Year 3

It was a Saturday afternoon. I was volunteering at a local shelter, and I decided to go in to a kennel and play with the two puppies that were newly up for adoption. The flat coat was boisterous already, at 10 weeks old, but it was the small, fluffy one that caught my attention. She wanted love, and she wanted to be in my lap, but her sister insisted on the attention. So I picked her up and placed her in my lap, giving her most of my attention.

I took a photo and sent it to my husband. I’d been playfully trying to convince him to adopt a dog for a while, but the timing wasn’t right. But having this pup in my lap, I knew I had to convince him this time.

“I’m off at 2.”

My heart pounded. The shelter didn’t put puppies on hold, and I needed that little one. I rushed to his work. The convincing and conversation is a bit of a blur, but I remember saying “Is this really happening?”

“We’ll go see her as soon as I’m off.”

I was ecstatic.

When he got off work, we rushed over to the shelter. It’s a good thing we did. While we were in the room getting to know her, making sure she was a right fit, we heard another family ask, “Is the fluffy black puppy still available?” And the receptionist respond, “Actually, she’s getting adopted.”

We walked out of that shelter with a fluffy black puppy in my arms. And on the car ride to the pet store, I named her Belle.

. . . . . .

January 16th was Belle’s third adoptiversary.

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I wanted that pup, but my husband saw what I really needed before I did–I needed a companion. And Belle has fulfilled that on more levels than I ever could have imagined.

My mom gets teary-eyed when I say things like “I don’t know where I would be without Belle.” Because that statement is one of the truest I’ve ever spoken. I don’t know what this season would look like for me if I didn’t have her constant presence. I don’t know if I would have managed to move out of my massive depressive episode without her by my side.

Belle made sure I got up on the mornings when simply existing felt like the most difficult thing in the world. She made sure I got fresh air when all I wanted to do was stay in bed. She encouraged me to meet new people when I didn’t think I could. She helped me find my faith in the simple moments.

Over the past 3 years–and especially the past 2 that we have been focused on training–she has turned into such a smart and energetic dog who is eager to learn and eager to please. She picks things up quick, and she’s eager to show off her skills. I love her more than words can express, and I hope she knows that somehow.

As I celebrated her three years of life, I realized she has been on a bigger journey with me than I could ever have anticipated. She’s been on a journey with me that I never wanted, but she has never once complained. She has looked to me for guidance, protection, and love, and, even on my worst days, I gave her what I could. And she was always thankful.

And maybe that’s how we need approach faith. We need to look to God for our strength, hope, and guidance and give Him what we can, even if we don’t feel like it’s a lot. Because even on our worst days, He proves His goodness, and we should simply focus our energy on being thankful to Him. It won’t be easy. We will complain, we will drag our feet, we will try to take our battle back. But, just like I’ve trained Belle to see that our training is for her, we can see that His plans are for us.

. . . . . .

Do you celebrate your pets’ adoptiversaries?

What have your pets taught you?

Snow Day

Snow brings a special quality with it–the power to stop life as you know it dead in its tracks. — Nancy Hatch Woodward 

And stop life in its tracks it did–to an extent. Church was cancelled. There was hardly a car on the road. And I was terrified of driving. Though I was sad I wouldn’t get to attend service, and afraid of going anywhere, there was a plus side: I got to spend the entire day with Belle.

My car doesn’t have four wheel drive, so my mom was kind enough to take Belle and I on a little hike. And, boy, was Belle thrilled. She pranced, she ran in circles, and she had her nose in the snow the entire time. She was beautiful framed against the untouched, pure white fluff. But she was also filled with so much wonder.

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It wasn’t the first time she had seen snow, but every time she sees it, she is excited. And that’s the kind of mentality I want to have. I need to remember that God has worked in the past, and that it was wonderful, and He is working now. I want to be able to look back on this times with joy and look ahead with awed wonder.

When we are in the midst of a struggling season, though, it can be hard to do.

Those seasons come right along and stop us in our tracks. They mess up our lives, our plans. But if we didn’t have them, we would never grow. If we never came to our breaking, we would never turn to Him for healing.

The snow may have stopped us in our tracks today, but we adjusted. And that’s how we have to handle life.

Family Photos

I reached a new level of crazy dog mom. I did a breed reveal photoshoot with Belle.

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Photos courtesy of Elle Photography

And you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care if others think I’m crazy or laugh. I don’t really care if other people think I’m “obsessed” with her. Because they don’t know what this beautiful being has helped me through. They don’t know my story.

But now I know a bit more of Belle’s.IMG_3300

It doesn’t really matter what her breeds are. It doesn’t change how much I love her or her training. It doesn’t change that I knew she was the one for me the minute I sat in her kennel at that shelter.

But what it does do is remind me that our mixtures are what make us. Our pasts, our weaknesses, our stories don’t define us, but they do help to shape us. They are our background, for better or worse, and knowing how they have shaped us makes it easier for us to navigate our future.

I don’t know what my family photos will look like from here on out, and I hope that one day my family photos look a bit more like the ones of a few years ago. But this one is perfect for me and fills my heart with joy.

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Trusting in a Panic

You never realize how much you trust someone–or someone trusts you–until you’re in a panic-inducing situation.

Belle had her first experience swimming in a lake on this trip, and she was a bit panicked, even with her life vest on. She has never before been in water where she could not feel the bottom, so the instant she jumped into the water and she realized there was no bottom to feel, she started swimming in circles and breathing heavily.

I know how she feels. When this season of life started, I felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t feel the bottom of the abyss of despair. I had no idea what to do.

But Belle did. She swam over to me and leaned into me. I held her up a little bit so her face was a bit more above the water and cooed lovingly at her. She wasn’t interested in moving away from the dock area, a little scared, and I eventually helped her back onto the dock.

When this whole thing began, I sat on my bed and quite literally cried out to God, tears streaming down my face. As I worked through the panic and despair, as I came to realize I really did have other mental demons I needed to deal with, I felt Him holding me and letting me know I could trust Him. And as I did, I stopped panicking as much. There were quite a few times I had no interest in going deeper, in feeling like I would suffer more pain–I wanted to stay comfortably on shore and watch Him work from a distance. But I have learned I can’t do that.

I want Belle to be comfortable in all water, and the only way to do that is to expose her to those situations. I won’t ever force her past her comfort zone, but I’ll insist she try it. (And my little cousins were very insistent.) I could see in her face she wanted to be out with us but she was scared of not having a footing.

I had wanted for so long to truly see God in my life, but I was afraid of being put in an uncomfortable situation–no one likes to suffer in any way. But those experiences help us to truly experience God.

So when we panic, we know we can lean into Him and He will protect us. He will not let us drown.

Like Belle, I had to have a thoroughly uncomfortable situation to really see I could trust Him. And now, while things are far from perfect and this is not yet over, I know He will not fail me.

Trust & Intuition

I’ve said before that my dog has taught me plenty of lessons, and she continues to teach me things on every adventure we take together. With our road trip fast approaching, I wanted to get Belle used to her life vest, especially since she’s never worn one before. So I decided to take her to a dog beach.

Belle is what I call “selectively social.” She’s also the type of dog who, if she is not interested in socializing or in befriending another dog, is quick to let that other dog know. In that sense, she is like me. Perhaps that is why we are such a good match. This means, though, that when we go somewhere lots of other dogs are likely to be, I watch her very closely. She never instigates, but she will defend herself.

We have visited this particular dog beach before, before we really delved into training together, so I could safely compare her behavior this time to her behavior last time. And, boy, has it improved! (Score one for me!)

She loves fetching toys–balls, sticks, you name it–and she doesn’t much care if it’s really someone else’s toy. But she gets very possessive of balls and throw toys around other dogs, so I never bring them. (Can you see where this is going?) One dog parent had brought a water throw toy for their dog, and when it was thrown, Belle wanted to tromp after it, even though the other dog had it in and was swimming back. When I called “Belle, no!” she stopped in the waves, and I could see her think. Then she made the decision on her own–to listen to me and return to me. I was impressed to say the least.

Like I said, she is “selectively social,” so when another dog started trotting around after her and trying to instigate who knows what, Belle got grouchy–just a small warning noise–and ran to me. I try to allow her to stand up for herself first and see if the other dog takes the hint, but when this dog just would not stop, Belle turned. I grabbed the leather tab I have on her correction collar just to have control of her, and this other dog circled us. What I found interesting is that, even though I had hold of the collar tab, she didn’t try to pull from me to handle the situation herself, like she would have done a year ago.

She even sat still for photos and listened to her commands. She didn’t go in the water until I said it was okay, and she came back to me when I told her to. It felt like she knew I was keeping an eye out, and she trusted me to handle the environment.

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Belle

. . . . . .

On her leash in public Belle is excellent. She can get particular about people approaching me, so we developed a “say hi” command so she would know it’s okay. A complete stranger approached us as we were walking the downtown area and wanted to pet her. She was hesitant about this person and stood close to me, but when I gave her the command, she lifted her head and allowed this individual to pet her. After a second, she turned her attention back to me, as if to say “I’ve had enough,” so I touched her back to let her know I “heard” her.

The best scene, though, was before we left to head home.

We were sitting outside, enjoying a water and the boat scenery, and a young boy–maybe an early teen–sat on a bench just a short distance from us. From the bit of the conversation I overheard while he was on the phone, he seemed in distress. A couple, who I assumed to be his guardians, approached, and he walked up to them, apologizing for something. As he neared our bench, Belle stood and nudged his hand.

“No,” I told her sharply, embarrassed she had just approached without permission.

“Oh, it’s okay, I like dogs,” the boy said, looking to be worried he got her in trouble.

I placed my hand on her back and said to him, “That’s okay. It’s just for her. She is learning she can’t say hi unless given permission.”

But Belle continued to watch him as he had his conversation with this couple. So I watched her.

“Can I pet her?” the boy asked a few seconds later.

“Sure,” I told him, smiling.

Belle took the opportunity. As he bent down to say hi, she folded herself into him and gave him a gentle head butt. Then she did something she doesn’t do to just any stranger: she licked him. And I don’t mean once. She gave him lots of kisses, and I watched with a smile as he laughed joyously and loved on her.

As we drove home, I thought about her interactions throughout the day and how she has improved since last year. I thought about how she listened so well to me, how she was so attuned to me, and how she just seemed to know when someone needed a little extra love. And I was impressed.

. . . . . .

In all we do, it is clear Belle’s trust in me has grown. Our bond has strengthened through training and everything we do together, so she knows me better. She knows when I need her to be near me, whether it’s because I’m uncomfortable in a particular social setting or because I’m in tears at home. Her attention and obedience to commands has gotten better because she wants to please me, and she knows I love her and want to do what is best for her. Our relationship–and thereby her intuition and attention to me–is built on that trust.

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Like Belle, I have grown and learned a lot in this season. Like Belle, I am not perfect; I am still learning. Like Belle, my relationship with God must be built on trust–trusting that He loves me, that He wants what is best for me, and that He has good plans for me. But I would like to think that, like Belle, I know my master’s voice better now.

 

Judgement (Isn’t) For The Dogs

I’ve expressed many times that Belle is my support. I honestly do not know what I would be like through all this if I did not have her by my side. Her affection, training her, hiking with her…it has all provided me with ways to either get out of my own head of transfer my anxiety or depression into a worthwhile and meaningful experience.

But I have seen a lot of comments on some social media sites–mainly the ones that happen to pop up on my news feed and are organizations that “help” people get ESAs (you know, the “registry” type sites)–that have upset me. Some people say that an excitable dog would not make for a good ESA, and they imply that those with that type of dog as an ESA is faking it. Other comments show judgment toward the dog, saying that an aggressive dog is not an ESA.

Who are you to say that my excitable dog does not provide me the emotional support I need from her? You don’t know me or what I struggle with. You have not worked with her. You do not know us.

Who are you to judge that someone’s dog is aggressive? Barking does not signify aggression. Jumping does not signify aggression. You don’t know her like I do.

I know judgement on dogs will (probably) always exist, but it is frustrating. So, like any writer, I took action by writing about it.

Have you ever judged a dog by its appearance? Or even by its breed?

The Life-Changing Benefits of a Dog

At the end of September, I submitted an article to a regional dog magazine: The Virginia-Maryland-Washington D.C. Dog. About one month ago, I received an email with the finalized PDF version of the article, and I realized it is considered a feature article.

I am really excited about this. It is the first article I have written for a magazine, and the first time I will be published in this way. I reached out one day with a pitch, based on an article I read from a previous issue, and the editor of the magazine accepted.

I am also very nervous. This article talks about how Belle has benefitted me as I have struggled with anxiety and depressive symptoms, not only recently but symptoms and episodes from the past I can now look back on and recognize them for what they were. I am being open about my own struggle. I have often felt like I don’t deserve to say I battle anxiety or depressive symptoms because my past is not traumatic. But if there is one thing I learned as I have continued therapy it is that my story is mine and doesn’t make me any less deserving of seeking help and healing.

Regardless, my excitement outweighs my nervousness. As I have expressed, it is my goal and aspiration as a writer to touch other people, to have my stories resonate with others. I can’t achieve that if I do not put at least a little something out there.

. . . . . .

One of my research interests in my field is the bond between pets and people. I took a course in Family Communication one semester, and I got to choose my topics. One of the topics I chose was this connection. I ended up using that information in my master’s thesis.

As I discuss in the published article, the bond between a pet (a dog) and us, the human, is especially strong. It took a few months for me to warm up to Belle when we adopted her, having never been responsible for such a small and needy creature. I’ve had cats–they’re fairly self explanatory. Once we got through potty training and we began real training, though, Belle and I began to bond. Now, that bond is stronger than I could have ever anticipated. She truly has been an incentive for me on many days.

. . . . . .

I am still very interested in the bond between people and their pets. I still want to do Communication research in that field. (My mother keeps telling me to go get my PhD; I keep saying I can’t handle that right now.) Every day, I hug Belle and shower her with love and affection.

My husband laughed, months ago, at how I cried at the mere thought of leaving without her. He told me he would never make me be without her, because, even then, he knew what she did for me. Her simple presence has positively affected me in so many ways, and I don’t know how I would get through a lot of things, especially right now, without her.

Every day, I thank God for Belle. Every day, I thank Him for the life-changing benefits of a dog.