By Laura Moore
I underestimated our dog.
As an anxious ball of fluff, he scared the living daylights out of me in the weeks leading up to Z's birth.
If anyone got within 10 yards of either me or my husband, he scowled and barked and asserted his vocal dominance (while his legs quivered beneath him like a cowering child). He went after small dogs with fury, yanked our arms out of socket when he saw scooters or bicycles, and raised his ears in high alert every time we left the house.
Inside, he was perfect. Over the course of his life, he chewed the foot of one rubber shoe....and that's it. He was house trained in a week and other than a few stomach bugs, he hasn't had any accidents since. He doesn't fish through the trash even if we accidentally leave the cupboard open or the bag against the door. He rarely jumps on us and as long as our friends pet him and acknowledge him, he's happy to open up and share his home.
Outside, however, everything crumbles and he turns into a mound of panic. Outside, he jumps at squirrels, at other dogs, at scooters, at the sound of a puck smashing against the roller hockey walls in the park. We spent months worrying about this, nights wondering how he'd handle a baby, wondering what he'd do when we brought home a living being that cried and crawled and banged things together in ways much more aggressive than anything he had ever seen.
To be safe, we hired a dog trainer and Finn underwent months of hard work. We tested him and directed him. We worked on walking and we established hardcore commands. We got a fake baby and we practiced extended stays. When Z was finally born, Finn was as ready as he was going to be, and the moment we came home from the hospital--the moment our family of three turned into a family of four--I swear our little dog's light started to shine.
It was a faint glow at first. He smelled him and licked him. He stared at him for hours. He held his bladder patiently until I was free enough to emerge from a feeding session and let him outside. He guarded Z's door. He didn't complain when his food bowl was filled an hour or two later than normal or when his walks were cut short. When Z was old enough to control his hands and reached out to grab Finn's tongue, Finn didn't move. I nearly had a heart attack right there, but Finn just took it, backing away slowly without lowering his jaws.
Over the last twelve months, he's lets Z pull his fur and lay his head against him in ways he doesn't tolerate with anyone else. He doesn't get mad when the little guy sneaks off and sticks his fingers in his water bowl or plays with his food. He watches Z take his bones and his Kong and even though J and I are sure it drives him insane, Finn doesn't fight him one bit when he does it. He jumps off the ottoman when Z wants to hold on, and when our little baby first started to crawl, Finn jumped into high alert.
The first few times he saw him approaching the step between our kitchen and family room, Finn ran out in front and blocked the way. Once he stopped Z's progress, he proceeded to cry until I acknowledged him, until I ran over and devoted my full attention to the baby as he belly scooted over the step and down to the family room floor. I was watching all along, of course, and knew that Z had about 30 seconds before I had to run from the stove to the step, but the fact my dog's instinct was to protect him made my heart smile. The fact he continued to do it, made my heart burst.
Last week, when Z was sick, Finn surprised us yet again. While my husband and I were busy holding Z's hands and squirting medicine into his mouth, Finn vigorously licked his toes for a good 60 seconds. When he realized the toe licking wasn't quelling the tears, he got up and ran into the family room where he found the only thing he could think to give. Dislodging his grimy red Kong from the bowels of his favorite chair--the same red Kong Z had persistently tried to steal for the last three months and J and I had persistently taken away from him--Finn tucked it into his mouth, carried it into the kitchen, and dropped it down at our son's tiny feet.
My husband and I looked at each other and I swear something inside us both melted. We couldn't even bring ourselves to take it away. We couldn't bring ourselves to return it to Finn's mouth. We couldn't even bring ourselves to wash Z's hands. Our hearts were too full to move.
Even though it is easy to get caught up in all of the changes our one-year old is enduring, it's about time I give our dog a little credit. It's about time I own up to the very real fact that I underestimated him.
Worried about his anxiety and imperfections, I neglected to honor his strengths. I neglected to consider his heart. I neglected to acknowledge just how beautiful of a creature he was beneath his huge bark and quivering legs. I sold him short in those first few months, but today, I'm calling him out.
Today, I'm saying thank you.
While much of last year belonged to little Z, today, Finn...today belongs to you and all of the others out there who have been taken for granted.
By Laura Moore
Our dog is madly in love with the girl next door.
When he sees her, he makes noises I've never heard before.
"I think Finn's hurt," I said to my husband the first time I caught wind of his moan. It sounded unnatural, sort of like a saxophone in labor, and I was genuinely worried that a coyote hopped our fence and indulged him in a brawl. My husband came in from the other room and peeked into the backyard.
"He's running with the dog next door," he said, laughing. "I think Finn's fine."
Once our baby finished eating, I carried him to the back door and peeked out myself. Sure enough, there was our dog, scaling back and forth from one end of the fence to the other, slicing through branches smashed against the wooden posts, traipsing through flowers and thorns and sweet gum ball spikes. He didn't care what poked the pads of his feet, or prodded through his hair and pinched his skin. He wanted to run with Nina and so he ran, bounding through our yard, yelping and panting, pausing occasionally to slip his paw under the posts in an effort to reach the dog playing hard-to-get on the other side.
This happened a few times before I finally decided to invite our neighbor's son and his dog over for a play date. Finn's ardent quest for love just seemed too sweet to ignore, and I was hoping he would burn some energy running around with his new friend. My neighbor's son was equally as hopeful about the exercise, but admittedly--given the strange moaning emerging from Finn, and Nina's attempts to run away from the fence after a few trips up and down the wooden barrier--we were both a little nervous about how they'd play together.
Hoping for the best, he leashed his little lady and trekked across our front yard so he could walk through the side gate. Finn followed their progression, squealing in anticipation like a baby pig. When he saw her disappear from view, he ran to the other side of the house, and sat by the gate with perfect posture, his heart racing, as he awaited her arrival.
Once she crossed the threshold, she dropped her guard, and the two of them tussled immediately, tumbling through tomato plants, knocking down unripe spheres and loosened leaves. They rolled through patches of mud and bumped into the split rail fence around the patio, before finally making it to the grass, where they chased one another, running and pawing and panting and barking.
At one point, Nina rolled over onto her back, belly up, and instead of taunting her to keep playing like he does with every other dog, Finn rolled over with her, and the two of them rested there, side-by-side in the center of the yard, gazing up at the sky, fully exposed and defenseless. As sweet as it was, it only lasted a few moments before the two energetic adolescents eventually hopped up, lapped the water bowl a few times, and then proceeded to begin the chasing and tussling all over again.
Every day since that day, our dog has looked for Nina. On a daily basis, he runs to the fence, peers through the cracks, and barks a few times just in case she happens to be visiting her grandparents. On two or three occasions, he has serendipitously run outside at the same moment Nina has emerged for a bathroom break, and when that happens--when Finn finally catches sight of his love--he wails, sprinting up and down the fence with glee. Amused, my husband and I venture outside and invite her over, and the two of them light up the yard with flying shrubs, clumps of mud and belly rolls in the grass.
This has been going on for eight weeks--which according to my novice math skills is something like fourteen months in dog years--and the sweetness of their interaction never fails to delight me. Our dog looks absolutely foolish each time: out of breath, vulnerable, pathetic, even. But as he runs, moaning and cooing, I can't help but admire the purity of his pursuit. I can't help but smile at the fullness of his commitment to throw caution to the wind and broadcast his desire to the world.
He doesn't care who sees.
He doesn't worry if his efforts fail.
He doesn't mind scratches and bruises and thorns along the way.
He chases after his love with reckless abandon. He calls for her, cries for her, makes himself vulnerable for her, and as I watch him bound through the yard, I can't help but feel inspired by his shameless, raw pursuit of love. I can't help but hope to be exactly like him, figuratively of course.
See, far too often, the world narrative tells us to hold back, to be reserved, guarded, composed, patient and realistic. But when it comes to love, I think we need to be real. We need to surrender ourselves and be willing to look silly. We need to cast aside our pride, and disregard social games. We need to wade through weeds, triumph over thorns, burst through doors, chase after our hearts, and let ourselves get out of breath, surrounded by the swell of out-of-tune saxophones souring the wind.
We need to risk failing wildly, so we have the chance to love completely. And if we fall flat on our face, then we need to get up and move on. What we don't need to do is change, compromise who we are, proceed cautiously, expect less or behave according to some pre-scripted list of directives. We need to be ourselves, our vulnerable, messy, beautiful selves. Our run-out-the-back-door and trounce on spiky balls sort of selves. And if we are, then the people who are meant to be in our lives will eventually come over to play. They will eventually enjoy every minute of running around and tussling in our yards. They will eventually lie by our sides belly up to the sky, basking in sunshine and joy.
Happy anniversary, J.