Ollie got a clean bill of health today from the vet, although he ate a cotton ball and also snapped at the poor doc when he was messing too long with his mouth or eyes or something. No teeth-baring, just like, snap, get off! The doc pulled his hand away fine, but I hate when that happens. That sounds like an old sarcastic joke, but truly, I hate it. It embarrasses me. Remember, there are no bad dogs, just bad owners . . .
I don’t think I’m a bad owner. Nor do I think Ollie, an 85-pound yellow lab who’s about 10 give or take a couple years (based on the initial Humane Society guess five years back) is a bad dog. Quirky, yeah. Feisty around (most) other dogs, hell yeah, sigh. One with arthritic ankles, and whose sight is starting to cloud from cataracts enough so that people on bikes suddenly freak him out when they never used to, because I guess he isn’t sure if they’re fish or fowl or friend, why yes, heavier sigh.
We got Ollie pretty much on a whim, about as spontaneously as I’d ever allowed my uptight self to be since, well, ever. (That’s pitiful, but it’s also another story.) About a year after we met the awful chore of putting down an awesome cat-dog named Socks, one of those felines that defy cathood and behave all friendly and doggie-like, the kids were itching and itching for an actual dog-dog. That I listened, and then entertained, the idea, was an upset of the century in a way. I’d never owned a dog. My dad the mailman wouldn’t allow it when I was a kid, for obvious he-despised-dogs reasons. But I finally realized I had used that long-expired ban as an excuse far into adulthood, so far in it was ridiculous:
“Oh, you weren’t allowed to have a dog as a kid? Big damn deal. You’ve been an adult now forever. Or haven’t you noticed?”
“Yeah, but I don’t really like dogs. They’re messy. They poop all over and throw up and shed. You gotta walk ’em in rainstorms and stuff. They chase and bite people. I’m scared of dogs anyway. They smell my fear, you know. No dog would want me blahblah whinewhine shutthehellup . . . ”
We got a dog. What happened was, a reporter sent a newsroom-wide email alerting potential dog-owners to an ADORABLE yellow lab crated within the Portsmouth Humane Society that anybody looking just HAD TO MEET. So we went. It was hair-raising. Among scads of bellowing pit bulls and beagles and street-mutts sat this big yellow lab serenely in a cage, seemingly oblivious to the din. The Humane Society people had temporarily named him Heathcliff, for God’s sake, but that was fine. Nobody there could really say where he came from, what his back story was. He just kind of showed up or was turned in a few days earlier and that was that.
We asked to meet the dog, take him for a little leash-spin in the yard. The boy took the lead on that; he’d been dog-agitating the most as he entered sophomore year of high school as his sister departed for college. We left, discussed it all that night, went back the next day — maybe the day after that, I’m fuzzy. And when we left the dingy animal barracks this time, a large, yellow lab newly named Ollie — a skateboard trick, but also just a cool name the boy liked — sat in the back seat of the van, slobbering, as it motored him toward a home that would never be the same.
Just like that. No looking back. No regret. Consternation for sure over the copious blond wisps and tufts of hair that suddenly appeared in piles on the floor, the furniture, the pant legs. Budgetary consideration to the monthly demands of food and medicine and supplies, you bet. Special food when his stomach proved finicky. Special attention on walks when it became obvious — to our horror when he would chase down a fellow dog in the field to sniff and then, almost always, to start a scrap — that he didn’t play well with others. Go to the dog park? Um, nope.
But never a regret, especially as time and life morphed “his” home from four to three to two to one permanent human resident.
Oh, like any insufferable dog owner, I could go on and on and on. I’ll suffice to say what older first-time parents always say: they cannot believe they nearly missed out. What they thought of as way too much mess and expense and imposition melts away in the instant they hold the baby. To a lesser extent, but still a remarkable one, it’s like that with a first dog when its eyes lock onto yours — dogs are among the few mammals to do that, right? — and we humanize them into non-speaking humanoids who feel our emotions and think our thoughts.
I don’t know for sure about all of that, but I do know Ollie teaches me things, every day. It’s on me to absorb the lesson. But it’s there. I grab for the leash, any time of day or night, and it’s as if the dog is a Kentucky thoroughbred sprung from the starting gate. Pavlov, I ain’t, but Ollie on cue leaps and harrumphs and sneezes and shakes and spins as if the walk he knows is about to occur will be OHMYGODTHEBESTWALKEVEREVEREVER!! …. The clip locks on, the door opens . . . and he is off to the smells, tastes, snuffles, wonders and threats for the very first time instead of whatever the endless count is up to, pulling along his bad owner, pacing in circles, canine-crazy for the exact same turf he has padded and marked for days and years.
That is pure gratitude, people. That is the honest act of taking nothing for granted, not ever. That is rising to meet each opportunity with freshness, with the joy — if not the actual processed thought — that this moment among so many will be unlike any other, past or future. The best moment. Today. Right now!
A sloppy, frenetic lab tries to tell me this every day. I haven’t always been good at paying attention. My bill of listening health, as it were, has blemishes and sour attitudes. That is to say, I’m not always the good boy, not at all.
But in that, I swear I am behaving better — so help one best friend that has never had one bad day.