Thursday, June 6, 2013
Hope. Lesson From Louiedog
Lessons from Louiedog- Commitment
So as I am typing this, I have a 40-pound cattle dog mix leaning against my calves. It’s storming outside, complete with lightning and thunder, and he’s terrified of thunder. Clearly we weren’t a hunting dog in our former life, we were? The cattle dog’s name is Louie, or Louiedog, as he’s most often referred to. He’s been my lovable canine sidekick and most loyal friend for exactly one year now.
Every year several stay dogs wander up to the rafting outposts on the Chattooga. This black and white spotted one seemed well mannered and sweet. My friend Nathan feed him and took care of him, but the manager at the rafting company told him that they really couldn’t have a dog on the property with all of the guests coming and going, especially a stray with no vaccination record. “OK,” I said, “If you can’t find his original owner or anyone else to take him by the end of the week, I’ll take him.”
Well, the end of the week rolled around and no one had claimed him, so simple as that, I lead him over to my car, he jumped in, and off we went. It’s funny how sometimes the biggest commitments happen with little fanfare, just a quick moment that changes everything. Suddenly I had a dog, an animal that I was responsible for, and at the time, I was working as a field instructor for Second Nature, and had to decide what to do with him while I was at working.
Hoping that I would be able to take him to the field, I decided that before going home I would take him to the Universal Joint here in Clayton. I wanted to see how he interacted with my friends, how well he obeyed me, and how he socialized with other dogs, which were allowed on the restaurant’s outdoor patio. I had this mental picture of a lovely, obedient dog that initially followed my every command and responded with a happily wagging tail and submissive temperament to every other dog he meant. Obviously this is not what actually happened. He pulled me around everywhere, escaped from his collar twice, tried to eat someone’s French fries, and got into a minor fight with the Medical Coordinators older, gentle Pointer. Flustered, I took him back to my house.
Once I got back to my house I made another naïve decision. I decided to let him off of a leash in the driveway and see what he would do. Again I expected him to be immediately loyal to me, since I did just save his ass and all. And if nothing else he would follow me because I was the strong, assertive pack leader, doing my best Ceaser Milan impression. Wrong again. As soon as I took him off the leash he bolted down the driveway, found the dog that roamed the cul-de-sac I lived on, and chased it off into the woods barking and growling.
At this point I was furious, and having a little bit of an emotional meltdown. Great, I had owned a dog for a total of two hours and in that time he had gotten into two fights and I had already managed to loose him. Epic fail. But I wasn’t ready to go down without a fight of my own. I charged into the bushes, walked through my neighbor’s unkempt back yard, and found that little black and white rebel, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and threw him on the ground. “No!” I yelled, “bad dog!” (Certainly not the last time he heard those words). I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him back up to my house.
I put him in the house, sat on the couch, and in a panic realized what a mistake I had made. What was I going to do with this dog? I couldn’t just bring him back to the rafting company. Everyone would think I was a terrible person, and besides he would just end up at the animal shelter, which unfortunately has a high euthanasia rate due to lots of stray dogs. And besides, even if I found another owner for him on Craigslist or something, what was I going to say? Sorry I couldn’t hack being a dog owner for more than two hours? Maybe the people who told me I shouldn’t get a dog were right, now I was locked in to taking care of this animal and my life would forever be compromised. If I couldn’t handle a dog, how would I ever raise kids?!?
And it was amidst this state of panic that I realized maybe I was getting ahead of myself. It suddenly dawned on me that I was expecting this dog to be perfect right from the get go. That I had assumed our dog/owner relationship would just fall into it’s natural and correct order simply because I had chosen the dog that was meant for me. Realistically, my ability to chose and care for a dog didn’t have to reflect on my entire personality (and certainly not my ability to care for kids in the distant future) and maybe I should give it a few days, or at least try to feed him first, before I decided whether I could keep him. And if after a couple weeks it still wasn’t working out, I would do everything I could to find him a great new home. Yes, it would be a failure of sorts, but definitely a learning experience and certainly not the end of the world.
Well it’s been exactly a year now, and obviously things have worked out. After feeding him and walking him for a few days he started listening to me, and I figured out he only growls at other male dogs when he is on a leash. Yes he still eats anything remotely edible on his level, tries to chase things with diesel engines, and takes inopportune 45 minute romps through the woods that leave me panicked and furious. And I have had to make compromises in my schedule and travel plans to take care of him. But despite the moments of anger and inconvenience, I’ve never regretted getting a dog. Louie follows me around the house, sleeps at the foot of my bed, and few things make me happier than running through the woods with him on a nice trail.
In becoming a dog owner, my entire perception of commitment changed. Whenever you commit to something new, whether it’s a career path or a partner, a dog or a city, you always have this ideal image of how it should be in your head, and the reality is usually far from that picture. But if you relax, give it some time, get in touch with reality and accept that failure won’t make the sky fall down, things tend to work out well in the end.