Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It’s Easy To Love a Well-Behaved Dog. It’s Harder To Love Chance

I didn’t know when I adopted Chance that puppies need to interact with other dogs to learn social cues. A well-socialized dog employs a soft growl to tell another dog “you’re in my space.” A puppy who interacts with a variety of other dogs learns to roughhouse in a playful, rather than a threatening, way. Chance had Tilly for company and I mistakenly thought that was enough. I was depressed and in a bad marriage. Nothing got me off the couch. By the time I started taking better care of myself and walking the dogs every day, it was too late.

I divorced my first husband and the dogs took care of me. Chance made me feel safe in a large, empty house. Tilly shared my bed, resting her head on my ex-husband’s pillow. But I hated being the owner of a bad dog. I felt ashamed turning away someone whose dog wanted to play and telling a schoolchild she couldn’t pet Chance. I lived in constant fear of him attacking someone.

Yet in some ways, I am the perfect owner for Chance. An introvert, I identify with his desire to be left alone. I empathize with his feelings of jealousy. When Steve and I married and Tilly transferred her loyalty to him, lying at his feet instead of mine, I could hardly suppress my rage.

It’s easy to love a well-behaved dog. It’s harder to love Chance, with his bristly personality and tendency toward violence. Yet in the end, I measure the success of my relationship with Chance by its challenges, because if I can’t love him at his most imperfect what use is love?

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