Recently I experienced a lot of down time. If my hands aren’t full, I am not comfortable, though I had no choice and I spent more time than usual thinking.
One of the days I spent a morning on the porch and Boo was rolling her ball to me so I could toss it out the door for her to roll along the paving stones around the pool and back to me, a game we call “roller ball.” Roller ball is a go-to diversion, fun, exercise and more calming than any drug ever could have been for Boo.
I smiled thinking about Boo – a fourteen-week-old puppy who demanded constant engagement and work when she came to us. We had already been through Border Collie Puppy Shock with Sadie fifteen years before, though nothing could have prepared us for the oncoming “Boo-nado” that was about to tear through our lives. Crate time was insisted upon, though mostly resulted in an extensive investment in Midwest Crate accessories. Boo could not turn off and I refused the vet recommendation to drug her. Boo needed more.
Now, just weeks away from her sixth birthday, Boo has an off switch. Granted, it sticks sometimes, though she proved her off switch beyond a doubt recently. She also proved, as my friend Lisha said in a text, “Boo knows all you have done for her,” a statement that will always moisten my eyes and soften my heart.
Boo’s lithe, muscular body flows along the edge of the pool fluid as the water, Coyote hop-trot keeping perfect time to the bumpa-ty-bump-bump of the Kong ball she guides expertly. The sun glimmers off of her soft, light fur, tossed by a playful breeze, iridescent black giving way to secretive Red Dog highlights.
Next door I hear the child on the porch that overlooks our back yard – what we once referred to as the “porch of death” where three Cur dogs and a large black Great Dane terrorized Boo the first two years of her life. The renters insisted the dogs were “expressing themselves” and it was necessary since they were “rescues” to “set their souls free from the pain they endured.” Animal Control and the Sheriff’s department had no power as, “nothing has happened.” Though no one accounted for the extensive damage this ravaged upon Boo’s already unbalanced soul – which paid a dear, dear price. I knew from the beginning all that had to be done for Boo would have to come from me.
The child began her “cooing” to Boo – I tell my husband she is part Mourning Dove – I had asked her on several instances to ignore Boo, though the behavior continues. Initially Boo reacted wildly, “anteloping” as we call the hop-bounce back and forth along the fence, barking, refusing to call off, which would cause the Dove-child’s cooing to escalate to a shrill, high-pitched – something – that tone being kryptonite to Boo. I watch now as Boo reacts in a soft manner, ears back with a full-body wriggle. A solitary, soft “Boo, don’t” from where I sit on the porch breaks the trance, Boo checks in and returns the ball to me and we continue the game despite the Dove-child’s attempt to engage my dog. Though I am pleased that Boo reacts softly now, I refuse to give anyone who lives there or anyone for that matter the ability to produce the reaction they are looking for from my dog. It is my decision what I choose to allow and it is based on what is best for Boo. I love that she is now free of so much that once triggered confusion and fear.
On a blow-by, Boo senses my current state, drops her barbell, lowers her head and circles herself tight between my legs, pressing into me like she does, head on my knee. I bury my face into her soft ruff. She searches out my neck and puts her sweet snout up behind my ear and I fall into the comfort of her warm, sweet breath on my skin. I hold her like this for a long, long time. No one – no one – loves as Boo loves. Boo is perfect.
What I would have missed on this tumble down our Rabbit Hole had I not randomly come across that fat little split-face puppy picture on the Internet a few weeks after Sadie’s flight. If I had not followed my heart and decided that moment we were driving to Bryceville the next day to bring her home I would have missed these new friends – these true, dearest of friends – I have made. I would have missed the growth in my understanding of a certain sense of things buried away as a child and a new life surrounded by working dogs. I would have missed the countless times I have witnessed the ancient, primal magic of the moment as prey drive turns on and the instinct surfaces – the thrill and amazement of the owners as we talk about what is happening – nature front and center with their dog playing a starring role, bold, vibrating – so damn real and alive. I would have missed wonderful people who devote their lives on so many levels to these most amazing creatures we call dogs. I would have missed knowing all these dogs, observing them and their differences and likenesses and hearing their stories.
I would have missed Liam, who put that first spade to Boo’s soul to carefully, lovingly unearth her pain. Without Boo, Liam would have never driven that spike into my hard-built exterior that was not made of the steel I believed I was forging – just a cheap Teflon coating after all – in the Big Field that glorious blue and green February day. I can still taste the air of that day – I still can see him side-stepping me, looking over his broad shoulder, throwing out his first Coyote Red Dog eye roll assessment of me to make sure I was, indeed, “her.”
At the Farm, I see a lot of “hard dogs” – though I have not yet seen one as “hard” as Boo was in her entirety. I know these owners. I know their embarrassments, struggles, thoughts, fears, searches, pain, exhaustion, frustrations – I know they cry. There isn’t much I can say to them other than this dog they have – this beautiful, locked, creature – is looking to them for the golden keys – even when it feels like defiance – it is an honest, open, desperate search.
The balanced relationship we strive for as dog and owner is a waltz of nature – everyone’s journey and purpose is different. What is not different is each Rabbit Hole has doors, golden keys and answers. The worst one can do is quit opening doors, close off ears and senses and communication or believe that there is only one solid way to achieve peace and balance for the hard dog. And also – to always remember – it’s not all about the dog.
When asked about our journey I find less is best. Though the overall forest might appear similar, the trees grow individually and the paths and terrain vary throughout. There is no perfect answer and words cannot do the experience justice.
The best I can do is to suggest to take those books, situations, failures, work, lost causes, training tools, classes, hard-fought wins, tears, sleepless nights, mistakes, the pain and the love, open a Maytag and throw it all in.
As fellow dog lover Miranda assures us, it’ll all come out in the wash.
“And the laundry list goes like this – Every teardrop, every white lie, Every dirty cotton sheet, let it line dry – All the mistakes, all the wild streaks, That’s why the good Lord made bleach, uh-oh! ‘Cause it’ll all come out, all come out in the wash, Every little stain, every little heartbreak, no matter how messy it got – You take the sin and the men and you throw ’em all in, And you put that sucker on spin – Yeah, you put that sucker on spin…”
Lyrics: Liz Rose/Hillary Lee Lindsey/Miranda Lambert/Lori Mc Kenna