At the beginning of my blessed journey of dog-ownership came Bo, a 5 year old spaniel mix who chose me when I impulsively went to the shelter looking for a new friend. I walked past his kennel and just as I turned to go, he let out one loud, lonely howl. Right then and there, he was mine. For 5 years, he taught me the do's and don’ts of dog ownership and welcomed dear Nick into our family with patience and gentleness. He was a good dog- though not a great dog- which was more my fault than his. He was beautiful and used to carry an umbrella in his mouth when we walked. He turned aggressive as he grew old and eventually we had to make the heart wrenching decision to put him down after he bit someone. Desperate, we consulted an animal behavioral specialist who assured us it was dementia and it was time to ease his suffering. It was awful and it is a memory I still tip-toe around.
Next, Buddy... Glorious, beautiful, Confident Buddy. Our first Golden Retriever. Acquiring him required an intense interview, several character references, and a commitment to 8 training sessions…a mere 1.5-hour drive away. He was wild and wise and regal and I was absurdly proud of him. He kept me sane in the early years of marriage, helping me navigate new In-laws, parenting toddlers, and adjusting to being a stay at home mom. He shattered my heart when he died at 5 years old from cancer. He was my childrens' first true love and first heartbreaking loss. Knowing Buddy, he left us early on purpose. He was way too stately to face the decline of age and there is no doubt he knew I would need our next dog even more.
Enter Golden Retreiver #2. Derby. Derbis, Derby Doo. The Puppy of Peace. Beautiful, Gentle, Calm, Lazy, Goofy, Precious, Derby. Kind Brother to numerous foster-dogs, guardian of guinea pigs and soother of my spirit. The dog who loved me most. His presence was calming and after my sister died, I spent many anxiety-filled nights wrapped around him- lying on the floor- heart racing- tears flowing. He was like dog-sized Xanax to me and I believe he kept me from completely losing myself to grief. Three quarters of the way through his life, he welcomed sweet Izzy into our home without batting an eye. A nervous, timid beagle-mix-rescue, Izzy spent the first weeks with us hiding in the study. Derby taught her to be brave and convinced her to trust us. They were best buddies and when he died at 14, she, who rarely felt safe enough to cuddle with anyone, crawled up on my pillow, curled herself around my head and shook throughout the night. We grieved together and for a very short while she and I vowed no more dogs- it hurt too much to lose them.
Welcome Simon! Energetic, Silly, Joyful, Destructive, Stunningly Handsome, Simon. Our first English Labrador Retriever. When I agreed to Simon, I mistakenly thought Labs were just short haired Golden Retrievers. How different could they be? HA! With Simon, there was a huge learning curve. Derby was all about giving…. Simon seemed to be all take and little give. While Derby made our house more peaceful, Simon filled it with a kind of happy but manic energy- while exciting and entertaining, it was also sometimes overwhelming and exhausting. Simon had no filter. Simon left a wake of happy destruction wherever he went, Simon required a lot of attention, Simon was noisy, Simon was outgoing and social…..OH MY GOSH, I realized one day, Simon is an EXTROVERT! It wasn’t a lab/golden thing- it was a personality thing. Simon lived his life out-loud! Suddenly, I felt badly for being frustrated with him. Being the only extrovert in a house full of introverts growing up, I understood him so much better. Simon was just being Simon. And just like that, I fell fully in love.
But still, I couldn’t help but wonder why Simon? I am firm believer that God ( or whatever you call the most Generous One) gives dog lovers the right dogs at just the right moment- that the best ones are loaned to us to help navigate the messy of life. Why now, when my nest is empty (ish) and I crave calm and peace and simplicity, have I been given a dog who takes up so much of my energy and time? Why, when I am trying to spend hours painting in my studio, and am often deeply absorbed in thought, do I have a dog who has no understanding of personal space? I absolutely adore him, but he is kind of messing with my newly, redefined lifestyle…. Then it hit me - Simon wasn’t for me… He is actually not about me at all.. Simon was chosen for my husband, Rick. Simon, who loves everyone, loves Rick best of all. Simon, who never stops moving- whose body squirms with excitement and the promise of adventure is a wiggly, jiggly, shiny, sleek hint of good things to come. Precious Simon showed up just as Rick’s original playmates, Nick and Caroline, spread their wings and flew away. Romps on the beach, swims in the ocean, and walks through the woods: these are the future of Rick and Simon. Currently, Rick is in bed- recovering from major surgery- understandably frustrated by the long, slow road ahead. Next to him, lying uncharacteristically peacefully, is Simon. It is as if he knows he must be patient and wait. But soon, they will be up and off on new adventures. It makes me smile just thinking about it!