© 2012 Joshua Stark
I'm a big dog person, in all three senses of the phrase. I love big dogs, I have a big love for dogs, and lately I'm getting big, and not in a good way. So it's no surprise that I am looking to bring a new dog into my life right now. And yet, I'm still a bit torn about it.
Last year, as I wrote, I lost a dear friend to my heart, my dog of 12 years, Irma Ruth. I'd found her in a pear orchard in Lake County, California, when she was probably about 8 months old, and she stole my heart from that first instant I saw her. I've many, many stories to tell about her, and I may get around to it one day here on the blog, but right now it is just too emotional, still, for me to describe them. Also, when I write them, I want them to honor her and to be good, and that just doesn't happen for me at 5:30 in the morning after 3 hours of sleep and trying to get a baby boy to, for the Love of All that is Good and Holy, Just Lay Down and Go to Sleep.
One thing I loved about Irma is that she was a mutt, most likely a border collie/golden retriever mix. She was smart as a whip, had a great nose for birds, and was an amazing family protector.
Now, though, she is gone on. I hope she is waiting for me, but like every man who had a good dog understands, deep down I know that I won't live up to the standards required to get where something that loving and good goes to when it gets called home. Thank God I'm a Christian, as I am banking on forgiveness to be able to see her again.
I find myself, then, for the first time in my life without a pet in my home. Sure, I lived away for a bit during college, but at home there were always dogs and cats. Now, with two kids, we own a house with no animals. And that bothers me.
My daughter, at five years old, is scared of dogs... and cats, and putting her head under water (the latter being perfectly reasonable, in my humble opinion). And a stiff wind kinda bothers her, too. Also, the notion that leprechauns may actually exist has kept her up a night or two (thank you very much, Mrs. Hansen!).
Now, most of these fears are healthy: I would be disconcerted, too, if I were told that little green men ran amok in my heretofore perfectly safe preschool; and people who put their heads under water are obviously just looking for trouble, if you ask me.
I also don't mind that she is afraid of dogs, in general. But it has always bothered me that she became afraid of Irma one day and for no reason. It was just that one day she realized that Irma was big and out of her control, and that freaked her out.
I don't want her to feel this way forever. I don't want my daughter to grow up being afraid of her own dogs. I know a dog's love is like no other and I want her to experience that love, hopefully with the sense that she'll look for a significant other one day with those same traits, never find it, and instead take the professional path her father hopes for her as a fabulously wealthy and famous nun.
My son, on the other hand, is eighteen months old, that time in a young child's life when light sockets and bodies of water just become fascinating, and the mirror starts to seem suspicious, as if maybe something tricky is going on because that other kid in there looks somewhat familiar, yet cold and distant, and he might be mocking.
He loves all animals, he simply loves them. If it moves of its own accord, then it is worthy of adoration. If it moves and has four legs, it is, of course and obviously, a dog (our last trip to the zoo, I had no idea how many dogs there were in this world: dogs with long necks, dogs with antlers, dogs with snouts, etc.).
He used to look out the back door and say, "Irma!" He doesn't say it anymore, and I know for sure he'll never remember her consciously, but he will have a sense of her having been in his life, in the way he moves and acts in the world... just like his old man, who as a toddler, it is told, often tried to eat and drink with the puppies when he wasn't trying to stomp on their little heads.
I don't want that simple love to disappear, either. I want it to grow within him until he realizes the truth of lines like what Chad Love found inscribed in a thrift store book.
Even more simply, I want both my children to be able to go to their dog and get the unconditional love that can only come from a dog: that simple, all-encompassing love that appreciates and craves only your very existence, fully and completely and without shame or reservation for showing it. And I want them to know and love another creature, too, to feel that sense of connection.
I want that for myself, too. But, I'm afraid I'll fall short... shoot, I know I'll fall short, in reciprocating that Love. After all, I am a man, a human being.
I also have all sorts of pragmatic reasons for getting a new dog: I hunt, we like having a superhuman guardian, etc. But those are fluff. I love dogs, and I loving having a dog. Or two, even. So later today my son and I are heading off to Oakland to look at a one-year old rescue springer spaniel (and probably border collie mix) by the name of Morgan. In talking to the foster owner, she seems like a good fit for a family with kids. And who knows, perhaps she'll hunt (I've been lurking on springer spaniel-related websites for a few days now in hopes that perhaps she'll take to it).
I'm not saying we'll get her, and I'm pretty clear-headed when it comes to taking a dog, but even just going to see her is a big deal. I still miss Irma so much, and I feel a tinge of guilt that I'm looking at another dog to keep (Irma wasn't big on other dogs). I think, today, I'm looking at myself as much as that dog. You see, I don't want to be resentful, constantly comparing any new dog to my old dog. I want any new dog in my life to fill the hole put in my heart for that dog. Anything less would be unfair.