Our dog’s name is Emma – that’s a problem right off the bat, as Emma is the single most popular girl’s name in America. Which gave us this awkward moment:
Emma gets past the invisible fence in our yard. So now I’m running around the neighborhood shouting her name. Within minutes, our new neighbors have formed an old-timey posse, frantically tugging on their shoes to help me search for my missing daughter. (“No, it’s okay!” I’m calling to them. “I mean, it’s not okay, my dog is missing, but it’s okay for you! Don’t call the cops, it’s fine!”)
Emma – named by Liz’s father as a puppy – had a lot more energy back then. That was back when she could run for days. Back when the only thing that mattered to her more than food was playing fetch.
I’m not even kidding about the fetch thing. That time she ran away? I found her maybe half a mile away, in the front yard of this house in early evening, playing fetch with an entire family, kids and everything. All of them looked utterly giddy because a Labrador with a preternatural ability to catch an object in her mouth had fallen from heaven to play with them.
So I pulled into the driveway and got out of the car and I was like “Hi! Sorry! That’s actually my dog.” And this family looked skeptical because Emma wasn’t coming to me when I called her and the reason she wasn’t coming to me because their dumb kid was still playing fetch with her. So the dad goes “Are you sure?” which was totally embarrassing. I couldn’t explain that my dog could be in the shadow of an erupting volcano and she would still chase a thrown tennis ball.
Now that her legs are betraying her, Emma doesn’t play fetch. She can’t jump into the back of the SUV anymore – I now have to lift her, like a Chinook helicopter transporting an elephant. Mostly she likes to lie down with her paw draped over a stuffed frog Lucy gave her.
In the photo above, Emma is lying down because a few weeks back she was really sick. She had gotten into the chocolate – that can be fatal for dogs. She wouldn’t move from the kitchen. So after following all kinds of vet recommendations on trying to get her to throw up (the less you know the better), and not knowing what else to do, I just kind of laid down with her, the same way I used to do when Finn was a baby, in his crib for the first time. I would just sleep on the floor next to him, because I was anxious that something might happen to him – what, I don’t know, but I felt better being next to him.
Emma, in her old age, actually needs us again. The way my hearing was trained to detect the slightest peep from our kids in the middle of the night, I now hear Emma shuffling downstairs, her nails tapping the hardwood steps, when she needs to go outside. She’s decided she now wants breakfast at 5:45 a.m. And I’m fine with all of it. She doesn’t race to the door when we come home anymore, but she still loves us.
I once saw a bumper sticker that said “I want to be the person my dog thinks I am.”
But I think that’s a bit off, because your dog actually doesn’t think you’re that person.
That’s exactly what we love about dogs. They love you regardless of whether you are good or bad. Your dog loves you because your dog loves you. You didn’t earn it. That’s what makes dogs so special. It’s radical love. It’s a kind of love I read about in my faith, something that seems impossible to live out. And yet there it is, right under our noses, padding around our house, looking for rubs and sniffing around for stray meatballs.
So I’d edit that bumper sticker to: “I Want to Be the Christian My Dog Is.”
Which everyone would think was totally weird, but whatever, it’s my bumper sticker. This is what I actually mean:
-I want to be able to love unconditionally.
-I want to be so grateful for food that I tap dance with joy.
-I want to be able to forgive, immediately and forever.
-I want to be humble enough to drink from a toilet when I’m thirsty.
-I want to live in a community.
-I want to protect my house from trespassers with righteous barking.
-I want to be appropriately repentant when I’ve done wrong.
-I want to treat everyone the same, whether they are wealthy or poor or interesting or boring or smart or dumb, because we are all worthy of that.
And let’s face it people, this doesn’t go for every pet. Dogs are one of a kind.
Which brings us to:
The Top Five Animals I Would Turn Down If Offered to Me as a Pet
Seriously? Because I’ve seen people with pet rats. If somebody gave me a pet rat I would build a cage with the specs of the original Sing-Sing prison. Fourteen foot poured-concrete walls, stuff like that. I’d have the rat food lowered in by drone.
You buy a parrot, you better mean it. Those things can live seventy-five years. Which means you better get it when you’re a baby, or you’re going to be staring at that parrot every day knowing it’s going to outlive you. And that’s not a pet. That’s a hotbed of resentment.
My kids want a hamster. But in first grade we had a class hamster named Grahamster or Ham Solo or something and the teacher let us pass it around and when it got to me it pooped in my hand. No thanks, hamster.
So much better in theory than in practice, having a pet snake. Seems kind of awesome, then you get it home and you stare at it for five minutes and you’re like “I’m done” but the snake is like “I need food, bro” and suddenly you realize that you have to feed it a live mouse every day and your bedroom turns into a Nightly Death Chamber of Horrors.
Listen, cats are actually pretty cool animals, I’m not denying that. But Liz and I once house-sat a place with a cat and that cat would sleep all day and then in the middle of the night it would hop up on the bed and literally try to sleep on my face. It wouldn’t utter a sound all day but at night if you tried to put it outside the bedroom door it would be all like MEOW!
I don’t know how much longer we’ll have Emma for, but I’m grateful for her. She grew up with my kids, she took care of Liz before we were together. She’s been our doorbell and our watchdog and she chases away loneliness. Our dog thinks she is literally part of our family. We like to think that too.