Be the dog

13179682223_0a74914007_kOften, life lessons are learned in very unexpected ways.

One year ago today, a lesson in love began to be taught to us by a skinny puppy that showed up in our yard.

Dragging a temporary leash and bearing no identification, he stood in our yard barking at us. His barks were both a warning and an expression of being unsure of us, since he would cautiously approach us, and back away whining.

Eventually, a dog food bribe was placed in the driveway, which was quickly gobbled down. After that, he was sitting in my lap licking my face.

He was a pit bull mix. And he was refusing to leave.

We took a leash and walked him down the block. He would get less than halfway down the block before he would stop and refuse to budge. It was as if he had found where he wanted to be.

We introduced him to Pepper, our labrador mix, who was less than enamored. She quickly exerted her dominance, despite the new guy’s efforts at getting better acquainted.

We attempted to find the owner, to no avail. I was ready to take him to the animal shelter, when Crystal pulled me aside. She and the girls had taken a vote, and they didn’t want to see him go there.

Because he was a pit bull, it was feared he would be immediately put down because of their reputation. Putting him on Craigslist possibly would mean that either he would be claimed and forced to fight or to be bait by dog fighters.

Besides, he had already been given a name: Chief.

So, Chief had found a new home.

In the weeks to come, Chief’s quirky personality began to shine through. Nothing was safe from his habit of chewing. I would periodically go out and find him licking the fence. The best thing was when we looked out once and found him napping in a large planter.

Mostly, Chief loved. And, it was a love that was not limited to any one person.

When Chief met the neighbor’s cat, he immediately sniffed and licked her, as opposed to Pepper, who sniffed and immediately clamped her jaws down on the cat’s neck, leading to a perpetual scowl in Pepper’s general direction from said cat.

Anyone that Chief came in contact with was greeted with enthusiasm and generous kisses. He always made a point to shove his way in front of Pepper to get your attention when you opened the back door.

He was the embodiment of unconditional love.

Not that he was perfect; he was far from it.

In his first month, he chewed through two of my garden hoses. He constantly was scolded for playing with plastic flower pots that were on the back deck. The aforementioned licking of the fence. The digging in the back yard.

Oh, the digging.

To this day, we have no grass in the back yard. That will be my project for this spring and summer . . .

And, let’s not forget his insistence on playing with an old plastic wagon that the girls used to ride in. I once went out in the back yard and realized it was not where it had been sitting for years; it was completely across the yard from that spot.

When I asked the girls if they had moved it, I was met with blank stares.

Chief.

But, whenever he was scolded for chewing up any inanimate object, he was so contrite. He would cower down, roll over on his back and lay there until the storm passed. I once went to retrieve the flower pots from the back yard without saying a word to him. I turned to find him laying on the deck, his legs in the air.

He knew how to say, “I’m sorry.” Because of that, it was easy to forgive him.

His manners were a little lacking, too. Chief thought little of taking a whiz – or worse – in his kennel. He once grew impatient during a short ride to the vet and decided the back floorboard of my car was an acceptable place to relieve himself.

Ugh.

But, despite his flaws, he worked his way into our hearts. His shortcomings were hidden by the depth of his affection. Even after a scolding, he immediately came to you with his tail wagging ready for his ears to be scratched and his belly rubbed. The fact that his breed is stigmatized and the manner in which he found us only bolstered his underdog status.

Then, he taught us a lesson in the fragility of life.

Playing with our daughter’s old swing set one night, his collar snagged on the chain and he was strangled in his struggle to get loose.

Crystal and the girls were distraught. This scraggly dog had worked his way into our lives in ways that were profound but unknown to us at the time. We buried him in the backyard he loved, with the wagon he played with marking his grave.

Chief had broken down walls in us; walls that were put up to prevent us from being hurt by others. He was truly the kid no one wanted to hang out with, only to be discovered that he was a deep, thoughtful friend who would never abandon you. He was unwanted and unloved until he found us, and then he had found a forever home.

A home in which he was not only accepted but loved.

I’ve read a saying before that said we should be the person our dog believes we are. In many ways, Chief showed us another truth:

We should be the dogs that love our humans with no exceptions or conditions. The dog who would not be afraid of the judgement of others if he decided to sleep in the planter. The dog who was not afraid to show his contriteness when he chewed up the garden hose.

Most of all, the dog whose life was marked with an abiding love. May we all aspire to live in that way.

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