Friday, November 1, 2013

The Crazy Dog Lady

I'm sure my neighbors all know me as the crazy dog lady.

Heck, strangers probably know me as the crazy dog lady. Not the crazy cat lady, someone else on my road has that title with her band of feral felines.

It's not a craziness that I keep hidden very well. While animal hoarders usually keep their numbers secret in fetid, smelly houses or buildings, I parade mine up and down the road every day.

It struck me the other morning how much of a crazy dog person I must seem to the occasional random drivers who pass me during my morning walk. A pickup I didn't recognize came along and I herded my pack to the side to wait and reflected on how I must appear.

There I was with three Jack Russell terriers, a fuzzy black Yorkie mix, a terribly obese dapple dachshund, and a larger mixed breed on leashes. In addition, three labs (two black and one fox red with suspiciously hound-like ears) and a black, border collie mix were trailing me at various distances off leash.

So basically, I was out walking 10 dogs. No wonder people stop to stare. Really. Strangers, the UPS driver, and my mail carrier who one day stopped and made my picture.

Yes, it's a wonder sometimes that we can navigate up and down the road without a major mishap.

In my defense, they weren't all mine. At the same time, I realized that out of that group of 10, six were.

So, most people would say I have too many dogs. Even if I had my ideal number of four, or at least the number I think is ideal, I might still have too many dogs for a lot of people.

But the simple fact is since the little stray dog we took had puppies under our old house and one of the litter of seven stayed on as mine, dogs have been part of my life. Hershey was my absolute best friend from that summer through my teens and into my young adulthood. Instead of missing the things other girls had, I took my dog and roamed the hills around the house -- usually with my grandparents' dogs as well and sometimes with a small pack of beagles I raised. He was the absolute best dog I have ever owned and obeyed me even when I was an irrational, emotional teen. When I went off to college, it was missing my dog that brought me home every weekend and away from the parties of college life. For 15 years he was there waiting for me and counting on me, and when it came time to say goodbye, I accompanied him into the vet's office, held him and talked to him, and cried as I said one of the most painful farewells of my life.

Since the time he became my dog, I have never been without one or more dogs and I should have used that same devotion as a measure of the men I let into my life. Most of my exes never would have passed muster, as I can think of very few (barring my current spouse) who looked at dogs as I did, as a lifelong companion and commitment.

In all the intervening years, there have been dogs -- sometimes special ones who were part of the family like Beau, Otis and Lucy (1), sometimes dogs I sought out like Abi, Sadie, Al and Willie, sometimes dogs who needed me more than I did them and somehow became part of my pack (pretty much everyone else living with me now). I'm my happiest in a career that surrounds me with dogs -- mine and those of other people, that I can fall in love with and enjoy for the wonderful creatures they are.

Each of them ultimately carve a unique place in my life and heart. Whether they are mine, or belong to someone else, they take up residence in my life and become my friends. When they are gone, I mourn their passing -- even when I'm not around to say goodbye or feel the vacancy left in their owners' lives.

I'll never be one of those people who says this is my last dog or that the loss of a dog is so painful that I don't want another.

As long as I'm able to care for a dog, or get someone to help me, I'll have a dog. Even knowing that someday they will break my heart, I'll have a dog for every smile they bring me, for every walk they encourage me to take, for every stinky kiss and warm snuggle, every bit of dirt, fleas and inconvenience they bring into my life. Because I know, in the big scale of what makes my life work, the good outweighs the bad every time.

And I'm proud to be a crazy dog lady.

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