Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Solo's Got Day

Solo enjoys the wind in his face in Zamora, CA, winter 2006.

Written for Solo on September 11, 2001.

This is the one-year anniversary of the day I got the dog I didn’t want.

It was a scant ten days after my heart’s dog died and he was nothing at all of what I was looking for in a dog. He was too big, the wrong color, the wrong gender – the wrong dog – but when the leash was offered to me, without thinking, I took it anyway. I named the dog a name I didn’t even particularly like. It was just the first one that came to me and it didn’t matter, it was as good as any other. It didn’t feel like he was my dog anyway.

As the days went by Solo’s issues made themselves manifest one by one. I realize now that in a weird way I started to see Solo as an adversary. There was a part of me that just couldn’t believe the best dog ever was taken from me only to be replaced by a dog like this.

Oh, I got so much advice. Most of it excellent. Some of it questionable. I solicited opinions from everyone I knew about what I should do with this dog. I solicited opinions from people I didn’t know -- rescuers and trainers and Border Collie folks. The contacts I made then, I value still.

Deep in my heart what I wanted them to tell me was that I couldn’t keep him.

I didn’t want him. I wanted permission from someone I respected to replace Solo with a “good” dog; I wanted to be able to mouth with perfect conviction that “it was the right thing to do” and “he would be better off somewhere else” and “he was the wrong dog for me.” More days went by, one week, two. Solo would not sleep and he wouldn’t eat hardly anything, either. I threw away so much uneaten canned food that I ended up with a maggot problem in the kitchen garbage. On trash day, after being paralyzed briefly with disgust, I hauled the entire trash can out to the curb wrapped in three plastic bags, hoping the garbage guys would forgive me. I bought a new one.

I made the decision to try and find a rescue that would take Solo. That day, when I went out to get my lunch I bought Solo an entire hamburger with cheese and mayonnaise and fed him the whole thing. (Despite the hunger strike he was on, he couldn’t resist a hamburger.) I figured, he’s not my dog, it doesn’t matter anymore and how nice I am to spoil him. All the rescues were full. I amended my decision. I would keep Solo until a space at a rescue opened up. Another week went by. I realized slowly that I could end up keeping Solo for a very long time.

I remember the moment I decided to keep Solo, no matter what. We were at Petco, in the food aisles, and I couldn’t find anything with ingredients I was willing to feed him (or that I thought he would eat). I turned from a bag of kibble to look at Solo and he was standing there like a dead dog – head and tail hanging limply, eyes glassy and blank. Drooling. Sides heaving, dry, dull hair. Every rib showing. He looked like he was waiting for someone to come and kill him. My heart finally opened. I dropped to my knees and wrapped my arms around him and put my face in his ruff. He wagged the tip of his tail, this little, tentative wag, like he was afraid to commit to it. And he leaned against me. I think I remember this, but I probably made it up because it sounds too perfect. Probably what he really did was just keep standing there, drooling. I can’t remember. I was too sleep-deprived.

That was when I started putting him back together.

It has been a year now. He is the same dog he was then. He is a different dog than he was. Both of these statements are true. Solo has come a very long way – you may not be all that impressed, given what he is now, but regardless, it is true. In the past few months, in particular, he has improved dramatically, to the point that most of the time I can almost forget that he ever had problems. He’s coming to events with me and going to school and running errands and really seems to be getting it as far as the sheep thing. He’s making friends with men he’s been scared of for months. He can be left alone for several hours, loose, without panicking. He’s happy and he smiles a lot. Like a normal dog.

Will he ever really be normal? I doubt it. But I think he is capable of approaching normalcy – maybe asymptotically, but even so.

I am no longer sorry that I have this dog. I am thankful for all he has taught me. Solo has taken me places I never thought I would go. He has introduced me to people I would never have met. All of the things I wish I hadn’t taken for granted with my last dog, I treasure with Solo, because we had to fight so hard to get all of it. I would not trade him for another.

Happy Got Day, Solo.