March 19 - Menagerie
A Story of Hope
Do you have animals in your life? If yes, what do they mean to you? If no, why have you opted not to?
It’s hard to remember what stories I’ve told and which one I haven’t as we hit 77 days into the daily writing practice that is #writeclub—so I apologize if you already heard this story of how ended up with my dog and why I believe in magic.
It was the end of January of 2015. I was a little over a year of being sober. My friend had recently lost her dog and one night we went to S and talked about how much she had learned from her dog and how he had saved her. Even though she was in so much pain, I remember being in awe of how much she loved that animal and thought to myself, “Maybe I should get a dog.”
My sister lost her dog around the same time and she was devastated. Her dog had been by her side since college and he was truly her best friend but again instead of being scared off from pet ownership—their grief and love made me curious. In addiction I’d detached from my ability to love anything but there were other reasons I kept dogs at arms length.
We had dogs growing up but, like so much of the other stuff going down, it was dysfunctional. My mom and step-dad would get a dog (or two) and then return it for one reason or another. I stopped bonding with them because I knew eventually, they would probably go away. Between the ages of 15 and 19 we had (and returned) six dogs that I can recall. There might have been more that I blocked out but I’m pretty sure that’s the number.
Anyway, a couple of days after seeing my friend, I returned to my apartment and there was a dog running around the courtyard.
“We can have dogs now???” I asked. The building had recently changed ownership and apparently some of the old policies had been changed—the most important being that no pets were allowed.
“I think I want a dog,” I announced to Maggie later that evening.
“Oh weird you know how much work they are and you can’t just take off and travel whenever you want, right?” The Voice of Reason reminded me. “And pets are pretty expensive.”
“Yeah, I know but there is something in me that really wants a dog.” I said.
“What kind?” She asked.
“A boxer,” I said, knowing absolutely nothing about boxers other than that they looked fun.
“Oh those are pretty big!” She said. To which I’m sure I launched into my tangent about how little dogs weren’t real dogs or something.
A couple of days later my phone rings and it’s Maggie. “Bridget you aren’t going to believe this but my co-worker found a white boxer puppy today—do you want her? She’s so cute and sweet she doesn’t seem to have any aggression so I think someone will take her fast if you don’t.”
Her co-worker had taken the dog to the local vet to make sure she wasn’t chipped and she said they’d seen her wandering around for about a month. They didn’t pull her off the streets because they said she had a better chance being adopted than if she ended up in a shelter. She was covered in tar and ticks and severely under weight.
Well shit. I couldn’t very well put a request into the universe for a boxer and have it answered a couple of days later and then say, “I’m not ready.” Now could I? So I called Maggie back without much thinking and said I’d take her.
Maggie’s co-worker kept her for the night so I could get sorted. He picked off every single tick. She always loved him for that. I had nothing dog related so I had to get a crate and a bed and all the things. The next day Maggie brought her home from work and we went straight to the vet. She had a messed up stomach parasite and needed food and some vaccinations but overall seemed in good shape.
We went home that night and it was the beginning of me being a dog owner. The first night she slept with her eyes open and it creeped me out. Then I cuddled up with her on the futon and she slept for two days straight. At one point I thought she was dead.
I named her Hope because that’s what she brought me. I was in a particularly dark period of my sobriety and in fact, was struggling to see the point of remaining sober if I was going to continue to be depressed. Because boy was I depressed. Facing the wreckage of my past and what a horrible, selfish piece of shit I’d behaved like for many years, was uncomfortable. I also failed to see a path forward.
Hope grounded me right in the here and now. It was the only place I could be when I was with her and more than anything I needed to be in the moment. One minute. One hour. One day at a time.
I was completely unprepared for how challenging it is to train a feral puppy. I attempted it on my own for a while but by that summer realized I was in way over my head and a friend recommended a trainer—so I sent Hope to summer camp. The timing was perfect because my friend Hani (who I’ve written about before) was dying (and would die in August) and I was moving into a house with a yard with my friend Samantha.
Hard to believe that was eight years ago and now she’s a feisty old lady with cancer. We’ve been through so much together. I realize it’s extremely corny and cliche to say she taught me how to love—but it’s not an exaggeration. When I got sober I didn’t know how to do anything. She taught me how to be a responsible, loving grown-up.
Hope means everything to me and even though it cost me a small fortune to keep her alive—seeing her and my daughter’s relationship blossom is priceless. My daughter’s first word after “mama” was Hope and now she just repeats it all day. “Hope hope hope hope hope,” she says while she crawls around looking for her buddy. There is no husband without Hope. There is no daughter. I’m not sure I would have even stayed sober in those trying early years.
Hope is my everything. As a friend wrote when he lost his dog recently, “Dogs are eternal.”
I sure hope so.
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