94: My Advocate

94: My Advocate

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

My Advocate

Fun fact: Pugs tend to snore and breathe loudly, so you might want to wear earplugs if your Pug sleeps in your bedroom.

I was counting down the months. I’d been a stay-at-home mom for eleven years, and my youngest son was starting kindergarten that fall. I was going to have some uninterrupted time alone, and I was going to use it to become a writer. As soon as the bus drove away, I would pack up my laptop and head to the coffee shop to pound out a few pages of my novel, maybe do lunch with the girls, and then stop at the farmers’ market to pick up something to make for dinner. I’d be home just in time to waltz through the back door, sashay through the house, and be standing out front waiting for the bus when it returned the children.

But my son had started talking about needing a dog in early spring, and he hadn’t let up. And it wasn’t just a five-year-old chanting, “I want, I want, I want.” It was an obsession.

“Mom, I’m going to die if I don’t get a dog.”

“We’re not getting a dog.”

“But I need one.”

Every Tuesday our local paper featured photos of pets available for adoption, and one day they ran a picture of a dog that looked exactly like the one I had as a kid. So I did the unthinkable. I took the kids to the shelter to meet her.

She was part Miniature Pinscher and part Pug — a Muggin. And she was a troublemaker. Miss Molly was two years old and had already been adopted out and returned three times. She’d also killed a groundhog that had wandered into the yard, and for some reason they didn’t share with us, her present keepers felt she would do better with a family that had a stay-at-home parent like me.

My carefully laid out plans evaporated and we adopted her.

Ever see Gremlins? There were three rules for keeping one of those as a pet: no water, no food after midnight, and no bright light. When you broke one of those rules, disaster ensued. Well, our Muggin was cute and fuzzy like Gizmo, but we soon learned she had her own set of rules: no crates, no chicken, and no leaving her alone. Ever.

And boy could she bark. She could also jump a four-foot fence, dig a hole the size of a storm sewer, eat her weight in garbage, and Houdini her way out of a harness. This dog had an attitude. And she was my problem now.

People asked me when I was going back to work. Instead of saying I’d decided to give writing a go, I told them I couldn’t leave the dog alone. Which was true. It was silly to think I could be a writer anyway. A pipe dream. I came from a long line of clock-punchers with exceptional work ethics. Sitting and making up stories all day? It would have been conceited to call that my job.

Separation anxiety aside, there were good things about Miss Molly. She got me out for a walk every day. She was very loving and affectionate. And she was a great watchdog. But she remained, despite our best efforts, untrainable.

If we said no dogs were allowed on the sofa, she’d jump up on the loveseat. If the vet said to withhold a certain food, she’d just eat it out of the garbage. If we tried to get her in the house so we could leave, she’d wedge herself under the deck. “Sit” meant bark. “Stay” meant run in circles. “Lie down” drew a blank stare. Through it all, she wasn’t a bad dog, not in the malicious sense of the word. She just didn’t want to be told what to do.

We developed a routine. As soon as the bus left, we headed out for a walk. Then Molly got a treat. Then I was allowed to write. My computer was in a spare bedroom, and she lay on the carpet at my feet while I worked, but only until school was over. Then she’d nudge my leg and make sure I got downstairs in time for the bus.

When summer came, a strange thing started happening. I’d gotten a few rejections, so my confidence was flagging, and the kids were home from school, so my schedule was altered. But Molly’s wasn’t. After our walk, she’d lead me to the stairs even if I didn’t have plans to write. She’d use all eighteen pounds of herself to block my path if I tried to detour around her. Tripping me wasn’t out of the question. She insisted I go upstairs and write for a few hours each day, the same way she insisted she be allowed on the furniture. So I did it.

When the kids came upstairs to tell on each other, she stood in the doorway. No admittance. When the doorbell rang, she scared away whoever it was with her ferocious barking. When 2:30 came, she got up, nudged me in the leg, and left the room. Work time was over. My husband and the kids started calling her my secretary. But she was more than that. She was my advocate.

I started looking at her defiance as a positive. I felt a kinship. Wasn’t I bucking the “rules,” just like her? Most able-bodied people got jobs and worked for others, but I didn’t want to; most dogs stayed in crates while their owners were away, but she didn’t want to. Was that so different?

We started to compromise. The thing she hated the most was the crate her former keepers insisted we have before they would allow the adoption. They said crates made dogs feel more secure, but that just wasn’t the case with Molly. So we got rid of it.

Now, when we want to leave the house, we put up a gate separating the kitchen from the rest of the house. Molly could jump it easily, but she doesn’t. She stays in her area while we are gone.

She won’t stay off the furniture, but she will lie on her blanket so she’s not shedding directly onto the cushions. Even so, she prefers to be on a lap, which is fine — we all prefer it, too. She knows what “sit,” “stay,” and “lie down” all mean, though she does occasionally give us that “are-you-talking-to-me?” glare before complying with our request.

Now that she has finally trained us all, it’s hard to remember the whirling dervish we adopted eight years ago.

She cannot walk as far as she used to, and I sometimes carry her up the stairs to work now, but she is still the happiest and most enthusiastic dog I have ever known. The whole family has learned about perseverance thanks to her indefatigable spirit. Especially me.

My work has been published, and I write full-time now because it’s what I love to do. The reason I never gave up on it? Molly wouldn’t let me.

It’s a good thing my son needed her so badly!

~Tracy Falenwolfe

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