I don’t know why I didn’t expect it. I’ve read Marley & Me. I’ve even seen the movie. Twice. But when my wife and kids surprised me for Father’s Day last year with a Golden Retriever puppy, I didn’t expect that I’d learn so many life lessons from being a dog owner. I guess the good things in life, you rarely see coming.
Penny is a sweet dog. She’s lovable. She greets me at the door every night and is even, right now, right at this moment, curled up on my bare feet, keeping them warm. But, she’s also a puppy, which means she’s curious and inquisitive, energetic to the point of rambunctious and can be a challenge to my nerves, my patience and my ability to forgive.
We’ve had a very wet spring so far in Southwest Ohio. For most of February, the weather alternated between arctic and snowy and sunny and seventy – sometimes at alarmingly short intervals. I might bundle myself from head to toe for my morning walk or run and drive home from work later that night with the windows down. But the constant has been moisture. Rain, snow, it even hailed a couple of times. The wind has been strong. The clouds have rolled, the thunder cracked and my back yard – a spacious fenced affair that was one of the key selling points of the house – has been in a constant flux of drench and dry. Even now, two days since the last rain fall, there are standing puddles in the low parts and a thick skin of mud throughout much of the rest.
This presents a challenge to the owner of a young, energetic retriever. She’s been house trained since her first week with us, so she knows to go to the door and ring the bell when nature calls. And she loves to run. Even after we’ve covered our miles in the morning. Even after a midday walk with my wife and an after school trot around the neighborhood with the kids. Penny loves to run in the backyard; loves to pick up the rubber bases we have laid out for baseball; to chase the old basketball with the lopsided bubbles we gave her as a toy; loves to play fetch until her tongue hangs like a limp garland from the corner of her mouth and I’m all out of treats – whichever comes second.
It’s a joy to watch Penny run, but trying to maintain a decently clean home means five minutes of wiping and drying, washcloths, wet wipes and old towels every time she comes in. More often than not these days, a trip to the backyard turns into a fireman’s carry to the bathroom and twenty minutes with the doggy shampoo and brush. Some days, this is fun. But most times, it’s a pain.
So when she came to the door earlier today while I was working from home and nursing a shoulder injury for which the doc prescribed pain killers and muscle relaxers, her muddy paws didn’t feel all that cute. Her running around the yard didn’t feel all that fun. It was a pain, both literal and physical as well as emotional and psychic to get her clean.
“Lay down,” I barked and she dutifully acquiesced. She knew the drill. No coming in until the paws are clean. It turns out two-day mud is a lot harder to get out than it is fresh and the usual five minutes stretched closer to ten. My shoulder strained, my patience ripped and for a moment I thought I might lose my temper and yell at her for doing nothing more than the thing she loves to do.
But then she looked at me with those big brown eyes, that look only dogs can give that says simultaneously ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I love you” and my heart melted, the frost thawed and I remembered what a good dog, even when she’s ‘bad,’ Penny really is.
Penny, by doing nothing but being her, reminded me that it does no good to lose control, to follow the dark in circumstances without real consequence or intent. She was just being Penny, not doing something to put me in pain or to frustrate me. She’s a dog. A good dog. Like most people, she was chasing her bliss and got her paws muddy as a result. I almost made it mean something much different, something more to do with me than with a dog and her love of running in the yard.
I didn’t expect to learn about life from my dog, but it happens more than I ever could expect. And I almost never see it coming when it does. But that’s thing about a dog. They just want to run and play, to love and be loved. And are any of us so different after all? Who, when the chips are down and life’s coming up lemons, wouldn’t want to be more like Penny?
I know I certainly would.
image credit: From Orvis Dogs’ Facebook page. Not Penny, but close enough.