When my husband retired more than ten years ago, I decided he needed a dog to keep him company. After some internet research, he selected a Cairns Terrier. Enter Max, the dog. For the next four years as I continued to work full-time, Paul and Max became pals through and through.
When I retired, I joined the “boys” while looking for new ways to engage my brain. I had always enjoyed dogs and training them came naturally to me. I seized upon the idea of getting another dog, one that I could train exclusively for the purpose of bringing joy to those trapped by illness or old age, an emotional support dog – enter Harry. Max, however, was not amused.
While not overly aggressive towards Harry, Max was not eager to engage in playful pursuits. Things were okay as long as Harry stayed out of Max’s way. I was hopeful that over time the two dogs would bond.
Meanwhile, our routine of sending Max to daycare twice a week continued, thus giving me exclusive time to train Harry, first in obedience then in other skills needed for outbound comfort activities as he matured.
But life is never a straight line from point A to point B and we were about to suffer a heavy blow.
Max returned home from daycare one day not long after Harry’s arrival displaying anxious behavior. I cannot and will not for my own sake describe what the next 36-hours were like. Suffice to say, by the end Max became a memory. He’s prognosis and rapid decline left us devasted in a way we could not have imagined.
Returning home with one empty crate and the other holding a tiny creature somewhat bewildered by the sounds emanating from deep within my body, we entered the house. We closed the door, pulled the shades, barely ate, or spoke, and spent the next week isolated from the world as we mourned Max and tried to care for Harry.
Harry’s presence those first few days after losing Max felt like a massive intrusion to our grieving. We provided food and a safe environment for the months old puppy. We gave him exercise and instruction. As for my forming an attachment, well, that seemed impossible. We just wanted Max back, alive and well and beside me.
As the days passed and the demands of living drew our attention back to the present, we got on with it. Harry looked into my eyes as if saying, “Love me. I need you.” I let go of what I could no longer have and drew Harry close.
For his part, Harry had simply been waiting. That’s what dogs do, even puppies. He observed us and waited for us to realize he was there and more than ready to be our private emotional support dog. As each hour passed, he found new ways to seduce me into not just taking good care of him, but loving him. Dogs can be great healers when they get the chance.
And so everyday Harry proved himself capable of drawing me out of my self-imposed prison of grief and into the world of sunshine, ball tossing, walks, and lots of hugging and patting. Although I had brought Harry into our home to become a trained support dog to others, he hadn’t needed training to heal our wounded hearts.
As if knowing I needed more attention than Paul, he followed me everywhere around the house, learned the rules of good housekeeping almost overnight, and was not overly demanding most of the time. But he was present and watching and ready.
I would take him to the nursing home and place him in the laps of residents whose wilted spirits would brighten, if only for a moment. My mother in her diminished capability to enjoy life perked up when Harry laid beside her. He was a lover not a fighter for sure.
Ma passed and Harry was once again pressed into the role of grief counselor. But as sure as I had been that he and I would continue to work towards providing joy to others, I couldn’t bring myself to continue visiting nursing homes. First Dad then Ma. It was too hard to consider and so I abandoned the idea of training Harry for the benefit of other people. Selfishly, he would be all mine.
Harry is a joy and has completely filled our need to have a pet in our lives. I do share Harry with Paul and Harry knows the deal. He knows who is going to take him out at 8:00 pm or 3:00 am, and who is going to feed him breakfast. He knows who is truly in charge and who he can trick into passing down those cookies.
For the past six years, Harry has proven he belongs with us: we are a pack. So when he recently blew out his ACL chasing a ball in the backyard, we went to work reorganizing our lives to accommodate our Harry.
As I write, he is tucked beside my hip resting, occasionally looking up as if to say, “When will this be over?” The vet said it may heal, but that the knee will always be a weak spot now, “No more chasing a ball … he’s now a senior citizen in spite of his age.” It was like a hammer came down on us.
Paul and I are committed to do all we can to give Harry a long and comfortable life. You may see us soon in Mattapoisett village pushing a dog stroller with our Harry riding inside. He’s got 12 weeks of recovery, then a lifetime of low-key living nestled in our love. We’ve become his emotional support system in his time of need. Paul and I have overcome our ego driven sense of feeling ridiculous pushing a stroller holding a dog. We’ll get through this; Harry knows how to wait.
This Mattapoisett Life
By Marilou Newell