Your Life Is Going to Change

Introduction from Firsthand Lessons, Secondhand Dogs: Living, Laboring, Learning…and Letting Go.

Your Life Is Going To Change

As my 25th birthday approached, my wife gave me two options for a present. I could get a dog, or I could get something else that I won’t even pretend to remember. It might have been new skis or a yacht. It didn’t matter; I wanted the dog!

My family briefly owned a dog when I was a child. I say briefly because the thing kept running away. He spent most of his time “on the lam.” Fluffy was a high-strung, mean-spirited, yappy miniature Poodle. When I was 5, my dad filmed me chasing Fluffy. I would go to one corner of the shed and peak around the corner. Sensing me, Fluffy would bolt around the corner and disappear. I would run to where Fluffy had just been, and once again he’d go POOF just as I arrived. To the untrained eye, it looked like we were playing. It was not play. The dog had escaped his leash again, and I was trying to retrieve him. I think my dad filmed the whole scene in case he was ever brought up on criminal charges for screaming the dog to death. He figured no jury would convict him if he had film evidence proving how rotten and disobedient the dog could be.

Having Fluffy was like trying to own smoke or cuddle with the wind. I didn’t like Fluffy. He was a self-centered, spastic, Q-tipped topped dog, incapable of loving or being loved. Eventually, my parents gave him to a relative in the country so the dog could run without ever being considered “away.”

No, I didn’t like Fluffy. But I loved dogs, at least the concept of dogs, dogs that would play, come, fetch, roll over, sit, and not run away. I had never had one, but I was convinced that it would be a great experience for me. Along with things like jumping on the bed, drinking milk out of the jug, and turning the thermostat above 62 degrees in the wintertime, I added DOG OWNER to the list of things I would do or be when I no longer lived with my parents.

Fast forward 20 years. I was driving in a little town in northern Wisconsin when just before a gravel road I saw a sign posted that announced:

“Yorkshire Terrier Puppy’s 4 Sale.”

I didn’t know what a Yorkshire Terrier was, but the sign included a painting that approximated a dog in that it had hair, pointy ears, and a black nose. Thinking back, it may have been a painting of a bear. That’s not important. What is important is that my wife said, “I know you’ve always wanted a dog, Honey. But you know it makes absolutely no sense for us to get an animal at this stage of our lives. But since your birthday is coming…”

“YES!” I screamed as I pulled down the gravel road. I was sure she was about to say that I could have a dog even though it didn’t make sense right now. But I wasn’t willing to let her finish for fear it would end with “…you can have anything EXCEPT a dog.”

I couldn’t have known at the time that this event would mark a series of defining moments for me. What I wanted was a little, friendly dog. What I got was a large lesson in how to live.

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