Monday, February 15, 2010

Why I Love My Dog

There is an incarnation of Buddha in my life. She's a four-year-old yellow lab named Ripley. I honestly can't imagine how I got through my days before she was born.

No matter how bad I feel, no matter how much I am wallowing in depression, or beating myself up about lack of motivation, or dealing with anxiety, or questioning everything on the planet, one nose nudge from my lab re-centers me and puts me right smack dab into the now.

I live in a house with three dogs, five cats and an African grey parrot. They are all wonderful personalities, and I have relationships with each. But Ripley is my one and only sweetheart. Her namesake is Sigourney Weaver's character in the "Alien" movies - I wanted a bad-ass warrior on my side, someone who could chase the darkness away. Friends have jokingly told me that "Petunia" might have been a better name...she's as delicately sensitive as I am, it turns out. But, also like me, that doesn't mean the warrior isn't present - it's just harder for the undiscerning eye to immediately see that fighting spirit.

When I sit in my home office at my computer, all of the other dogs and cats retire to the bedroom. But Ripley stays right at my side, resting with her head just inches from my feet, ready at a moment's notice. When I meditate, she lies down next to the altar, and waits patiently with me for the timer to go off. When I leave for work, she follows me to the door, and then forlornly curls up on the sofa, dismayed that she is being left behind.

If Sabrina is home when I pull into the driveway, she lets Ripley out of the gate on the deck. Ripley runs like a torpedo bombing through the yard, until she practically knocks me over with a sloppy hello kiss.

Her enthusiasm is unwavering. If I have been gone for 14 hours on deadline day, or if have been gone only 30 minutes for a run to the grocery store, it is all the same to her. She is thrilled that I am once again in her presence. She accompanies me to the garage to do laundry, to the mail box to pick up mail, to the trash cans to take out the recycling. Anything is an adventure, as long as I am at her side.

At night, when I get into bed, she jumps straight up in the air, does a half twist, and lands full-bodied onto my stomach and chest. She lies there on top of me for about 30 minutes, with a look of pure bliss on her face, until we both get so hot that she jumps down and takes up her post on the floor beside my bed for the remainder of the night. She is also my snooze alarm. When the alarm goes off, she gives me about five minutes to respond. After that, she leaps on top of me and licks my face until I groan and pull myself out of bed.

She loves routines. On our walks, there is a spot where we turn around, another spot where we walk to the river for a short swim, another spot towards the end where we sprint as fast as we can for about 100 yards. Each familiar ritual is greeted with eagerness and joy. Nothing gets old.

I have long struggled with nightmares. Since Ripley has been in my life, my worst nightmares have become those in which something has happened to my dog. She is hurt, or lost, and I am frantic trying to make things right. My biggest fear in life is that something will happen to her. I just can't imagine not having this sunny companion, this steadfast friend, always at my side.

She makes everything so easy. All she asks is that I love her. That's it. Nothing more. She doesn't care if I've gained weight or lost weight. It doesn't matter to her whether I had a productive day at work or a discouraging day. She doesn't differentiate between the me who is confident and the me who is full of self doubt. And she never, ever tires of telling me that I am her special person, the one at the center of her world.

The feeling is mutual.

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