I haven't always been a patient or forgiving person. I remember babysitting my four younger siblings, a duty I resented since, after all, it was never my choice to be the oldest, and losing my temper on a regrettably regular basis. It seems that two, if not all five, of us were always fighting when my parents returned from their date nights, which I now can appreciate how desperately they needed. Most often, my sister, the baby, was the unfortunate recipient of our constant torture. I remember thinking that I could never be a teacher, and I had serious doubts about my ability to be a mother someday.
And then I met Gracie. My four-year relationship with J had fallen apart two weeks prior. Having lost Bella only months before, my heartbreak and lonliness had caused nearly irreparable damage. So Shannon and I went to the shelter after work one day. I wasn't sure I was ready yet, but what would be the harm in looking, right?! Wrong - I should have known that I can never walk into a shelter without walking out with a new pet. There she was, in the same "featured pet" space that brought me my first fluffy bundle of joy, the death row cage. I had seen her picture on the web site, but she was different here. Her picture portrayed a large dog with a sad face, and here in front of me was a small puppy with a sweet face. I opened the door to say hello, and she climbed onto my lap and nuzzled against my chest. Check, please! I was a goner. That was November 1.
By December 5, I was ready to take her back. I realized I was in over my head. Buyer's remorse, I guess. She was not 1-1/2 like they told me - she was a puppy, still apparently teething and chewing on everything! That, coupled with the worst case of separation anxiety of any being on this planet, caused destruction approximating that of warfare and natural disasters. My roommate's couch, my roommate's phone (later I would learn that my roommate was mean to her, causing the chewing bias toward her things over mine), electrical cords, shoes, lingerie, a brand-new sweater, my down comforter, just to name a few of the unfortunate items left in ruins after encountering the unnatural strength of her young jaws.
I soon learned to puppy-proof the house, and we moved into our own apartment, away from the horrible roommate, and her behavior noticeably improved. Now that we've practiced our routine for two years, she is finally starting to trust me. She knows that I will always come back when I leave for work. She has learned the difference between the kennel and the shelter. She understands, for the most part, what things are off-limits. But every now and then, she inexplicably reverts to the terror that I first brought home. There is no rhyme or reason, no way to predict when and what she will do. And when it happens, she looks at me apologetically, with that same sad look from the photograph, a look that begs "do you still love me?" And I cave. And I realize that her snuggles on cold winter nights, and her excited bouncing when I first open my eyes in the morning after she patiently sits at the foot of my bed awaiting her walk, and her thankful kisses when I play with her, and her gentle paw on my leg as she sits quietly next to me when I am sad, and the way her whole body wags when she is happy, are worth more than anything I may ever have to replace.