No matter what I am doing, writing, cooking, watching television, working in my garden, my dog Sadie waits for me. I wake up at night sometimes and she is watching me…waiting.
It’s no surprise. The day I drove to PetSmart to “look” at puppies…a little dog was waiting. She was waiting for a home…waiting for the touch and scent of that special someone she’d know would be her person…waiting to be loved…waiting for me.
And so it is with the dogs we take into our lives and agree to take care of…they wait for us to do so. Sadie was the beginning of the most wonderful experience of my life and my promise to take care of her was sincere…but how to care for her I had no idea, I just knew I could and I would because it was so easy to love her. So even that it was overwhelming and exhausting to tend to all the needs of a small puppy, Sadie could not wait for me to become a responsible “Mom” to her from the moment she slid into the entryway of what would now become “our” home.”
Everything Sadie needed, had to come from me…food…water…possessions…medical care…safety…family. A tall order by any stretch, and it scared me. I’d really never been responsible for anyone else but me for almost my entire life and hadn’t done so well with the two-legged loves in my life and as proof…none of them were around anymore. How was I going to be responsible for well being and happiness of this dog? I counted on the advice of other pet parents, a good vet, my newly discovered maternal instincts, and as my love for Sadie grew, so did my innate knowledge of what she required and my duty to provide it.
It doesn’t matter how you acquire a dog. Whether you purchase one from a reputable breeder or rescue one from a shelter like me, your first responsibility is to make this dog part of your life. I was dumb enough to think “my dog” would live in the back yard, not have long hair that got on my clothes, and of course, there would be no face licking. Sadie sleeps with me, I have dog hair sticky rollers everywhere as well as a very powerful “pet hair” vacuum that’s worthless, and Sadie licks my face endlessly to my delight.
I hired a Pet Nanny the first two years of vacation after I got Sadie…but I missed her. So instead of skipping over the rental properties with the paw prints symbolizing that they allowed dogs, I searched for them. I didn’t go out for expensive lunches anymore; I went home and walked with Sadie. I didn’t need to go out with friends after work…she was home and she was waiting for me. It was the most wonderful sight to peek through the basement window and see her…sitting in her crate facing the basement stairs…waiting…because she knew I was coming home momentarily. Nothing related to Sadie was a sacrifice…everything was a joy.
Many people want to get a dog to protect them, and I knew very soon, that Sadie would attack anyone that would ever try to harm me. Unexpectedly though, I realized that I too needed to protect her. While sitting on our front porch one day, Sadie spotted a friend across the street and before I could grab her, she ran into the street and I raced after her. I still thank God there wasn’t a fast car and will never forget how I cried into her soft fur as I carried her home knowing deeply how great my loss would’ve been.
Keeping our dogs safe is our duty. There are millions of tragic stories of other “Sadies” who didn’t make it back from a dash into the street. There are equally as many of dogs accidentally poisoned because no one bothered to learn what their dog could never eat; dogs who suffocated in hot cars or froze to death being left outside. Responsible dog owners use leashes to keep their dog safe around traffic, remove their collars when putting them crates, secure them with safety harnesses in cars, and in all things provide absolute safety and well being for their dog.
I agreed to have Sadie spayed when I adopted her and to take her to a veterinarian for all her shots. I remember feeding her ice chips after her surgery and starting a file for all her medical records. When she collapsed on a walk one day, a long ordeal began before a diagnosis was reached. I didn’t hesitate when the local vet recommended she go to Virginia Tech for treatment. Each day for two years I gave her the vet cardiologist’s prescription as she came in from her morning walk. She’d vomited in her crate one Sunday while I was at church and when she didn’t get better during the day, went to an emergency vet clinic. I sat up all night watching her while she slept. Morning couldn’t come fast enough as I waited anxiously to get her to her own vet.
Responsible dog owners must be cognizant of what our dogs tell us with their actions about how they feel. Sadie itched endlessly. She was tested for allergies and received medication that eased her symptoms. I notice when she limps, when she is lethargic, when she doesn’t eat. At a book signing once I mindlessly reached down to stroke her ear and it was very hot. A quick call to her vet and I knew what to do to soothe the irritation.
Sadie had no worldly goods when she came to live with me. We took an extravagant shopping trip to PetSmart and I felt as out of place as the rare times I’d been in a baby department. We ran around the store asking questions, getting a collar and leash, food, treats toys, brushes, shampoo…things I knew I’d need if I was starting over. (except for the collar and leash that is) I never say “later’ to Sadie when she brings me one of her many toys…because I know some day….she will not want to play. I know this because other dog parents have told me about that day and it would be the greatest wish ever granted if it never arrived. Seven times the pace of mine, Sadie’s life goes by…throw a ball and catch it…run after Mr. Squirrel…go grab the Christmas tree that plays music…shake the neon lobster until he squeaks…walk through our subdivision…moments we share. Responsible dog parents take time to play with their dogs. Agility training, water sports, hiking, and chasing beach birds are all great exercise both mentally and physically for dogs and people.
Even novice pet parents know that dogs need food and water. The first time I heard Sadie drink water I thought my kitchen drain was malfunctioning. She didn’t drink…she attacked her water one slurp at a time and sat back and licked her mouth. However, selecting food was a process of elimination…what she liked, what was good for her, and what she wasn’t allergic to. I learned that dogs like people need variety in their nutrition and there are many good brands to choose from. Responsible pet owners discuss nutrition with their vets. They make sure their dog has fresh water all the time and clean feeding dishes. Although Sadie can be sneaky…opening her treat drawer and sitting there sweetly until I notice, she waits for me to feed her and she can depend on me.
Pet owners can provide mere basics to your dog, but as a reliable, responsible, loving pet parent you will do more. Get in tune with the needs and wants of your dog…yes wants. They want to be touched…they want to be praised…they want to be part of your life. The most responsible thing you can do for your dog is always do for them what they must wait for you to do.
Just like babies, a puppy or new dog may not always arrive at a convenient time…but I believe they always appear at the right time. Just like a parent holding the handle bars of a child’s training wheel bike, we pet parents hold the end of the leash and begin our dog’s walk through life with us. And even like couples saying “I do” and exchanging rings…we say “I will” to our dogs and place tags on their collars denoting we are responsible for them. There is a very distinct look in a dog’s eyes when they are with someone that takes responsibility for them that clearly says, “This is my person and we are responsible for each other.”
It is bedtime and as I get ready for bed, I see Sadie in the mirror behind me…waiting. I tap her toothbrush on the sink and she drags herself over for “toofen” brushing time. We go downstairs for that last trip outside and Sadie patrols the yard for the final security check of the night. I wait. Bare feet and paws go up the stairs together…we waited for each other and it was worth it.
Causes Patti Lawson Supports
All causes that are kind to people and animals.
The Worthy Project
Animal Legal Defense Fund