I stepped in dog shit today.
In a different pair of shoes because I stepped in it yesterday, too, and hadn’t had time to clean them. Yesterday, I was mad, but today? Today, I nearly collapsed. “I am a prisoner in my own home,” I moaned, head between my legs, trying to hold myself together. “Inside and outside!” I may have rocked back and forth just a bit.
Before I leave the house, the dog has to be locked in her crate. This is the second one she has destroyed and now the door has to be secured with two clasps and covered with a thick blanket to trap the excessive hair she will shed due to anxiety. The crate is now in the storage room with a fan blowing over a mango-scented candle so the entire basement will not reek from her panic-induced body-licking odor.
I would gladly leave her out. I don’t enjoy opening the slobber-soaked clasps. We tried to affix a “gate” to the stairwell so that she could hang out in the sunlight, but she can get under it. And when that happens, she opens the door to the kitchen cabinet and digs through the trash. She pushes open my bedroom door, jumps into our bed, and roots around the pillows trying to find my husband’s scent, leaving her black hair all over the sheets. She buries any chewy thing we’ve left in her crate in my new couch cushions and leaves claw marks and gashes. She gulps down her food and then vomits on my Turkish carpet.
We’ve tried anxiety meds for her. The last resort? Give them to me.
I do not like dogs. I never have. Really, I’m just not an animal person. But I have kids, and when we finally got our own house with an actual yard, it was four against one. That was eleven years ago. And, as much as I love those kids, they are horrible dog owners. I offer my soiled shoes as proof.
No, the real reason our dog is still alive and in our home is that I married a man whose story of becoming starts and ends with animals. And I love him a lot.
His childhood friends were horses and dogs. Loyal companions through mountain forests as he escaped the chaos of having a sister with severe disabilities. Understandably, yet regrettably, her needs trumped his. Buddy, his horse, offered the attention and attunement his little boy heart craved.* Toby and Appy, his hyper Labrador retrievers, were substitutes for the playmates rural mountain life precluded. In every way, they made life bearable, if not a little bit better.
Furry, slobbery, and faithful.
Today, before I stepped in dog shit, I woke to an empty bed and a still and quiet house. I knew my husband was in “his chair” downstairs, and I knew the dog was by his side. Over an hour passed before her signature ear shake loudly signaled they were making their way up for a coffee refill. She came first, and when he lingered the slightest bit, she herded him up the stairs, running up and down, up and down, until they were both on the same floor. I find this behavior to be suffocating and irritating. He feels loved.
I frequently say thoughtless things like, “She’s not coming to our new house,” or, “We probably have about three years left, right?” When I’m truly at my wits’ end, I declare I can’t do it anymore: “Figure it out!”
But deep down, I know I’ll never let him give her away (or worse) because I love him too much. No, I own a dog because I love a man who became who he is through his pets. Who grounds himself each morning in the stillness of our home, in a big old thrift store chair with a loyal companion at his side: Bible, journal, coffee, dog. And it has yielded our marriage three almost-adults, a business, a nonprofit, and a whole lot of his own story work.
Owning a dog may be the most sacrificial thing I’ve ever done in my life. I guess that’s what love is all about. And I guess I do it because I love a man.
*My husband shared about the power of this narrative in his TEDx talk.
Beth Bruno lives in Colorado where she and her husband lead a team of ReStory™ experts at Restoration Counseling Center. Additionally, as a podcaster, author, and content strategist, Beth guides women to raise fierce and lovely teen girls. When she’s not creating something new, she and her family enjoy the mountains, traveling, and good food.