taught me a bigger lesson. That the things I thought I wanted, the goals I set and had in my mind about what I wanted from life, might not be true any more. I thought I wanted a house in the woods with two big dogs and a back yard. But when I think about it. It would mean doing less with my church and my family and my friends. Being less involved in my community because I would live further out, I would have more responsibility at home, and on and on.

But it’s so hard to let go of that idea that having the dogs and the yard. They were my goal, my dream, my inspiration.

I still want a house with a backyard that we can grill in and drink beer with my friends. I still want a front yard for flowers and trees that turn colors in the Fall. For pumpkins and mums and pretty candles on the steps at Hallowe’en. But I also want to be able to walk to town to get a coffee and meet up with my friends. And I want to decide at 8 pm that I don’t want to make dinner and stroll down to a little shop and grab a beer and a quick bite. And I want to live somewhere where other people want the same things. I still need the woods. I still need my current dog and my cats and trees. But I don’t know if I need the things I thought I did anymore.

Which is how that wrong dog is a blessing. How that week with the wrong dog turned my life totally upside down and showed me a different perspective on my needs.

I wouldn’t have had this perspective if I was still clinging to achievement. I wouldn’t be able to see this as a positive thing if I had that need.

Which isn’t to say that I am totally cosmically whacked by this recent development.

When I lost my dad, I had been trying to heal our relationship which, for about six or seven years had been rough. We’d had a fight at exactly the wrong time which made me feel abandoned by him and hold on to anger and resentment for so long it became uncomfortable to try and face it again. Face that I had played a part in the ongoing dis-ease between us. When I let go of that, and decided to focus on the present, what I had now, what I wanted now, our relationship went back to having a supportive dad that was rooting for me (I was trying to get back on my feet after a long haul of trying different job situations (yoga teacher + lawyer, nonprofit + lawyer, retail +nonprofit) and financially had been hit hard by the trying and failing and trying and learning). He was not necessarily only proud that I had gotten back to a stable good, financially solid place, but also relieved. More like he had been holding his breath a little bit. And then he was gone. With no warning.

I never got to say goodbye. And I never got to say I was sorry for all those years of holding on so tightly to my anger.

And instead of losing my shit over losing my Dad, which I did partly, don’t get me wrong, I threw myself into work. It was how I was going to stop hurting and feeling guilty and stop feeling like the world was going to swallow me whole if I didn’t hold on tightly to something. Someone.

And then, my beautiful close friend lost her struggle with cancer. Three weeks after my Dad died. Instead of seeing her for the last time in the hospital, I was working. I had said my goodbyes to her by visiting her in the hospital all during her illness. I had said my goodbyes to her by talking about letting go. By trying to find the words to comfort someone who knows that they are dying, but doesn’t know how. Doesn’t know how to not worry about her loved ones, not worry about the hurt and pain. My goodbyes to her were my constant efforts to just.be.there.

So I worked. And I dieted and exercised. And shopped, and worried and didn’t sleep. At one point it hurt to eat anything besides greek yogurt. so I lived on greek yogurt. And became increasingly more attached to work.

It makes sense then, how crazy the workaholism became. And it makes sense then, that the eating disorder took over. Right?

If I had tried to adopt a rescue dog back then, I would never have let go of that idea. I would have been too close. Too tight. Too desperate to not feel bad. To only feel good.

This is the year when I am, by not having goals, trying out new things. I tried taking a policy class, thinking I’d leave law and go back to politics and nonprofit land. Only the reality of that was that I wanted to die. It was boring as all get out and I couldn’t get myself to do my work. Instead I worked on law review articles about things I’m not all that interested in. Because I like legal research and writing, you know, a thing you can get paid to do as a lawyer.

Then I got a failing grade on a quiz where I didn’t actually get the answers wrong, but I wrote them in lawyer language (complex sentences, brief as can be, detail focused) instead of policy/grad student language. Sucks, right? Especially for someone who is used to getting A’s from top law schools and colleges. Cosmic Whack. Made me question what I wanted, how hard I wanted to work for something that I already wasn’t sure how much I wanted to live. Whack. I dropped the class, got most of my money back and never regretted it.

Just like giving the rescue dog back. I packed up the things I had bought for her, some food, some toys and sent her off. And felt immediate relief and ease.

Within 15 minutes I could feel the tension drain out of my shoulders. Within an hour I was looking at my dog in a new light. A grateful, even more loving light than before. A “you are the best thing ever and I love you forever and peanut butter snacks for days for you.” I looked at the cats, and was grateful for their soft, patient but easy way of setting their boundaries. I was grateful for the routine in my life I had built up that makes me happy. Yoga, Church, more Yoga, friends, More yoga. Walks with the dog. Knitting, More yoga.

And what I’m not writing about is the break up. I can’t. I can’t. I just can’t.

I just can’t let go. I can be smart and honest about giving up this cute little idea of what I wanted out of my life. And that it is turning out a lot different than I thought. Oh, I still want a big kitchen with a farm table so I can feed all my friends who stop by for dinner that I wanted when I was 26. And I still want to learn how to make cheese. And I want to have time to bake my own bread. But I am still a party girl. I want drinks in town with friends and making new friends. I want concerts and parties and wine with the girls. And balancing all that is the key, right? To balance that, I have to give up on the big house idea. To balance not working all the time, or not working in an environment that doesn’t allow for me to be a little eccentric and bohemian, I have to give up on the giant salary and live with a very nice one. One that will bring me a nice little house. Just like my car. I don’t have the salary for the swishy BMW, but I did get a very nice Subaru thanks.

I can process all of that. All of that growth that is a freedom. All of that moving forward finally with my life. I can process that. But I can’t process giving up on him. Not because of my need for goals or to be successful – though that was a big part of our relationship – that I thought I had to get married and have kids one day to be “right” to be acceptable. And I had to think through what I wanted. Staying with him, no kids. Moving on, possibility of kids. Did I want them? I worked through what I wanted, separate from him. And I found that I wanted to be a foster mom. I want to be involved in youth programs at church. But small people living in my house on a regular basis, not as much. This isn’t about feeling like a failure because this relationship can’t go forward because we want different things. This is about not knowing how to go on without the person who held on tight when my Dad died. The person who knows how to kick my ass when I need it. Who knows what scares me and why. If he asked me to move to the moon to be back together with him right now I would, because I just can’t let go of him.

As soon as the wrong dog left, I knew I had done the right thing. As soon as he left, I knew I was lost.

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