Thursday, December 13, 2007

a girl and her dog

Until a couple years ago, I had always considered myself to be a cat person. Not to say that I don't like dogs, because I do - I know and like many dogs - I just never considered having one of my own. Growing up, we only ever had cats as pets (and fish, but do they really count? Sorry, Squishie!)

First, there was Jason, the best cat EVER. We got along wonderfully, despite me being an annoying little kid and all. Then came Tilly, who was old and crochety with a horrible case of halitosis, but loveable nonetheless.

The day that I moved into my very first apartment, I marched straight (more like took a bus, then a subway, then a streetcar) to the Humane Society and brought home Mischa, my very first pet all my own. Mischa is a bit neurotic and quirky, but she's mine and I love her dearly. Our life together has been a difficult one: there have been many periods of time when we haven't lived together (due to feline-hating roommates, other pets in the mix - Mischa DOES NOT play well with others, etc.) Currently, she lives a life of luxury and leisure at the Retirement Palace with the other retirees (a.k.a. my parents). I would love nothing more than to have her live out the rest of her pampered existence with me, but she is so happy where she is and I couldn't bear to uproot her again (not to mention that I think it would break my dad's heart - he's smitten with my girl, despite protesting that the opposite is true.)

Then, about two years back, W and I began toying with the idea of getting a dog. Apparently, it's what new couples do when they want to figure out whether their relationship is strong enough to withstand the test of bringing future children into the mix (ours wasn't, but I digress.) I was sort of neutral about the idea, but W wanted a dog very much, and being a pet lover, I agreed.

So, I embarked on the tedious venture of researching the subject, as I like to at least have a vague idea of what kind of trouble I'm getting myself into. We were in agreement that we wanted a big dog because we wanted to be able to go on long walks and hikes and neither of us were particularly keen on the typically yappy small breeds. We also wanted a mutt or a rescue. I was very interested in some sort of shepherd mix. I've always like shepherds - German Shepherds, particularly. I'm not sure why - perhaps it harkens back to watching The Littlest Hobo as a child on TVO.

We also agreed on a name: Finnegan (or Finn for short). I had my heart set on naming him after the mute dog puppet on Mr. Dressup, one of my favourite childhood tv shows. Being a surfing fanatic, W agreed to the name because of its reference to surfboard/shark fins. Didn't matter to me, as long as I got my way! And I did.

And so the search began. One day, a colleague of mine gave me a lead on a litter of Lab/Shepherd pups that were in need of homes. I contacted the family and W and I made the trek out to their home to see the new arrivals. There were eleven of them and they were all adorable, but Finn stood out from all the rest, in my mind. W had his heart set on another pup, but after much conversation, some pouting and a good night's sleep, I got my way. Again.

I officially moved in with W the day we brought Finn home for good. In retrospect, it probably wasn't the most brilliant idea I've ever had. Having a puppy is very similar to having a newborn in many ways: there's the lack of sleep, the stress, the worrying, the crying (but that was mostly me). Then there's the housetraining, crate training, puppy proofing, puppy school and the constant vigilance required at all times. And the expense, oh, the expense! Finn may have been free to a good home, but that was the first and last bargain we saw!

The first six months with Finn was nothing short of hell. His being ridiculously cute was sometimes the only thing that saved him from a one way ticket to the pound. However, with time, he mellowed out, and life with him became almost normal (with the odd hellish moment here and there, just to keep us on our toes!)

Though W and I were not able to make things work between us, we agreed that Finn belonged to both of us and would be shared thusly. It was only fair to Finn that he remain with W where he has a big backyard and endless trails to explore. I knew I would likely end up in an apartment in a urban setting, so it hardly made sense for me to take him.

Since my move, I've spent a handful of times with Finn. It's been very bittersweet for me, but the pleasure still far outweighs the pain. I had him for the weekend back in November and I loved every minute of it. See, Finn has always seen W as the alpha dog, despite me being the nurturer, disciplinarian and main caregiver, so it was nice to have him all to myself without having to compete for his attention/affection. I'm not sure how much longer I can realistically keep Finn in my life, but until that day comes, I'm going to relish every moment.

This is typical Finn. He's so serious. All. The. Time. It's a little disconcerting sometimes because he always seems so unimpressed with everything. He's definitely an old soul - you can see it in his eyes. He doesn't have one of those perpetually smiley faces that dogs tend to have. He barely ever wags his tail. He rarely barks or makes other dog-like noises. He doesn't like to cuddle. When I ask for a kiss, he looks at me with great disdain before turning his head away, nose tilted slightly upwards as if he just caught a whiff of a slightly unpleasant odour. Sometimes, on a good day, if all the stars and planets are aligned, he'll kiss me, but it's never with any enthusiasm. It's almost like he wants to say, "There. OK? You got your kiss. Now, get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich!" I'm starting to see a pattern here: he's very much like every boy I've even been mad about. Ha!

Despite his grave demeanor, Finn IS a happy dog. He is spoiled rotten regularly by both W and I. He rules the couch and is often allowed to sneak up on my bed for a good night's sleep (this is the only time he'll willingly let me cuddle with him - just like his human counterparts, this boy like to spoon!) He gets lots of exercise, rides in the car, cottage/camping trips, socialization with other dogs and treats galore (cucumber is his favourite).

Every once in a while he does something (like nose my camera while I'm trying to take a close up of him) that reminds me that he really IS a dog and not a broody, sullen little person dressed in dog's clothing. Then there's the carnage and destruction that he's left in his wake, as evidenced by a couple of maimed cell phones and remote controls, and the ginormous hole chewed out of the crotch of my favourite yoga pants.

His energy knows no bounds: we could hike for hours, playing hide and seek all the while and at the end he'd still be just as eager to do it all over again. He loves playing frisbee, and isn't the least bit hurt when I tire of the game because he can throw and catch his own frisbee all by himself (I think he justs lets me play to humour me.)

Now that he's pretty much left the puppy stage behind, I find I'm enjoying our time together so much more. He's mellowed ever so slightly and he's a far sight more trustworthy than he once was. He and I can be in separate rooms or areas of the house for hours and I know when I return, everything will be as it was left. On a recent weekend visit, Finn was in J's room checking things out when, out of curiosity, he nosed J's Darth Vader snow globe that was perched (precariously, admittedly) on the window sill and it fell to the floor and promptly shattered. If ever I thought an animal could emote mortification, Finn had succeeded. You could just tell that he felt horrible about it: his tail was tucked between his legs and he slunk over to me, giving a grieving J wide berth. It was actually a pretty funny sight, but I felt horrible for him all at the same time. (Don't worry, Finny, mama replaced J's snowglobe as a Christmas gift especially from you!)

I never realized how much (more) I could love a pet until Finn came into my life. I mean, I've always loved my cats, but dog love is just so... different.

I really miss Finn - much more than I thought I would. I know he's much better off where he is because of my living situation/lifestyle in general, but it's small consolation. I also know that I'm glossing over a lot of the less-than-appealing realities of dog ownership in favour of wistful reminiscing.

It helps that I have unrestricted access to Finn, but I wonder at the point of it all. Is keeping my foot in the door just prolonging the inevitable? I know in my heart that I'm going to have to eventually let go completely and move on. I guess it's just that much harder for me because it seems that I've done a hell of a lot of losing and letting go of precious things in the last few years. Such is life, I suppose.

One day, I'll be ready to say goodbye and it'll be OK. But Finn will always be my boy. And I will always be his mom. I hope he knows how much I love him... even if he doesn't like it.