Loving What Is

With an addicted son, life never seems to go according to plan. I end up doing things I didn’t plan to do, being responsible for things I didn’t want responsibility for and generally feeling out of control. The challenge, of course, is how to be happy anyway.

I was not happy to end up with three dogs. I never wanted three dogs. I was very content with my old, overweight beagle named Daisy who wandered around the house, nose to the ground, tail waving, completely obsessed with the smells surrounding her. She fit my slow-paced retired, life very well. She was to be our only dog.

But I have a son who is an addict and that fact can throw a wrench into the best-laid plans. He relapsed last year after many years of respectable living. When he relapsed he had beautiful golden Pitbull named Willow with a red nose and liquid amber eyes. When he relapsed her behavior started to show the strain of living with an addict, so he asked us to take her (he has a good heart). My husband, the one who was adamant that Daisy would be our only dog, said: “We have to take her, she’s family.” So, of course, we did.

Then, in the illogical way of an addict, after giving Willow up to us, my son took in a litter of abandoned pups when they were just days old. He took them from a dealer who was going to kill them. He said they gave him a reason to live. It may have been true. He faithfully fed them by bottle every two hours and I enabled him by buying formula, but who can let puppies starve?

Six months later when he lost his house, he still had three of the puppies. I took two to a local shelter and cried all the way there. He claimed he had a home for the third. I soon discovered that the third was living in his car with him. The pup was a rambunctious Lab/Pitbull mix with a dense black coat and a white patch on his chest. He named him Shadow. Shadow adored my son and they slept together in a freezing car, huddled together under blankets throughout the relentless winter.

After three months of homelessness, my son was ready to get sober and we let him move home with Shadow. He moved in and began the arduous road of recovery. He was sober, but not responsible. After a few months, he moved out and left Shadow with us. I didn’t complain, because despite making every effort not to get attached, I fell in love with the exuberant pup. After living in a car for a large part of his life he seemed to find all the world an adventure. So now I have three dogs.

But here’s the wonderful part:

I have been a lake girl my whole life. Last year I retired and wanted to spend a lot of time at our lake house, but sometimes I get bored and lonely since my husband hasn’t retired yet, and most residents at the lake are weekenders. Also, sometimes I felt uncomfortable being alone.

This year it’s been different. I have been at the lake most of the year and I’ve had the three dogs with me. I have found training them is a pastime I really enjoy. I rent out a vacation home next door to mine, and I can’t have poorly behaved animals terrorizing the guest. So, they must behave! I have spent the summer working with them, and they have responded beautifully! They come, sit, respect the boundaries of the yard and require no leashes when they go out. I get many compliments on their behavior. It has been extremely rewarding.

I also no longer get lonely. The dogs follow me around all day and curl up with me to watch TV and all join me in my bedroom at night. I’m never without a furry ear within arm’s reach, or a warm nose resting on my lap. When I write, they curl up at my feet and their gentle snores keep me company. I chuckle when they dream with quiet woofs and feet peddling the air.

With two Pitbulls I’m also never afraid. I’ve had people comment, “I’ll bet no one messes with you with those two around.” They are correct. Though neither one has ever hurt a soul, they have vicious sounding barks and growls, which are on full display whenever someone knocks at the door.

The best part of all- the dogs love the lake too! Shadow, being part lab, leaps off the retaining wall and belly flops into the water chasing sticks, Frisbees or whatever I throw. Willow only wades into the water, no belly flops for her, but then she swims circles with a giant Pitty grin on her face and her tail wagging under the water. They both eagerly jump on my paddleboard with me for a paddle around the cove. If I go out on the Seadoo, they both sit on the end of the dock and watch me, not leaving their posts until I return. When extended family visits I put life jackets on the dogs, and they swim for hours with the kids.

This morning I realized how blessed I am by these two silly beasts. I went for a morning swim and they both begged to join me. So, I sat on the dock and threw sticks for Shadow and swam circles with Willow. Their enthusiasm for play was infectious and I found myself laughing and playing like a child. Willow chased my splashes and Shadow romped with so much energy that I marveled he could keep going. He bounded from land to, to dock, to water, repeatedly. Willow whined, wishing she was brave enough to jump, then eventually would wade in and swim circles again.

It’s not all perfect. It’s been work and I’ve had to adapt. Some mornings I wish they’d let me sleep in, sometimes I wish I could make my coffee without three dogs underfoot and sometimes I wish I didn’t smell like wet dog. But the pluses have outweighed the minuses by a long shot.

These dogs, that I didn’t want, have brought so many unexpected bonuses. Being the parent of an addict has enough sorrow; it’s nice to find unexpected joy.

Whenever I get frustrated because life isn’t going exactly as I planned, I try to remember to “Love What Is” (the title of an excellent book by Katie Byron). I try to find the good in the path I’m on, even if it’s not the path I’ve chosen because sometimes joy can be found in expected places. I know it’s true because these two unwanted dogs have been a delight.

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