I wanted a ‘fetch-playing Fido’; what I got was a furry ball of Xanax
When I was in graduate school I often joked about getting a therapy dog. To be clear, I wasn’t really going to use him or her for self-therapy — although graduate school is tremendously stressful and, as I’ve written about in previous columns, I do struggle with several overlapping anxiety disorders.
Nope, I wanted a therapy dog because that was the only type of canine permitted in graduate student housing. I’ll be honest here: I just wanted a dog and that was the only loophole available to getting one. My entire childhood I romanticized the experience of dog-owning: I’d imagine us playing fetch, packing up the car together for long road trips up into the mountains. Essentially I wanted a real-life Jeep commercial.
Thoughts of scraping up doggy poo (and occasionally doggy diarrhea or vomit), forking over thousands of dollars in vet bills, and scheduling my entire social life around imaginary Fido never even entered the fantasy.
Fortunately, I didn’t end up adopting at that time in life as I now realize I wasn’t at all ready – in terms of time management and finances – to be a doggy parent. A couple years later I would adopt a kitten as a half-assed substitute (sorry, but I’m clearly a dog person), and I regret to this very day that I made that decision at a time in life when I was clearly not prepared to raise a pet.
Fast-forward to spring 2013: I’m well into my second year of a relationship and we’re about to move in together. Tawny had owned a dog before – well, she owned a Pomeranian – and she had been longing for a new furry companion for some time. Resources, relational commitment, and a bit of extra time (as I scaled back from three jobs to two and eliminated my arduous commute) all stabilized and we made the decision to adopt.
A puppy. A black lab puppy. A ball-of-frenetic-energy-chew-your-hands-with-micro-teeth-destroyer-pooper-factory-that-also-doubles-as-an-alarm-clock-that-wakes-you-up-well-before-your-actual-alarm-clock-is-even-entertaining-the-idea-of-consciousness-itself.
This is not a therapy dog, I clearly recall thinking at the time. As a matter of fact, this could very well drive one to seek therapy.
Months passed. We took Shado to multiple training sessions. More importantly, Tawny had spare time before she began her first year of law school and she worked tirelessly with Shado. Additionally, Shado began to mold her own habits and routines to us. She began sleeping in later. She became accustomed to the rituals and rules we had created as a household.
As Shado got older, Tawny got busier. But by this time the work we had all done together (i.e., Tawny) paid off handsomely. We had raised a good dog. I’m not trying to fool you; she’s still a hyper lab, although she is oddly obedient and when properly exercised, actually quite calm. Yet by the time Tawny began law school, Shado knew the ground rules.
And that would end up being a very important thing as Tawny was commencing a remarkably stressful and anxiety-provoking program.
Anyone who has ever attended law school will tell you two things:
- Sleep is a luxury.
- You have never in your life truly worked prior to this point.
OK, I’m being a tad hyperbolic but it’s not far-fetched (no pun intended) to state the obvious: law school keeps you busy. And though I had cut my own schedule back, that only meant I was working 65 hours a week instead of 100.
Things got hectic fast. Though Tawny enjoys her studies remarkably (maybe even a bit perversely; this is LAW school after all), she is constantly busy. And busyness = stress. Lots and lots of it. For both of us actually.
I began to notice a strange trend emerging as her semester progressed. When she would arrive home for the day, rather than running up to me for a kiss, she would scamper excitedly to Shado, who is easily more of a mama’s girl than a daddy’s girl. I’d get the after-thought peck and the fatigued, happy-to-see-you-smile, but Shado would get the, “HEY! HOW ARE YOU? I MISSED YOU! MOMMY MISSED YOU! YES SHE DID! YES SHE DID!”
Granted, I don’t want her to say, “mommy missed you” to me.
Incidentally, Shado has become Tawny’s own therapy dog. I’m not suggesting my fiancée is clinically crazy like I am, just insanely overworked. And when Tawny’s stress escalates into anxiety or frustration she frequently calls for her apartment bestie (hint: it’s not me), pulls her close, and nuzzles her face. Shado usually knows to stay put on these occasions, and at times she seems almost humanly aware of Tawny’s need. It’s sincere love in those moments and I’m not jealous in the slightest. I’m genuinely thrilled. That ten month old pup can calm Tawny faster than a Xanax and a shot of whiskey.
Tawny got the therapy dog I had considered getting back in graduate school.
I got the Jeep commercial.