On the Godly Nature of Dog Ownership

My husband and I were struck by the fluffy heap of life that was a pile of newborn puppies at their mama’s belly. They presented an amazing array of Labrador colors: black and blackish, brown and auburn, yellow with black eyeliner and noses, and yellow with cinnamon tips. We came to the farm knowing we were seeking a yellow one. The little blondes with the black noses were adorable in their teddy-bearness — almost too cute to be real! — but those cinnamon tortilla-chip ears called to us.

We gently picked up each of the two cinnamons to sense the vibe. It stirs the soul to realize that the fragile, warm beast in your cupped hands will become a full-grown, eighty-pound Labrador in a year or two. Our reaction was immediate. “We’ll take that one with the curly hair on her back — the one with the white spot on her head and the weird markings on her nose. Yep, that faulty one.” We are suckers for imperfection, and this one was clearly unlikely to be a prize for some Labrador purist, but she called to our hearts.

And so Maya entered our lives. Maya: a popular name for dogs in 2012, as it was the year that some people declared would be the last, according to the Mayan calendar. (I’m still waiting….)

Our little freak did not disappoint! The temperature on her home farm had been in the 90s that summer, luring Maya and her siblings to burrow into the cool dirt beneath the chicken coop when they tumbled out of their kennel. She bore the unique glaze produced by hot dogs, combined with the aroma of coop. The overbaked puppy melted into our home on her first day with us, lying on her back for several hours, her legs floppy, to fully absorb through her belly the miracle of air conditioning. We gave her a closer inspection. Her delightful flaws continued. “Seven nipples? Are you sure? The other one must be hidden under her fur. I thought those things came in pairs.” That eighth nipple was never found.

Maya was a bat-shit crazy puppy, determined to viciously yank every flower from its pot and shake it to death, and to anxiously dig holes in whichever spot in the lawn she deemed worthy. (The entire lawn was worthy.) She ate rocks. She cherished the males in the house but spurned me, the female who’d ultimately chosen her. I had to lure her into my lap in the evening to sit with me. She decided the best way to pass her required girl-time was by chewing a bully. (A bully? Yes, a bull penis specially dried and prepared for dogs’ chewing enjoyment. To this day, I still lack the words to describe the aroma of bully. Pungent is only a start.) My daughter and I had to drag a stuffed-duck toy in front of Maya to entice her to walk on a leash. Maya had (and continues to have) a loathing for brooms and their intolerable hissing. She attacks them with vengeance. No patio or sidewalk will be swept clean in her presence. It was a long haul to tame our little beast.

We negotiated a truce by the time she was six months old. I provide her with adventures (visits to the woods and fields to run free), and she provides me with companionship and loads of amusement. She was the most athletic puppy I’d ever seen, leaping downed trees like some canine steeplechaser and flying low across wide forest pools. She is shockingly clever and worthy of a far more skilled trainer than I am, but she seems to have determined that I will do.

All her canine instincts intact, she is quick to leave no stink unrolled, even if that stink is a solid air freshener that tumbled out of someone’s garbage into the street. Hey, in her mind you never know when the predators might be coming, so you need to conceal yourself in the most sensible way possible. Dead fish and motor oil are also desirable. She often takes on a ninja disguise as well, clothing herself in the fragrant black muck of a slushy bog. Bonus points for every methane bubble released.

Maya shares my love of outdoor coffee early in the AM, even when rain is falling or the thermometer reads well below zero. We’re just fine, thank you, “earthing” in the most Wisconsin way. She is my adventure buddy and my jogging companion. She lightens my most serious morning prayers, shaking a stick at me — little temptress! She mocks my yoga asanas and shows me how that puppy pose should really be done. Chakras remain unbalanced when a dog sticks her claws into the back of your hand during child’s pose. Oh well, I think my chakras are furry, anyway.

And so, Miss Maya: I chose you from the puppy pile when I could hold you in my hands, before your eyes even opened. I adored you from the very beginning, and my love continues to grow. I understand your fears and quirks, but I will firmly and gently guide you to a better, happier, braver life, even when you stubbornly choose to ignore me. We’ll get there together. You will always be my dear one.

(But … I am a benevolent god, as every pet owner should be.)