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Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Belated Anniversary

We just passed an anniversary that I thought I would blog about... yet I haven't. Miss Nancy, our dear German Shepherd pup, showed up on the doorstep a year ago last Friday. I wish I could tell you how lovely life is with Nancy, how she has enriched our lives and how we can't imagine living without her.

Unfortunately, bless her stupid doggy heart, I do a lot of imagining what life would be like without her. In fact, sometimes I long for the days, pre-Nancy, when our household was less likely to explode in sudden frenzy and certainly had less hair floating around it.

Q: How often do German Shepherd's shed hair?

A: Once a year... for 365 days.

In the last year our lives have turned from one doggy rehabilitation program to another. The whole family has become obsessed with Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, yet we haven't quite got our own whispering skills down to a science. We've spent more on medical bills for Nancy than the entire rest of the family combined.

The lesson seems to be... taking in strays, no matter how cute and needy they may be when they appear on your doorstep, is not necessarily the wisest course of action.

The fact of the matter is... she's taken a little piece of my heart, even with all the trouble she has caused, and at the end of the day, when all is said and done...

I love watching her do her little downward doggy stretch when she's waking from a nap...

I love when she spreads her body across the floor and sleeps soundly as her nails tap on the linoleum in tune to her dreams...

I love when she sits primly in front of me and shakes on command or begs for a treat...

I love that we exercise more as a family (daily!) because of her.

I love her best days when she walks beside me with ease, as if she's confident and happy to be there, especially when there is wind in our hair and a cool breeze at our back.

I even love (at least get a kick out of on occasion) when she steals pillows off the couch or socks from the basket in an ornery attempt to get our attention.

Unfortunately, the list of things I wish I could change about Miss Nancy is twice as long. I have no way of knowing what her life was like in the three to four months before she found us. I have no way of knowing if she could have been a better dog, a less damaged dog. I have no way of going back and redoing any mistakes I may have made with her along the way (and we have made plenty... every day we have learned new and better ways to interact with this dog).

Visually, Nancy is a lovely animal. She loves our family and is very loyal. She's a pleasure to be around most of the time... as long as it is only us, only family. She's afraid of strangers. She's afraid of strange places. She gets anxious about things like the kids being three steps ahead or behind if we are out. She gets up every morning and counts us. She is most relaxed when the whole family is in the same room. When someone is missing she worries and she searches. She is definately a shepherd. She loves keeping tabs on the flock.

I've come to realize that I don't often write about our trials with her because I feel more than a bit of guilt. I have these words that run through my head, there is no bad dog, just bad dog owners. I've been fighting that feeling a lot lately. I don't believe I'm a bad dog owner. I guess I don't believe that Nancy is bad either. But I do believe she is damaged, and I don't know if we will ever see a fully recovered and healthy dog.

I guess I still have hope though. Or, at the very least, I believe that maybe it can be enough that she is happy in our home. Here she feels safe and it seems like every creature deserves just a bit of safety. She's still young, and maybe in time she will become the dog we hope she will be.

Meanwhile, it can be exhausting. It can be trying and frustrating. But I try not to let myself focus on that. Instead, I try to think about the times when she's looking at me with her sweet brown eyes, tipping her head sideways as if she is realizing some secret about me for the first time, and stretching out to sleep and take up most of our very limited floor space.

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