We have had Bucky our dog for two months now and if it wasn’t for me being busy worrying about my PhD program this blog quickly would have become the blog version of Marley and me. Bucky is now all we talk about and my parents will call to ask about or facetime with their granddog.
Before I got a dog I knew all of the research about how dogs are helpful for people with anxiety. My psychiatrist even jokingly wrote me a prescription that said, “get a dog,” about a year before we got Bucky. What I didn’t realize was the ways in which having a dog would make me connect with the world in a way that was far and above the mindfulness practice I attempted to do.
When you have a dog (unless you are an ass) you do not look at or talk on your phone when you walk your dog. Therefore, walking a dog is like a mindfulness walk where you actually notice your surroundings (especially when your dog poops on them). If your dog is afraid of a lot of things like Bucky, you notice the noises that your neighborhood makes and recognize where the fire hydrants and mailboxes are located (because your dog crosses the street to avoid them), as well as where the garbage barrels are because you are always looking for places to throw out poop bags.
As a dog owner you are part of a whole new culture and community. Before I had a dog I never knew there were dog groups where people met every week to take their dogs to play. Shaun and I have “shopped around” the dog spots in our neighborhood. We eased into dog park culture by meeting our friends and their dog there. We met the crazy lady who knows the ropes of the park and talked our ears off. We learned that you should always stand with your knees bent or you will fall flat on your butt in the middle a group of dogs like I did last week. The next week we tried a dog park in a fancier neighborhood and were shunned by the older dog owners. We learned there was a “popular dog” that everyone (dogs and people included) loved, but who we decided we hated as soon as he picked on Bucky. Finally, the next week we found our group at the Saturday morning meeting spot at a field near our house. We luckily drove by one day and were welcomed immediately. The group of people we see once a week is not the people we would normally be hanging out with regularly on the weekends as they range in ages and backgrounds. However, every Saturday for the past four weeks we bring Bucky there and he catches up with his friends while the parents make small talk. We have learned about each others lives and the dogs’ personalities. They have seen Bucky come out of his shell every week and get over his fear of tennis balls. It is comforting to have the routine and familiarity and Bucky seems pretty thrilled too.
It is not only the regular groups that form a sense of community. When your dog is as excited about seeing other dogs as Bucky it forces you to talk to strangers with dogs. I have already written about the power of talking to strangers, but it is even more powerful when you have dogs to aid that interaction. You watch the dogs interact and comment on their quirks. This week we even started our own dog party because we saw our neighbor (who we have barely talked to) out on a walk with her dog and encouraged her to join us at a nearby field. Before we knew it people passing by joined with their dogs and there were six dogs frolicking on the first spring night. We got to know our neighbor and her dog and made plans for summer barbeques in our adjacent backyards.
It has not all been smooth sailing transitioning to life with Bucky. Just this evening Bucky pooped in the middle of the kitchen floor while Shaun and I were in there preparing dinner. As a clean freak Bucky has challenged me to let go of obsessing about whether everything is always clean and neat. When I was worrying out loud to Shaun about whether our house smelled like poop despite my cleaning and I explained to him that this was hard for me as a clean freak he responded in his straight forward manner with a smile, “Well why did you get a dog then?” Recently, Bucky’s new habit of tearing apart toys and dispersing the stuffing around our living room leaves me to spend every morning picking up toy guts.
Before we got Bucky people loved to tell us how much hard work it is to have a dog with some people even telling us not to get one. I always found it strange because it was often people with dogs. You never hear people warn you about this with kids. I guess I didn’t quite believe the warnings. But the thing is even with the frustrating moments of picking up poop in the middle of the kitchen or from our living room rug (maybe he has IBS like his mom) I have realized that having a puppy is like any other loving committed relationship. It has enormous highs and has certainly changed our lives for the better, but just like with any relationship you have to accept the person (or animal) you love even with their flaws. No one said unconditional love is always easy.