It’s funny how I can spend days poring over every word of a manuscript or article that I think might resonate, but the question I’m most often asked online and off is, “How’s your dog?” I get that. What’s not appealing about a formerly orphaned red-haired girl with an infectious smile? So, without further ado here’s an update on Annie for those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook.
You can read the same story a thousand times on the internet and it’s always heartwarming: A dog on the edge of death is rescued and brought back to life. It repays its new caregiver with abundant loyalty and unconditional friendship. Birds chirp, bells ring, nuggets of Eukanuba dot the kitchen floor like a Rorschach for canines. Everyone lives happily ever after.
And then there’s Annie.
I love this dog, but it’s complicated. In some ways, she feels familiar. She’s gentle, but obstinate. Affectionate, but wary. Old enough to have developed her own way of doing things which are, to her, the only right way. Other than the ten or twelve pieces of dog food she insists on leaving on the floor after every meal, Annie likes order and habit. She likes her belly rubbed a certain way, her blanket just so, and her water fresh and cold. She gets bent out of shape when I wash her bedding and disturb the bones that she’s so carefully hidden. She has an internal clock that has memorized the schedule for feedings, walks and the dog park and if I’m late or I try to change it up, she’ll express her dissatisfaction with a long sigh and a despairing tail. I understand all of these needs and try to be accommodating.
In other ways, I wonder who this stranger is in my living room. She has no sense of loyalty. When we go to the dog park, I suspect she is scoping out other potential owners, perhaps ones with a swimming pool and a real backyard. When the pretty blonde owner of a bright yellow mini-Cooper opened the doors to let her Australian Shepherd out, Annie jumped in, leash and all. When I pulled her out and we all stepped into the park, Annie was suddenly The Best Dog in The Whole World. She even sat on command, which absolutely shocked me. Annie’s had me convinced that she doesn’t understand English, which is why all my attempts at Sit-Stay-Come-Down have failed. And I’m no slacker — I have mastered patience and the calm-assertiveness Caesar Milan promotes — but Annie is a special case. She has no particular love of rewards. She can take them or leave them and her obedience ethic? Her desire to please? It’s just absent.
Yet, when she rolls over to show me her belly or decides that she’s in the mood for affection — when she gives me the big grin I get in return for taking down the leash — there’s just no dog I want to please more. Someone’s being trained here, but it’s not Annie.
Annie will walk on streets and sidewalks, but won’t walk on the uncarpeted parts of my floor. She won’t eat dry dog food without at least a little warmed, canned food mixed in. She won’t sleep in my bedroom because that would mean leaving her one favorite spot in my tiny apartment. She’s housebroken, doesn’t chew things up, doesn’t bark, walks well on a leash, is friendly to all humans — but she’s the wallflower of the dog park. All that chasing, running, play biting? She doesn’t get it. It’s too unrefined for her. Tennis balls, squeaky toys, stuffed animals? No. If it’s not edible, she doesn’t see the point. And forget about chasing after anything, because that would just take too much effort and besides, she’s not about to leave the fresh pair of human hands she’s found to pet her neck.
So I have this dog, but she’s not really very dog-like at all. She’s 60 pounds of sweet, lazy, disloyal, stubborn, habitual, polyamorous love wrapped up in a beautiful low-energy, high-maintenance package. She is, now that I think about it, a lot like my ex-girlfriend, who jumped the fence for a woman who had a Ford Explorer and a Harley Davidson. Hopefully, Annie isn’t as fickle. In the meanwhile, I add ice to her water bowl, rub her belly the way she likes, and do my best not to rearrange her blankets. I give her the freedom to love whomever catches her eye and hope that in the end, she thinks coming home with me isn’t such a bad deal.