So, you know when you say, “We’re not getting another dog unless one drops into our lap?”
Well, what do you know? One did. Of course, I had occasionally (obsessively?) been scrolling through pictures of dogs at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society — as had both my daughters who were regularly sending me pictures of dogs.
To be honest, I have two reactions to all those pictures of homeless dogs. The work done by the staff at the shelter is humbling, especially amid the pandemic. And it is also heartbreaking to see what our society has wrought; the number of abandoned or lost dogs that pass through the shelter.
But then, one day, my daughter in Minnesota and I saw the same dog at the same time. He was a big, white and black Great Pyrenees mix named (by the shelter) Toby. The shelter staff thought he was 1 to 2 years old, and he weighed 80 pounds.
We knew instantly that he was “The Dog.” So I called and was crushed (but happy for Toby) to find we were third in line for the big dog.
A few weeks passed and the shelter called and said that Toby was available — there were stories of him getting out of a crate and doing a bit of damage. Since we are not crate people (I have a thing about small spaces), we jumped at the chance to adopt him.
We set up a meet and greet, and we brought our munchkin dog, Maisie, to make sure they got along. They met, sniffed and then proceeded to ignore each other. Victory!
And home we went, a big goofy Pyrenees mix in the back seat and Maisie sitting on the lap of my wife Laurie in the front.
We were a dog-pack family again. (Technically, a dog-pack is at least three, but we are on our way.)
Flash forward a week.
You know when you have small kids and your formerly neat house looks like a tornado hit it?
Toys everywhere, blankets strewn across the floor, furniture knocked over? Or, remember bringing home an 8-week-old puppy (or two), and them terrorizing you by chasing you throughout the house? And then, exhausted, they plop up on a couch, assuming it’s theirs? Or when they discover that the TV remote is the most prized human possession and they grab it and sprint out the door with it in their mouth? Remember looking back at the time when your life was orderly and clean?
And then you have kids or dogs, chaos descends and … it’s glorious.
Toby brought that back into our lives. He has a deep and resonating bark at coyotes that yip at night. He howls when my daughter Sully plays the piano. On our walks, Toby lopes alongside us like a wolf.
He and Maisie race around our kitchen, stealing toys from each other. It does bug me a little that he’s already become Laurie’s dog; he follows her everywhere. But I think Laurie is a dog shaman.
All this brings up the eternal question, especially appropriate in pandemic times, “Who is rescuing who?”
On the one hand, Toby is with us, and he is safe and blossoming as “our dog.”
And yet, he has brought energy and more love into our house. On the sixth night, he decided I could be trusted and fell asleep on the couch with his head on my lap. All the tension drained out of my body.
You know that tension, right? The hits we’ve received from the pandemic, the politics, last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. It’s cumulative. It has beaten us down. The fact that we are separated from family, friends and community makes it so much worse.
Zoom is not enough. Social media is not enough. We need touch, the flashes of smiles and laughter in person.
And what I’ve learned is I need the chaos.
What I miss and will need to heal is a house full of dogs, children and relatives.
I need the laughing and the storytelling, and the aunts who break into weird dancing and singing.
I need the dogs, seeing distraction, sneaking food off tables and from under highchairs. With my entire heart, I know those days will come again.
Until then, we have been rescued by Toby, or Toby-bear Wilson, as he is now known.
Hersch Wilson’s latest book, Firefighter Zen, A Field Guide for Thriving in Tough Times, can be purchased at Collected Works bookstore or online.