They're All Therapy Dogs

Photo credit--my daughter

Photo credit--my daughter

My girl dog, Nana, is turning twelve this month--my longest relationship besides my marriage and kids.  I found her on the internet long before internet matchups were even a thing.  I had been wanting a Border Collie ever since I saw the Disney flick Snow Dogs but couldn’t stomach the thought of another creature in my house that wasn’t housebroken or potty trained.

When I opened the picture of her attached to the email, the first thing I noticed was her soulful amber eyes.  They had photographed her during a bath, and her expression said it all: “Not my favorite thing.”  I couldn’t believe nobody wanted this dog.

Border Collies often get a bad rap:  they can be neurotic, destructive and crazy. I decided she was worth the risk.  At eight(ish) months, she was housebroken, up to date on all her shots and ready to go.

Her foster mom lived at a home in rural Michigan.  The kids and I made the trip on a beautiful day in September 2002.  When we got out of the car dogs of all shapes and sizes circled us, but she was nowhere to be seen.  Her foster mom whistled and out of the woods she came, full speed, a riot of wet shaggy fur.

I laughed.  “I thought she didn’t like water.”

“She likes the pond.  She just doesn’t like baths,” her foster mom assured me.

That day was supposed to be a meet and greet.  We’d spend some time with her and think it over, then go back home without her.  Half an hour later she sat next to me on the drive back to our house near Detroit.

She turned out to be chill, never ate so much as a flip-flop, and made herself happy by simply hanging with us, her pack.  As far as herding the kids, that was too much effort.  She would sit on the deck and keep an ever watchful eye on them.

She’s seen us through the birth of my third child, a chaotic move from Detroit to Chicago, the death of my beloved father-in-law and countless other milestones in our family’s history.

When we added another rescue puppy to the mix in 2009, the puppy took over Nana’s bed.  She responded by curling up in the bed we had bought for the puppy, one far too small for her forty-pound body.  She took it all in stride, a personality trait I often wish I could borrow from her.

The last thing the kids do every day before they leave for school is caress her head and kiss her face, and she insists upon being the first one to greet them when they get home.  More than a few people have commented that she missed her calling as a therapy dog.

As a family our biggest challenge looms on the horizon:  just before Christmas my husband and I realized that our marriage was not working.  As we navigate the scary days, weeks and months ahead I am mindful every day of how valuable this dog will be to me and the kids.  Just her presence tells us yes, it will be okay.  She appears not to mind the tears and the extra hard hugs she’s given.  In fact, I think she’s risen to the occasion.  One of the great things about dogs is they don’t worry about the future; they don’t know what a future is.  So they sit with their people and take it all in, one moment at a time.

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