Loving Your Dog Will Open Your Heart

Daniel House

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I am a pretty sick lover of dogs; however I’ve only been a parent to a dog twice in my life. The first one was when I was eight years old. He was an Irish setter, and his name was “Branch.” Branch was a rich reddish brown – you know the color of a branch. Leave me alone – I was eight. Ok, so anyway, I loved that dog like any kid has ever loved another animal, so when he was “stolen,” my heart was broken, and I felt a pain like I’d never known in my life. The word “stolen” is in quotes because I’ve always suspected that Branch was in fact sold by my junkie mom and her junkie friends (another post for another time) so that they could get some quick cash to get high.

Branch was dumb as a rock but sweet as they come. My mom used to let him out in the morning to pee and what have you, and when she’d let him back in, he would have dumped the entire garbage can over so that he could dig through the trash in order to find the one treasure which he would sweetly leave on the foot of her bed as a gift, a token of his love and gratitude. My mom never had the heart to scold him for dumping the trashcan and spreading out the garbage across our back yard because the spirit of the thing was just so sweet…but over time my mom got more and more strung out and eventually Branch just disappeared that one afternoon in the hills of Berkeley…and was gone forever. I cried every day for at least three weeks, every night riding my bike with the banana seat as far as my legs would take me for an hour – sometimes two – everywhere calling out Branch’s name, screaming Branches name, tears streaming down my face the entire time, knowing that I’d never see him again but holding on to that thin glimmer of hope against all hope that just up this next street, he’d come bouncing out, tail wagging so excited to finally be reunited with the boy that loved a dog more than humanity ever knew to be possible.  It never happened, and eventually I stopped searching, and eventually I stopped calling out his name. It seemed that I ran out of tears, but a tiny part of my soul had been crushed and squeezed into a tiny black speck of resentment and hatred for the unfairness that the world throws at you just to spite your very existence – just to see how you’ll react. It’s got nothing to do with if you’ve been good or bad, it’s just a test; a little piece of glass in your yogurt that you only notice the moment after you’ve swallowed.

After that I had cats.

Cats are cool. Cats are independent: they don’t necessarily need you though. They love you on their terms, and if you’re not down with that, well…“whatever dude, I’m a cat – live with it.”

Fast-forward 30 or so years. I’m living in Seattle. I’ve been there for 20 plus years, way too long if I’m to be completely honest. I meet Patty. Things got serious. She moves in and eventually we moved to the City of Angels together in 2003…and she wants a dog. OK, I’m still a sick animal lover, that’s something that’s never really changed. I’ve always loved the doggies, but on some core injured inner-child level was never willing to allow myself to get another dog as that pain of losing Branch was still lurking in the recesses of my psyche.

But she said “I want a dog.”

And I said “ok.”

Upon arriving in Los Angeles, my quest was simple. It was not to find a dog. That is not how I typically proceed in life. The focus was that I needed to find the dog, and so it seemed that Pippa was presented to me…almost magically. I could bore you with that “everything happens for a reason” line that so incredibly annoys me, but I’ll spare you. I’ll just call it a strange form of alchemy, magic, or coincidence. Call it what you want, I don’t care. There she was, special, delightful, in the cage at the shelter, magical little 3 month old puppy amidst all the chaotic noise of the dozens of scared dogs barking, and the smell of piss and shit and fear, because these dogs have mostly been aware of other dogs they’ve been cage-mates with having been taken away to be euthanized. The thin sense of death hangs in the air, and the dogs understand that these people that come in and look at them are in essence their saviors; these are the people that will take them away from this horrible place and give the their life back, a life that is hanging by a thread, all for something that is has nothing to do with anything that they’ve ever done. There is a pureness to their life, and there is no consideration of spite or of malice. In this regard they are like children, and for many of us, they are our children.

Pippa the day she came home

I walked into the shelter in South Central, a facility with nine cement rows, each lined along both sides with cages full of dogs, most of whom will not make it out of there alive, a great majority of them Pitbulls or Pitbull mixes. And there in the third cage on the left is this adorable little 17 pound hunk of sweetness who upon meeting my eyes does not get, up, does not start barking, but instead just quietly meets my gaze and starts wagging steadily in a way that felt like she was saying, “there you are. I’ve been waiting for you…I’m so glad you finally came…” It is immediate: I am daddy and she is my daughter. I love this sweet little baby. She is mine. I am taking her away from this terrible place. And so I did.

At the time, I had the good fortune (or maybe it was her good fortune) of being unemployed, so for those first several months, we spent our days together. When I did finally have a job to go to, the hard part was leaving her alone in the house, but she seemed fine with it, and the nice part was that she never had to be crate trained because she could roam in and out of the house into the backyard, or at the very least let me know when she needed to go out. Over those months we developed a deep bond, and our relationship as father and daughter was established and cemented. She re-awakened a place in my heart that I don’t think I’d known since I had been that child that lost Branch. That tiny black speck was beginning to disappate. I was finding what the phrase “unconditional love” truly meant. With the one  exception of my son, before this it was a concept and a theory, but something that I did not necessarily believe actually existed in real life. It does; it was just not something that I was completely capable of until Pippa entered the scene. She’s been here for eight years now, and has been one of the best things about living in L.A. She is not a dog, but simply one of my very favorite people in the world. Her expressive little filo-dough ears (you can’t help but wanna nibble on ‘em) and her zen demeanor…I think somebody needs a little treat…

Pippa in the front yard today

5 thoughts on “Loving Your Dog Will Open Your Heart”

  1. I loved every word and relate to them all! I too am a animal lover but have a special place in my heart for dogs. I have had a few more than you, 9 including my Sweet Tula, who is also 8 years old. My dogs in order: Hashish, Muzzy, Malaka, Shazbot, Chusko (a wolf hybrid), Snitter, Mandy, Roux and Tula. All of them loved very much!

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