My love for the dog we brought home from the SPCA last January has caught me off guard. I guess “dog-lover” never fit my self-image. I’ve only owned two others in my sixty-two years, and I always felt a little guilty for not doting on them. Our last dog, Cinnamon, had to compete with three feisty kids for my attention, and consistently lost out.
Hosea entered my life gratuitously. I didn’t long for a dog. Still breathing a sigh of relief after moving through some distressing challenges as a parent, I relished my tranquil empty nest with my husband Gerry. Yet idle thoughts of nurturing a “four-legged” slowly gathered a kind of momentum that felt distinctly like a nudge from spirit. No, I didn’t need a dog, but that lack of need was clearly the whole point. Such a contrast with the fervent longing to nurture that had filled my child-bearing years, surviving a stillbirth, the intense mothering of Jane and Daniel, and four miscarriages. Back then there was no rest for any of us until our family, as I stubbornly envisioned it, was completed, eventually through adoption.
After bringing Hosea home I noticed mommy-guilt re-entering my life. This smallish, anxious creature needed me morning, noon and night, even if he didn’t wail like a child. He followed my every movement. When I left him with Gerry to go to work I pictured him pining non-stop. Surely his high-prancing delight as I came in the front door must be the flip side of immense grief when I left? I wondered what had possessed me to give up my freedom from being so indispensable.
Then I started noticing my devotion to Hosea, the constant thoughts of how to please him, the longing for his mute, soulful company. At first this felt more like steady commitment than emotional love. Finally when I heard myself say one day, “I’m pretty fond of him” with a motherly gleam in my eye, I had to admit it was an understatement.
Hosea is as exuberant and buoyant a creature as has ever been created, “half-rabbit,” Gerry jokes admiringly, as we shake our heads over his mad dashes around the house, paws skittering against the wooden floors. My greatest preoccupation from the beginning has been finding places where he can run free and wild, off leash. Watching him sprinting through the woods and meadows, leaping high in the air, fills me with joy and primordial awe.
I signed Hosea up for obedience classes hoping that I could learn to keep him from jumping enthusiastically on every stranger that walked through the door. Unexpectedly, though, the classes transported me straight back to painful years of seeking help from therapists with parenting our youngest child. Years of feeling weak, wishy-washy, and wrong. “Your philosophy is getting in the way,” one counselor told me. Philosophy? What did he mean? My resistance to various smug regimes of behavior management flowed from a much deeper place I could not name.
And now I noticed, with the new-found clarity of my “crone” years, that when Hosea’s trainer taught me to “break” his wildness, curb his ability to “manipulate” me, tame his excesses, I felt torn in two. I agonized over quelling his vibrant animal spirits, just as my heart had ached unbearably when dealing out “consequences” for my son’s behaviors. Viscerally, secretly, I’d rooted for that child’s passionate nature, even as I knew I could not live with it. “You have to understand dog psychology,” Shana reminded us. Yes, I learned a lot about human psychology during the years we struggled, but never could stomp out my admiration for the animal spirits I had never quite owned in myself.
During one such obedience class I was flooded with an overwhelming longing to protect my baby from this big- bad- wolf of a teacher. Yet Shana’s voice remained so potent within me, when I got home I crated Hosea as a time-out from chasing the cat, and forgot to release him for our meditation time. On most evenings during those winter months he stayed with me during this quiet half-hour and I would admiringly stroke his sleek, furry snout nuzzling my knees. Sitting alone that night, trying to ignore his whimpering, resurrected a painful memory of one pitiful night so many years ago, when I felt shamed by the internalized voice of an authority figure into depriving my rambunctious older son of his bedtime story.
And, alone in the darkness, I drew in my breath, suddenly exclaiming inwardly, “I love this creature for no reason at all!” And the love hurt, reminding me that the call to keep opening my heart anew, no matter how much it forces me to tangle with the unhealed stuff , is always worth listening to.