Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Evolution of Dog

In my 28 years on this planet, I've spent a combined total of about 11 months with out a dog as a part of my home. There were Cheyenne and Rusty the Irish Setters, Brownie the English Springer Spaniel, Kopper and Aurora the Golden Retrievers, Dakota the Samoyed and now Karma the mutt. There were a couple of great dogs in there and a couple of less than show quality ones, but they were all instrumentally important to my development as a person. When Gina and I moved in to our first apartment (10 of the 11 dogless months) I made it very clear that as soon as we had space, we were getting a dog. From a family that had one failed attempt at dog ownership (lasted a few months before they gave him to a friend) Gina was ok with the idea, but it wasn't her driving ambition in life either. Well, about 5 years ago, before we even got the keys to our condo, we ended up adopting Karma from the local humane society. We fell in love with her so hard that we ended up driving back from Arizona so early in the morning that I don't think you could call it morning in order to pick her up before she was given to another family. We named her Karma because we thought the act of rescuing rather then buying a purebred would balance our karmatic energy in the world. What we ended up with was a dog that stained our rugs, discolored our hardwood, ate our remotes, our wedding album, our wedding sign in book, three doormats and two palm trees. She even tried eating my turtle, but the turtle took a bite out of her first. She dug up more of our backyard then I did trying to landscape it and cost us hundreds of dollars every time we had to take her to the vet to have shards of a toy she digested removed from her butt. Gina and I experienced serious bouts of adopters remorse but, the truth is, this experience prepared us for children more than any other in our lives. We stuck with her and in the end we wound up with the greatest dog I've ever known. Vocally commanded she is 100% in control off leash, she knows commands from "sit" and "stay" to "time out" and "cheeseburger", she even allows our cats to climb on her and lick out her ears with out ever snapping or becoming aggressive. What's amazed me more about her, though, is the transformation I've seen after bringing children in to the home. I was very worried about ending up on the 10 o'clock news as another dog owner who's child had been mauled. I wasn't going to be that guy. From the moment we found out Gina was pregnant we began preparing Karma for the girls arrival. I would stick my fingers in her mouth when she tried to eat, we would taunt her mercilessly with her favorite toys never allowing her to take them out of our hands, Gina would even make her lick her swollen belly so that Karma knew what ever was coming was something to love and not something to compete with. When we came up to the door that first afternoon home, we set the girls on the front step and opened the door slowly to introduce Karma to them. She bounded out of the front door and froze, nearly hanging in the air, as she looked them over, then she turned around and grabbed her toy and dropped it between their car seats, ready for them to play with her. The first few weeks she was a different dog than I'd known. She was extremely protective of them. She began barking at anyone coming to the door (she never barked), she would pace frantically when they were upset, and if they were in separate rooms she would walk back and forth between them endlessly, making sure she kept an eye on each of them. When we started to lay them on the floor to practice rolling or belly time, Karma was never more than a few feet away from them, laying silently, watching them. I remember one day I was folding laundry in the bedroom while the girls slept in bouncers in the living room. When I came out to check on them, Karma was sleeping between the two, her front torso curved slightly around one of the bouncers. Despite her maternal behavior, this was the tough time. She suddenly took a back seat to these two newbies, but she never seemed to mind. Then they started eating real food and life got dramatically better for Karma. She learned to park herself under the table, between their highchairs, and what ever fell she graciously vacuumed up. When they started crawling she resiliently took the beatings; bracing for impact as they bared down her, pulling hair, poking eyes and patting her head. When they took her toys she whimpered a little, but never tried to grab them back, and she was always conscious of which were her toys and which were the girls'. She's never taken one of their toys, not once. Last night, there was a new development and I could see a sparkle in Karma's eyes as she realized these kids are going to benefit her even more. Arianna has suddenly started to comprehend how to play with the dog. She identifies that some toys are hers and some are Karma's and that if you pick them up and throw them, Karma goes and gets them. Not only is that fun for her, but Karma seems to enjoy it too as that silly tail thingy starts wagging and she brings the toy back. Now, Karma usually brings the toy back to me as she's not quite sure these babies know what they're doing, but she waits for me to give the toy to the girls and then she waits patiently for them to remember what they're supposed to do with it. For non dog owners this whole thing may not make sense - what's the big deal? Well, Karma was our practice baby. Our first attempt to "raise" something together and work through the frustrations that arose out of destruction and potty training and everything else. Cats don't have this experience. They are loaners, they clean themselves, they do what they want and they come potty trained (kind of. ... it helps when you put the potty in the living room and not in the backyard). For those with out kids, this might not make sense either, but again, Karma was our first "baby" so it's wonderful to see that all the babies get along and that our family has successfully merged in to one. Dogs in the family has played a great role in making me who I am, and I know that dogs will be a great influence in my children's lives as well. And to watch the evolution of our own dog, from scrawny, destructive puppy in a cage at the shelter to patient, child proof, family dog is truly remarkable. And to know that this is the dog my children will look back on in 20 years as the dog of their youth makes her all the more important. They're not going to remember how they pounded her, ripped the hair from her body or stole her most prized possessions (a squeaky cheeseburger and a crusty stuffed lamb), they are going to remember how she was always there when they needed her and that she was their first great friend.

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