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  • Jan Flynn

Our Secret Shame

Are we failing our dog?

How could you not love this face? Photo by author

We’ve been dogless for long enough, I told my husband

Too long. More than a year had passed since Molly, the dowager dog of dogs, the consummate canine companion, said her gentle goodbyes and left us for that Great Dog Park in the Sky.

Which may be reached by a rainbow bridge, but having been designed by dog angels, it differs from dog parks constructed by humans.

The GDPS features small animals who run when chased — but not too fast —and who squeak satisfyingly while being chewed to bony shreds. After which, they miraculously reanimate, fully fleshed and restored to furry goodness. There are dirty diapers aplenty, dead and reeking fish in which to roll, and of course, treats. So many treats.

But no doggie bags. Because why would you remove all that delightful, informative poop?

I digress.

Molly was gone, and we were bereft, but the time had come to move on. At least, it had for me.

My husband was content to inform the Universe that we had an empty dog nest waiting to be refilled, and then wait to see what happened.

I’m all for recruiting the Universe

It’s the waiting part I suck at. There are so many things over which I have no choice but to exercise patience. Like my recent and unfortunate hair experiment.

It will grow out. Slowly. So slowly.

But finding a dog? Dogs go wanting for homes in the hundreds and thousands, in our small state alone, every day. Yes, Molly left big pawprints to fill, but surely there was a pooch out there who would fit into our household and one for whom our cat would eventually forgive us.

Meanwhile, we were missing the daily gathering at the neighborhood dog park (which rarely contains either dirty diapers or dead fish). And we weren’t getting any younger.

Sometimes the Universe needs a nudge.

Thus began a long, fraught search

It included a couple of auditions that didn’t go well, one of which our cat was lucky to survive.

We have a remarkably tolerant cat.

When one compulsive online scroll fest turned up a small, four-year-old Lab mix, house-trained, good with cats and kids, who’d been surrendered due to her owner’s illness, it seemed the Universe had finally taken the hint.

Dogs with that profile are hot commodities at our Humane Society. We hustled over there within the hour, and by that afternoon we had a dog.

Nora.

Interesting name for a dog, don’t you think? She came with it already installed by her previous owner. Much like our cat Bandit, another former Humane Society resident.

I tried rechristening Bandit as Nick — so we’d have Nick and Nora, get it? I mean, do cats even care what humans name them?

Turns out, Bandit does.

I digress.

Nora is a pretty good dog

Of course, we don’t compare her to the late, sainted Molly. That would be unfair.

Nora has never relieved herself in the house. She doesn’t chew furniture or curtains or shoes or small, costly electronics (unlike one of those ill-fated auditions). She doesn’t bark much.

She’d like to chase the cat during his morning and evening zoomies. But the cat straightened her out on that right away.

Other than house training, though, it seems Nora’s previous owner didn’t get much further with her education. Nora was no doggy Miss Manners: she jumped on people, on furniture, on counters, on little kids. Walking her on a leash with a collar, even a harness, was like going several rounds with Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Molly was never like that. Not that we’re comparing.

We’ve had Nora for three months now

We’ve pointed out to her that she has a cozy bed of her own — several, in fact — but she is not welcome in ours. Like coaching a socially inept kid, we’ve mostly convinced her that visitors do not enjoy being jumped on, even when they’re too polite to object.

She has improved, but her comportment still requires our vigilance. Excitement or mild distraction (look, a sunbeam!) is enough to wear through her veneer of restraint.

Using a “gentle leader” instead of a chain collar or harness put an end to the leash struggles. If you have a dog who is determined to make you feel like you’re in a dinghy being towed through rough seas by a harpooned whale, I can’t recommend a gentle leader highly enough. It’s humane and gives you control of the dog’s head, much like a halter on a horse.

Molly, of course, never needed one.

At the dog park, Nora plays happily with other dogs but struggles with the concept of fetch. She dashes after a thrown ball, and we cheer and wave treats when she picks it up and runs toward us — for a few steps. Then something else seizes her attention and she loses the plot entirely.

Molly learned to fetch within three attempts. Just saying.

The other people at the dog park, the custodians of photogenically fluffy doodles, adorable mini-Aussies, beautifully behaved golden retrievers, and one elegant, bounding whippet, are forbearing with Nora and encouraging to us.

“She’s doing much better!” they say, as they patiently shoo her off when she forgets (again) not to jump on them. “Really, she’s very sweet.”

Sigh.

Our feelings about our dog do not say good things about us

We take good care of her. She gets good food (and probiotics!), lots of toys, daily outings, and lots of playtime. She spends her evenings curled up on a cushy donut-shaped cushion in front of the fire while we watch TV.

She’s a good girl. Just because she has a habit of licking herself with obscene relish at inopportune times or growling for attention even though we just took a walk and we’re trying to work, and just because she’s maybe not the brightest crayon in the box — those are no reasons to mute our affection for her.

Maybe she’s not fluffy, or perfectly behaved, or elegant, or quick to catch on. Maybe she’s not beautiful. Are we so shallow, so demanding, so lacking in generosity of character that any of that should blunt our appreciation of her qualities?

We’re committed to her. We’re learning to love her, and maybe that’s the lesson the Universe had in mind for us. And the longer we have her, the more attached to her we’re getting.

As long as we don’t compare her to Molly.

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