My oldest brother Mark had a poodle when we were growing up. I was only two when the dog came to live with us and though I have vague memories of her, I cannot remember her name. When my mother told seven-year old Mark that he would have to give the dog up because our baby brother Andrew had developed severe allergies, Mark asked if he could give his baby brother away instead. Mark had three siblings but only one dog. Andrew stayed, the dog was re-homed.
The first thing Mark did when he had a house of his own was to adopt a Malamute-mix from the local shelter. Kiri was his constant companion at home, in the office and more often than not, during visits with his parishioners. Eventually Mark’s gravestone would be engraved with the images of all the dogs he adored as a man. The image of the dog he loved as a child had been written in his heart long before.
That brief poodle contact made impressions on the rest of us too. All of my other brothers have since made room in their homes for second-chance dogs. (Andrew’s is a hypo-allergenic terrier-mix.) I have shared a lot of love with their dogs and the four shelter dogs that have been part of my own family.
Shiba was already a senior dog when we adopted her. She enjoyed walks once a day and only if it wasn’t raining or snowing. She liked to lie in the grass in the backyard or if it was cold, she would bask in the sunlight by the sliding door in the kitchen.
Our current dog Mo, a beagle-mix, came into our lives just a few days after we lost our Shiba to canine paralysis. It was summertime and Mo had been living outside in a shed. Her previous owner had moved and said she couldn’t keep a dog in the home due to allergies. When Mo first came to live with us, she was terrified to go in the backyard. There was a playhouse back there and I think she worried that it would be her new dog house. It wasn’t.
Mo had some previously undisclosed health conditions that required veterinary care. She also had a number of behavioral issues that required dog training classes and a good dose of patience. She remains a noisy barker at times (squirrel!) and is quite critical when it comes to my daughter’s boyfriend.
Unlike Shiba, Mo is a high-energy dog with the oversized chest of a running dog. She keeps us busy with walks. I am not a morning person so my husband takes care of the early outings. I get the evening shift. Mo never lets me forget it. She starts pacing around my desk when I am late.
Mo has helped me to rediscover urban nature. We have made many circuits of the walking trails in the nearby park. We have found neighborhood paths that I didn’t know about before. We have made all-season garden and holiday light tours of the neighborhood.
Being out at night has allowed me to experience the most beautiful sunsets. It has reacquainted me with the stars and the moon. Together Mo and I experience warm summer breezes, rain and cold winter winds. Mona reminds me that grass and flowers were meant to be smelled and not just seen.
When she was younger, Mo would jump in and out of deep snowbanks as we traveled down the street together. Last night as a snowstorm descended on the city, the wind was blowing and snow was piling up on sidewalks. Mo loved it. I felt the joy in her face and in her stride. While I was chilled, she marveled at the snow.
I am thankful for the times I have had with all of our dogs. Their love of the earth lured me out to the garden. Their quiet presences gave me the comfort to peacefully explore the green spaces in yards, parks and other spaces in the neighborhoods where we have lived. Their need to be out gave me the excuse of time needed to clear paths and weed garden beds. Their love of green inspired me to plant and to grow.
I am thankful for Mo who is bothering me into action even now. We will get her leash in a few minutes so we can reconnect to the sights, sounds and smells of earth and the quiet winter sky. Without Mo’s reminders to get out and breathe, I would miss these wonders and more. A dog’s love is boundless but their lives are all too short. Live today.