Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Life Lessons: What Being a Dog Owner Has Taught Me.

*Beware. Unusually long post about life and dogs to follow.*

London has been a member of our little, unconventional family for the last four months. It's hard to believe that's it really, because she fits in like she's always been here.

And we could not love her any more. 

Being that I've only been a dog owner for that equally short period of time, I feel like I could write a book on the lessons learned caring for a dog. Sure, I grew up with dogs my whole life. From birth until I left for college we'd had a dog almost every year of my whole life, but it's a totally different ballgame when you are the primary caregiver. Also, all of my dogs growing up were outside dogs and there is definitely a whole other bond when you share the same breathing room, sofa room, bedroom, etc. with  dog. Being that we have a 75 lb. Golden Retriever and an 8 lb. cat who thinks she needs twice the amount of room that you do, sitting room gets a little tight in our house.

But that's neither here nor there.

I felt compelled to write this post today based on my experiences just over the last week. I've realized that I have seen a subtle, slow change in myself. Being a not-so-perfect blend of extrovert and introvert, my behavioral characteristics leave something to be desired. I'm the first girl to stand up and give an off-the-cuff speech to a crowded room of people I don't know, and the same girl who goes home that night, puts on her PJ pants, and is perfectly content not saying another word for the rest of the evening. Where do you draw the line? It's hard to tell. It varies by circumstance and situation.

The older I get, the more I have come to embrace the quiet. I like to be by myself. When I am, I generally don't even turn on the TV, radio, or anything that could potentially make noise... even the washer / dryer. In certain situations, silence really is golden.

Cue London.

London is very much a shy, quiet dog. She is so loving, sweet, and cares about nothing as much as she does getting your affection and attention. We have only once heard her bark in the four months we've had her and inferred that surely she has been taught not to bark by her previous owners. Whatever the case, she's our quiet little girl. She was also raised in a home with at least one other dog... her brother, the boy, the definitive alpha male. We were told at the shelter that she was very much submissive toward him. He ate first...he decided when it was time to play...he made the rules.

Because this is the only type of behavior she's ever known, it's no wonder it's carried over. At first when she would go outside for a walk or to play, she wouldn't leave your side. She would follow your every footstep, and pay no attention whatsoever to any other dog. It made for some pretty quick potty breaks. It also made for a couple of lazy owners. By lazy...I certainly don't mean that she didn't get frequent potty / play breaks, because let's face it, our pets get whatever they want. It just meant that while the other dogs were happily playing at the other end of the dog run and their owners chit-chatting away, London and I (or Spencer) would hang around the opposite end until she was ready to go in. She really didn't have any interest in interacting with the other dogs.

As the weeks followed, she progressed more and more. She would eventually get to the point where she would sniff around the other dogs, before running full speed back to you. With this interest in the other dogs, came way more interest from the dogs/owners that London or I bargained for. The questions started pouring in.

"Who is this?"
"How old is she?"
"Where did you get her?"
"Why haven't I seen her before?"
"Is she friendly?"

To this day, we still get this line of questioning (and then some) from the neighbors, but have just packaged and prepared our little speech to an Oscar-worthy level of timing. Because of the wild new interest in our dog, we started to learn a little more about their owners, too. Dog people are not a variety quite as obvious... like horse people. However, it would seem that the most attention we got was from all the people we tried to avoid. Always, right? We avoided such people because they talked too long, or they were rude, or their dogs were running on eight shots of espresso.

Oh, and everyone is an expert on your own dog. Once, I was outside with London when a new resident was out with his 12-year old black lab. He asked me how old she was (see previous line of questioning) so before I could get to the part where she was rescued and we hadn't owned her since puppyhood and our only assumption was that she was five years old (based on three veterinarian opinions), he snorted and replied with "Hmph. She's not five. She's much younger than that. What a shame you don't even know how old your dog is." Obviously, I was quite outraged irritated by this. This man had no idea that we took her in from a shelter, or what her life is like, or ours for that matter.

London was finally opening up, and we were still trying to get away as quickly as possible. This pattern of behavior has continued up until the last couple of weeks. We grew very strategic in our timing, and always knew everyone else's schedule so we could hopefully avoid seeing them. Terrible, I know.

It reached a point; however, when London decided it was enough. If her friends were outside, she wanted to play. She wanted to run up to the other owners and get pets. She wanted to lay in the grass and roll around. She wanted to go exploring. We never stopped her from doing any of these things before...but now, she demanded it. This, in turn, meant that we must interact with those folks that we otherwise tried to avoid. Sure there are a handful of people that we get along with famously without having to try, but like everywhere in life there were the same ones that we didn't. (For instance, there is one particular woman who always says nasty things about London, accuses her of chasing her dog, and hides in the bushes so she can can "catch" you doing something wrong... seriously. These reasons among many others are why she and I butt heads). The more London grew out of her shyness, so did I. I stopped tugging on her leash as soon as I saw someone coming in the distance and I started letting her off the leash more and more often to play with the other dogs. I even learned the names of some of the other owners, instead of referencing them as "Riley's Dad" or "Gracie's Mom". As it would happen one of the guys has the same name as me, and since that discovery there is always a wave, a "good morning", or some sort of interaction. He even shared some personal stories with me last week while the dogs were playing.

Since then, it seems as though I was seeing a community with new eyes for the first time. A community of dog lovers and friends that had always been there, but I was far too selfish to enjoy for myself. This past weekend, I took London on several walks. More than I typically do. Sunday afternoon just before it turned dark, I decided to take her out for one more. We walked down to our community center and I let her off the leash to run around the baseball field. There were kids playing softball, soccer, jump roping, flying electric airplanes, adults chatting, playing fetch with their own dogs, hanging out with their kids on the jungle was picture perfect. Then, like we stumbled on to some kind of by-invitation-only-party, several of the dogs and dog owners from our own community came out. They let their dogs off the leash to run and play. It seemed like a weekly activity to me. London looked longingly at the other dogs, then flashed her big brown eyes up at me. "Come on", I told her and we jogged over to the other people. They welcomed us with [literally] open arms, and I am pretty sure even the dogs were excited to see London. We stayed and let them play until it got dark.

We were both all smiles when we were walking back home. As cheesy as it sounds, I think we both had fun. My shy, sweet girl turned her lazy momma into a member of the community just by being friendly.
Imagine that ;)

We are still learning about her every single day. There's a lot to learn about a dog you just met... and vice versa! But her little personality shines through every day. She's funny and stubborn, but still so sweet and affectionate. When she thinks you're upset with her (which is really rare as it is), she will bring one of her toys as a sort of peace offering. She drops it at your feet, then ducks her head as if to say she's sorry. If you were mad to begin with, you certainly aren't anymore. We love her so much. Even our sweet kitty would never admit that she loves her new sister, but she does. And London feels the same way. London goes looking for "sissy" (we're crazy... and insist they know they're sisters), they give kisses, and they even share meals together... i.e. Chloe drinks all of London's water while London is busy eating. Last night, for the first time ever, we saw them sort of play together.

The more that we get to know about London, the more I hope to grow with her. I can't speak for Spencer (though I know he wouldn't disagree), but owning her has made me a better person all around. It has forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and try new things.

It's an amazing thing, the way animals make us better people.

sweet london by the pitcher's mound at the
community center this past weekend.
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Anonymous said...

Oh I love this! I love dogs so much and London seems like the best! It is crazy hard to make pals around town (one of the many reasons I love knitting!) so I'm glad London is taking you out so people can get to know how awesome you are!

afairlie said...

So true! London introduces me to a variety of people that don't have anything to do with design or knitting. Despite those two facts, they're still pretty alright ;) And thank you! Sure wish you lived closer!

Janice with Word of Mouth Designs said...

I hear the theme song of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" playing in the background ... you're gonna make it after all. I can't wait to meet London. She seems pretty cool!!

afairlie said...

You making fun of me? ;) Really, you will love her!

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