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I grew up with dogs my whole life, so it seemed only natural after Chris and I got married to purchase one of our own. We picked out a one-year-old black and white Australian Cattle Dog with innocent brown eyes. We named him Toby. It was most definitely love at first sight.
Then things went to hell.
The next year was rough. The crazy dog refused to be kenneled. We would come home from work to find the kennel halfway across the room from where it started. One day we noticed three metal bars ripped off the front of the cage and blood all on the inside. When we checked his teeth, we were horrified to discover his two canines broken in half.
We then started tying him to various things around the house while we were gone. During that time, he ate through four leashes, three tie-outs, and attacked a yoga mat and two newspapers until finally he chewed up the wooden banister holding him hostage. We had no choice but to let him have free range of the house.
That's when he destroyed everything.
Toby and I, we had a trial-by-fire sort of relationship for a few years. And that's not to say he's improved by any means. I can't count how many bags of bread, tortillas, or chips he's snatched off the counter and paraded through the house. And let's not talk about that time he ate the bag of fun-sized Baby Ruth's, leading to a large vet bill, and multiple attempts to get him to vomit. (He never did.) And we won't get into the fact that he's killed two birds, a squirrel, and a baby bunny.
He's frustrated me, he's made me cry, and there were times I wondered whose bright idea it was to get a dog in the first place, especially one who needed a ton of exercise and shed like you wouldn't believe.
All this time, when I wanted to scream at him for yet another object destroyed, he's been teaching me how to be a mom.
It's been six years. Along the way I've learned to calmly pick the dog hairs out of my dinner. I've stocked up on winter clothing like I live in the Arctic because forty degrees or ten below, we are out at the park walking him. Last week I picked up the soggy shreddings from his latest joyful attack on the newspaper.
I don't recall when it happened, but this wild shedding animal that refused to be contained in a kennel became my best friend. Especially in the later years that Chris and I spent trying to have a baby. It's easy to talk about the support of family and friends with their well-wishes and encouraging words. But Toby was just our dog. He couldn't talk. Experts say he's not capable of human emotion.
I'm not so sure.
When I found out the pregnancy test for our third and final IUI showed another negative, I came home, set my purse down, and fell on my knees in the bedroom, the tears streaming down my face. He came, sitting down beside me as I wrapped my arms around him. Normally any sort of physical contact with him was an invitation to dash away for a toy for us to throw. This time however, he sat perfectly still, occasionally licking my face as I cried on him.
When we lost our baby in our first round of IVF, his behavior was off. For about two weeks, his normally dopey expression had given way to a certain human puzzlement. In my grief, I'd wander from room to room and Toby would follow me around the house, sticking close by, as if helping me try to find what I had lost.
Now that we are expecting our first child, I see how much he's taught us: about love, about patience, about adaptability, and about forgiveness. All this time, when I wanted to scream at him for yet another object destroyed, he's been teaching me how to be a mom.
Back in 2009, we brought home a dog because I thought I needed one in my life. But the more words I write for this article, the more I realize what I need is Toby. I need him to show me how to be patient when my child is smearing peanut butter on the walls. I need him to show me what unconditional love is when I step on his tail or hug him after not showering for three days. To remind me that stuff is just stuff and that's it's the relationships you have with others that make your life richer. And to show me what it's like to experience pure joy in the little things, whether it's a ride in the car or a game of frisbee… or rolling furiously in a pile of poop.
He's a good dog. He's the best dog. And maybe tomorrow he will eat an entire roll of crackers. I will still love him anyway.