Monday, July 6, 2015

Free Gifts: Part III*

When Dover died in January, unexpectedly and way too young,  I was devastated. I had always thought he would be our last dog, perfect as he was and ready to accompany us in the older lane we were already traveling; we would all grow old gracefully together. We decided we would not have another dog, and – I lived with that very rational conviction for two months. No longer did I roam the streets with a dog at the end of the leash, stopping to exchange dog lore with others out for a stroll. No more nursing home visits; no more dog classes. In fact, I didn't even go out for walks - the few times I did go out to see what it was like walking without a dog I found myself imaging my arm outstretched, with an imaginary dog setting the pace, thinking of good names for dogs. I was very lonely.

One day we woke up! Tom and I looked at each other and said almost simultaneously – maybe we should think about another dog. Within the week, I mentioned it to a friend who has corgis, who talked with others in the corgi world, who knew people in the golden retriever world, who had heard that there was a year and a half dog in lower right Massachusetts in need of a new home. I emailed, talked on the telephone, and emailed some more. We arranged a visit to meet and greet, but – only to look. A friend said to himself. "Yeah - I bet. You are going to drive two hours and just LOOK at a golden retriever? I bet!"

So, Niko joined our household that day.  Golden retriever #5 for us. And what a dog. His first job on arrival home was to greet two small and curious children who came into the yard to check him out; he took one look, lay down, belly up – and lay his head in their laps; whenever he sees them, in the yard, on the sidewalk, even the middle of the not-too-busy street around the corner, he sinks to his knees, rolls over, and tells them how glad he is to see them and asks - "Where have you been all day?" When we meet other dogs on the street, he is friendly and eager to exchange dog-ID scents, even with the ones who want to shred him to bits as their owners cross the street, leading them by at top snarl but a safe distance.
Niko in visiting mode.

He is a natural visiting dog.

An unsuspecting cat asleep in the flower box.
Does he have drawbacks, things to learn? Definitely. The unguarded peanut butter and honey sandwich on the all-too-low table is mine, not his. (Too late on that one! But – he and I are both learning.) On walks, he is much too interested in stalking chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, and cats (in increasing order of perceived desirability). And we have to remember, he is still an adolescent, and we need to stay out of his way when he goes into one of his maniac moments, circling the yard at top speed and with deep pleasure.

But - he is our new perfect dog. At first I felt unloyal thinking this way, but a friend pointed out – we don't get stuck in the past. Niko is our perfect dog, no apologies. In reverse order, so were Dover, Mungo II, Jonah, and Mungo I. I am so thankful that such an abundance of canine perfection has graced my life.

Where did that sudden turnaround in our mindsets come from? The swift move from a call of the head that we were too old for a new dog, to a call of the heart that there was a definite dog space in our household needing occupancy.  And - that there were people who knew people who knew people who knew people - all at the ready to help when we needed them? Chance? Coincidence? Free gift? Grace? Even . . .  amazing grace? 

Do they all mean the same thing and we just choose different words, depending on our beliefs and views? I think so. My choice is free gift, and for that, to whoever offered the gift of enlightenment, the gift of changing minds, the gift of new life, the gift of friends, the gift of taking chances, I say "Thanks."
Niko invents a new game. His entertainment value is huge.
* Free Gifts, Parts II and I: