The Teaching Dog

This is my dog, Lily.

She just turned four years old (in human years) this last December. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this furry little baby of mine. Out of all of the pets I’ve been able to love over the years I’ve never had any as kind, loving, smart, gentle and wise as she.

November 2006 – What seemed to be a normal, busy day running errands with my mom turned into the start of friendship unlike any I have ever had. It started at the vet’s office. I was tagging along as my mom was taking her dogs to the vet for their routine nail clippings and check ups. We were getting ready to go home when the groomer mentioned to us that there were puppies up for adoption and would we like to go into the back room and take a look at them?

My mother and I are suckers. We’re the people who go into the pet store and play with every single animal, complaining all the while how badly we feel that we can’t take them home. We find one that we get unusually attached to and cry on the way home because we just can’t have another pet right now. But oh how we would have taken care of that one. It’s an illness, really.

Anyways, we go into the back room and as usual find the crates of cats and dogs sitting around, yapping, wagging tales and in general begging to be taken out and played with. Now I should say that my mom and I had talked about what I wanted for Christmas and yes, a puppy was on my list. (I should say that at the time I was a grown adult but still bunking with the ‘rents as they were getting ready to sell their house and I was around to help them take care of it.)  But I digress. Back to the dogs!

Among the German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and various other breeds was one much smaller. A terrier mix. She was the color of sand, weighed as much as my left flip-flop and wasn’t doing much of anything other than staring at me in that crate. I’ll never forget the moment we locked eyes. I bent down to take a look at her. And she lifted her head to take a look at me. She wagged her little tale, just a bit, and I knew. She was the one. Then the begging started. And I’m not talking about the dog. I begged my mom – please, just get her for me. Forget my Christmas presents. I’m a broke college aged kid and I want this dog more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. I’ll do annnnyyyything.

So I walked out with a new friend. Her name, originally, was Sandy. Due to.. I’ll just say, a previously named someone with that certain name who we didn’t particularly like, I changed her name to Lily. And it stuck.

The car ride home was one of nervous excitement. The next few hours were filled with collars, leashes, dog toys and bedding, bones and a crate for training and then all of a sudden I became a “dog mom”. I’m sure any of you who are lucky enough to have a four legged companion know that this can be a trying, difficult thing in the early years. I remember all-too-clearly the crate training, bio-hazards and various dead things dragged in by my eager pup. But there’s nothing like looking into those big, melting brown eyes that make it all okay and hardly punishable.

Through the years Lily has become my best friend. Her constant love, affection, humorous ways and enthusiasm have melted my heart. She has stood by me through both good and bad times with a wagging tale and a welcome yap, is always there to greet me when I walk in the door and has taught me a great many lessons about what it means to love unconditionally and without fail or fault.

Sharing these stories with you will be both easy and difficult. You may learn more about me here than on any other page – but in the end this is a tribute to the girl who is laying at my feet right this moment and who will, any second, stand up, beg me for a treat and get exactly what she wanted because she is spoiled and even more so because she is loved.

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Lesson #1 – Companionship

From the first day Lily and I had together she has been teaching me lessons. These things she has shown me vary and are both practical and impractical – from how to clean poop out of your new carpet to how to make you stop crying to this is what it looks like when I shred every piece of toilet paper in the house – she has shown me so much over the last three + years. But the first lesson – one we have been learning together since day one – is how to be each other’s companion.

Webster’s defines a companion as the following:

com·pan·ion

  1. Person who is frequently in the company of, associates with, or accompanies another.
  2. Person employed to accompany, assist, or live with another in the capacity of a helpful friend.
  3. A mate or match for something.
  4. A handbook or guide.

My dog Lily encompasses all of these things – and so much more. First of all she associates with me – which sometimes is more than I could ask from a human being – and she does so without judgement or ridicule or bribery. (Although usually there are goodies involved.) She assists me in the capacity of being a helpful friend. Meaning: She has a way of telling me when I’m doing something wrong. She has a way of being there to comfort me like a much needed friend. She has a way of being playful when I’m down and lift my moods and she knows when to put her head on my lap and just be with me. She is a match in both personality and mood – most of the time – to me. And she is my handbook on how to be a friend, how to love unconditionally, how to forgive and move on and how to live in the moment.

When my ex husband left – a subject we have brushed only lightly on – I was in a bad, bad place. It’s humbling to admit it but I was utterly depressed. There were days that all I could do was sit on the kitchen floor and cry – because my life was changing. My routine changed, my house was empty and quiet, everything changed. Everything except Lily. Countless times she would just come sit on my lap – a 40lb dog with the mindset of a 15lb dog – but it was comforting to know I was not alone and that I was loved. When I cried then – and when I cry now – she is there to nudge that precious little head under my chin and remind me that she’s there for me. And every day she is there waiting for me when I get home – her little head sticking out in the curtain of the living room window – waiting for my car to pull into the driveway. I can hear her barking as I unlock the door and almost instantly she is in my lap smothering me with kisses and in some ways, telling me about her day.

She is my companion. And as sad as it is to know that nothing in this life is permanent she has been the closest thing I have known as a best friend. (Not saying that you human folk aren’t my lovelies as well!) But there is something about that bond between a man girl and his her dog that you just can’t match. Maybe it’s their capacity for unconditional love. Whatever it is – she teaches me daily about how to be a companion – and for that I will be forever grateful.

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Lesson #2 – The Importance of Routine

Humans are creatures of habit. Once we settle into a routine – whether it’s a particular place we eat breakfast or a certain way we spread cream cheese on a bagel – we tend to repeat particular patterns during our day. When Lily came into my life I learned that I would have to rearrange my own routine to accommodate hers. In some ways it’s like having a child. Routine is important in raising children- whether it’s bed time, the time they eat meals or the routine they practice before going to bed – children need routine. And apparently so do dogs.

Lily’s routine has melded with mine over time and we have finally come to a routine that not only accommodates one another but in some ways even helps the other’s routine be more efficient.

Every morning I start to wake up around 7:15. The moment I so much as wiggle a toe Lily is up on the bed panting and breathing in my face telling me that it’s definitely time to wake up. So I do. She sits on the edge of the bed and waits for me to get done with my morning shower. When I emerge from the bathroom she’s sitting in the same spot as usual – by the stairs – waiting. I grab my clothes, wake up NPC and head down to the downstairs bathroom where all of my makeup and hair things are. I put down my clothes for the day on the counter and go to the closet. Lily is waiting there, by her bowl, anxiously. Her food goes in her bowl, a “cookie” on top to get her to start eating. While she’s eating I go get dressed and dry my hair. By the time I’m done I can anticipate 1 of 2 things. Either she has not touched her breakfast because she’s hoping to get some more goodies first or she’s finished the bowl. She knows she won’t get another treat until she’s gone potty so I’ll tell her “Go, eat.” and she will. Once she’s done I let her outside to potty. Her routine is so on-the-spot that I even know that if she doesn’t eat her dog food before I let her out she won’t go #2. So if she comes back in and eats I’ll have to let her out again.

More often than not she’s “lily-on-the-spot” about her routine, though. And it’s both heart warming and comfortable to know that she’ll do what she needs to while I’m doing what I need to so that I can get out the door on time and she can get back to sleeping in her favorite sunny spot by the window.

She’s taught me the importance of routine and through it I’ve been able to get out the door on time and usually pretty awake and ready to start the day.

§ 2 Responses to The Teaching Dog

  • Jess says:

    The only dog in the world who can tell the difference between my clothes and your clothes, clean clothes, dirty clothes, white shirts and otherwise….and crap on MY CLEAN CLOTHES and piss on MY CLEAN WHITE SHIRTS.
    BRAT!
    But I love her.

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