Today is the 20 year anniversary of several important events. For starters, I had managed to last seven years in the corporate world, so on Friday, August 30, 1991, I was starting my first sabbatical: ten weeks paid time off. The tech industry was booming then, and they did things like that.
I was also finishing up a masters’s thesis for a degree in psych I’d been working on in my spare time - I did things like that. But the most important thing we did on this day 20 years ago was bring home a dog.
We had her picked out and all the arrangements made ahead of time, but that day – leaving work for ten weeks and bringing home a puppy to celebrate was one of the most memorable of my life. It was just a bit less memorable for Mary. Charis was riding in a crate in the back seat, howling because she wasn’t used to cars, so Mary thought she might be happier riding on her lap, where the puppy promptly peed. We laughed about it then and now – nothing a little soap and water couldn’t fix.
We have shared every day for the last twenty years with one, or two, and recently three dogs (which is really too many but at the time we couldn’t say no). We started this anniversary day with a walk in the park for our two rescue dogs, and then another class. We’ve discovered that rescue dogs are analogous to foster kids – they have issues. These two are doing pretty well with extra training (which I sometimes call, reform school, depending on their behavior). A side benefit of the class is, it tires them out. As I write this, they are sleeping like little angels.
Which is what they really are. As William Stafford put it in his poem, “Choosing a Dog:”
“It’s love,” they say. You touch
the right one and a whole half of the universe
wakes up, a new half.
A few years after we got Charis, I spent some time as a volunteer for the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary. Vixen the fox had come there when she was four weeks old, so she got very used to humans. So used to humans that she could milk it really well, and as a result, she was getting rather pudgy. For her own health, some of the keepers and volunteers would leash her up and take her for walks.
Once or twice a week for several years, I would get there at 7:00 am and take this little wild animal for a walk through the rising dawn. That was an unforgettable way to start the morning! One day, someone at an 8:00 am meeting who hadn’t had his coffee said, “What the hell are you smiling about?”
“Long story,” I said. And kept on smiling. Through all of it, all of the ups and downs, the joys and the losses, that’s what it’s like when you share your life with dogs and their wild kin.