Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's only a dog

“By ourselves we can enjoy life, but to really appreciate 
life we must find companionship”

I grew up surrounded with animals. My father owned what he calls a farm, 3 cows, 6 chickens, a few bunnies, as a teacher he didn't have time for more. Still it was enough for us to learn about life, play with a lot of kittens, try to make friends with chicks (I did have a pet hen for a while, followed me around like a dog!). We learned to treat animals right, and to be responsible for those put in our care. I also grew up in a community that lives off nature's bounty. Fishing is the main industry and hunting (duck and seal) is part of the local order of things. Because of the fragility of the resources, it has always been part of the general discourse how important it is to protect the resources, and to respect nature. We also learned very young to distrust the fanatics who use misinformation and propaganda to bully small populations who do not have the same PR abilities.. but I'm straying here!

I had dogs most of my life, and after a bad experience with an aggressive dog which I failed at retraining, but loved very dearly, I promised myself I would never grow close to a dog again. To me, it was just not worth the heartbreak. I had cats, 2 of them, who followed me from East Canada to California and made my days, hum, interesting. You know what though? As much as I love cats, they are not the same as a dog. They can be aloof, ignore you when you need them the most. In the city, they are also confined to the apartment.

About 7 years ago, one of my cat passed away and I started roaming around the shelters to see if I could give a home to a new little kitty. The only problem was, I kept ending up in the dog kennels. I realized I really missed having a dog. I knew it was going to be hard to convince my husband, so I started looking for the "perfect dog". It took months! Finally, after looking up all the Shelters in Marin and Sonoma County, I found her at the Marine Human Society in Novato. Having sold pets before, I knew how to "make the sale" to my husband. "Just come look at her, that's all I'm asking". He did, in a kennel full of hyper barking dogs, "Greta" was sitting quietly looking through the bars with a little "please take me out of here" look. The following morning my husband called the shelter to ask them to hold her for him until the end of his workday.  Greta became Grace (because I thought she looked like Grace Kelly all dignified and sweet), and she became part of our family.

I spent hours training Grace. She was a slow learner, mainly because she has the attention span of a goldfish, but as I spent time with her, I discovered she had the sweetest temperament I'd ever seen in a dog. Grace is a lover, she is also very careful. One time, in the early days, I had spread paperwork all over the floor to organize it when my husband walked in with her. "Great!" I though, there goes my paperwork. Grace walked through the living room being very careful not to step on any of my stuff on the floor. That's just how she is, very sweet and respectful. Many times with animals and kids, she will sit back and patiently give them time to get used to her. I did not train those traits into her, she came with them!

Slowly, my "She's a dog, nothing more" attitude melted. Grace just has this uncanny way of growing on you, and I'm not just talking about how she takes all the space on the couch. She seems to be very good at reading a situation and adapting to it. When I'm feeling sad, or lonely, she's an expert cuddler. She has this calm way of just looking at you like she's looking straight into your soul and understand what's going on in there. Often better than I do. When I'm busy, she's happy with just sleeping with Leo, her best buddy ever. When my husband takes her to work, she behaves in such a way that everybody there seems to just love her. She's not only good at being quiet! Grace is the perfect adventure partner. She took my "lets take pictures in stairs" and all my "lets decorate the dog" attacks with patience if not enthusiasm. She's a great walking/running partner and is always more than happy to hit the beach.

She's goofy, she's funny, she can make you laugh or help you calm down. She has a way of just being there, patiently, not judging, not second guessing what you do or say. She never holds grudges, or blames you for having a moody day. No matter how impatient I am, she's always right there, ready for a cuddle, a minute of hyperactivity or a run.

She might "just be a dog" to some of you, but to me she's more than that. Grace is my buddy, the one I can turn to when everything goes wrong because I know she doesn't care about money, the future, about the mistakes I make or how righteous, or not, the decisions I'm making are.

All this to say that when I spend time with her, I can forget everything else because when I watch her run on the beach ears flapping in the wind, sniff every piece of seaweed she comes across, run to me for a quick cuddle before she runs off again, when I watch her do all those things and more all is right with the world.