This is a weird time of year for me – a sad, emotionally restless time of year. April 6th was the nine year anniversary of my father’s death, and I’ve noticed that each year – around the end of March – I start feeling ‘heavy.’
My thoughts are darker, my moods are lower, and everything feels more difficult to handle. Residual grief, reminding me that no matter how many years pass by, there will always be periods when it feels as raw and painful as it did in the beginning. My body’s way of reminding me that time, in fact, does not heal all – as the saying goes.
Time passes, and the loss does not become easier. We simply adapt. We figure out how to keep breathing and placing one foot in front of the other, in a world that was irrevocably changed without our consent. Time passes, and we become better at bearing the burden – but we are never fully healed. I once read that grief is the price of love.
Truer words have never been written.
One year ago today, I welcomed my pit bull – now affectionately known as Hippo – into my life with open arms and an open heart. I didn’t realize the significance in the timing until I started reflecting on it recently… But last year, on April 6th, is when I reached out to a Houston rescue organization about this dog I’d seen online. A beautiful dog, with soulful eyes, whose face called out to me on an intrinsic level. As nervous as I was about adopting out-of-state, and taking on such a huge responsibility, I think I knew immediately that he was mine.
As my friend Sara said, “I didn’t have a choice. He chose me.”
Everything happened very fast. I sent my inquiry email on April 6th, and he was here on the 18th. While I knew exactly what I was getting myself into physically, with a 70-pound pit bull, I had NO idea what I was getting myself into emotionally.
Of course I knew I was going to love him insanely – that goes without saying. What I didn’t expect, was how each and every insecurity I have about myself (that I’ve worked really hard in therapy to address and overcome) would be brought to the surface and mirrored in every aspect of caring for this dog.
My self-doubt, my feelings of inadequacy, and my fears of ‘never being enough,’ all came rushing to the surface in utterly ridiculous ways. I worried about not being good enough for him – a homeless pit bull, who came from the streets of Houston, who was covered in mange and fighting injuries when he was rescued. How could I not be good enough, when all any rescue animal wants – is a loving home?
I worried that I couldn’t offer him the life he deserved. I felt guilty for not having a house with a yard for him to run in, and for not having the money to enroll him in doggy daycare while I went to work and left him alone during the week.
When he arrived, clearly confused and scared, I worried that I wasn’t doing enough to make him feel safe and comfortable.
I still wish he had a place where he could run each day… I still hate leaving him alone while I’m at work. I wish I had the means to rescue a companion for him – I know he’d love to have a sibling to romp around with. All of these things, I hope to be able to give him – someday.
But honestly, when I see the bigger picture, I have to admit that the dude has a pretty sweet life. Truly, he’s the center of my world. Once I allowed myself to believe in that truth, I was able to be present and open to what he was teaching me.
Patience. With myself, and with him. When I compare Hippo today to Hippo one year ago, the difference is as drastic as night and day. Those changes happened very gradually, and there were times when I wanted to pull my hair out. His separation anxiety threatened to be the death of my sanity. You know what though? Unexpected people come along and offer incredible generosity, in ways that change your life. Things fall into place. And there are steel crates that even the stealthiest canine Houdini’s are unable to escape from.
Deeper self-acceptance. Acknowledging that I don’t have all the answers, nor can I control everything. This is a tough one… I don’t do well with things I cannot predict, nor control. Guess what? That’s LIFE. And even at 33 years old, I still need to be reminded.
Personal safety. Yes, Hippo is a pit bull. But he has a very sweet, sometimes timid demeanor. He hides in the closet when he knows I’m leaving, and he’ll shy away from many of the people who try to approach him – mainly men.
I remember talking to my friend Kyle last summer, and he remarked that I have “a living, breathing security system.”
I laughed, and joked that if a perpetrator broke into my apartment, Hippo would probably be more frightened than myself.
Several months later, I woke up in the dead of night to the unfamiliar sound of Hippo growling. He was standing over me on the bed in a semi-crouch, staring at the window, hackles raised, and just snarling.
As I sat up, he realized I was awake – and he jumped off the bed and charged at the window, barking in a way that I’d never heard from him before.
He’s not a barker, at all. He’ll occasionally play-bark when he encounters a dog he desperately wants to interact with, but this was a primal, defensive, “don’t-fuck-with-me” bark.
I was half-asleep, and I couldn’t hear anything unusual going on outside… All the same, I was struck with a very comforting reality. This dude has my back. He can be a total pansy when he knows that all is well… But when push comes to shove, his instincts are a force to be reckoned with.
I owned a 40-caliber handgun for years; and I kept it loaded and hidden underneath my bed. When I was in the Bay Area, it was stolen from the house where I was living. I was panic-stricken, and completely blindsided with the realization that my entire concept of personal safety was tied to a having a deadly weapon within reach while I was sleeping.
Not exactly healthy.
A friend of mine advised that I think about getting a dog. Seven months later, I did. And I’ll tell you something – I have never felt safer in my life, than I do with my big lug nestled against me each night, hogging the bed.
Pure, unadulterated joy, every single day. That’s what he gives me. He gets me out of bed, even when all I want to do is stay cocooned under the covers and wallow in whatever nonsense happens to be stressing me out. He forces me to face the world, when all I want to do is hide from it.
The moment I first saw Hippo’s photo online, I knew how much I wanted him. I had NO idea whatsoever, how much I needed him. Zero, zip, zilch – and I was in for the awakening of a lifetime. I joke now, and say that I’m ‘CoDogPendent.’
And you know what? I’m okay with that.
So this year, when my residual grief brought me to that darker place, I found comfort in my sweet, goofy, often annoying yet lovable savior. He’s my therapy, my companion, and I’d love to think that my dad was giving me a little nudge when I just ‘had’ to inquire about him.
Life is hard. Loss is harder. So I say, embrace the things that save you – and keep you breathing.