Another Patriotic holiday has come, which, naturally, means that every proud citizen is required to buy explosives and set them off in their yards. I don't know why or how this tradition began, but I do know that for many years it created stress and worry in my household. D.J., my otherwise well-adjusted, confident hound/shepherd mix, was terrified of fireworks. She would shake, quiver, try to burrow under furniture, and couldn't be left alone. She had to be close to me, preferably touching me. If I happened to be in bed, this meant that I had to hang my hand over the side of the bed so that she would could nuzzle it from her hiding place under the bed. The comical aspect of this disturbing and upsetting scene is that D.J. was not a small dog, so she pretty much had to cram herself into the space under the bed, so when she shook, she actually made the entire bed shake like one of those old vibrating beds. That was often my first warning that a thunderstorm might be coming on in the middle of the night. It could be annoying, because no amount of comforting, conversation, or coercion could convince D.J. that the fireworks (or thunder) were not going to come into our house and harm her. But, really, how can you be mad when your bed is shimmying?
I lived with D.J.'s phobias for so long that they became my own. I adjusted my life in expectation of her reactions. I changed my behaviors to minimize her trauma. I would never dream of leaving her alone during any 4th of July celebrations, Labor Day weekend, Memorial Day weekend, or Halloween, when the possibility of a repeatedly ringing doorbell would send her into fits of barking, panting, and pacing. In fact, it became my regular practice to leave work early on any Halloween that fell on a workday, just in case the neighborhood kids started celebrating early. I did my best to turn every situation that frightened her into something positive. I had no luck with the fireworks or thunderstorms, but was so successful with Halloween that before I knew it, it had become my favorite holiday and one that all of the dogs looked forward to.
I lived with D.J.'s idiosyncrasies for so long that it wasn't until last night, well into the evening's pyrotechnics, that I realized how quiet the dogs were. None of them, it seems, are afraid of fireworks. Though my insides were twisted in stress and worry, Iko, Bennie, Gator, and Brandi slept or laid quietly around the living room, oblivious to the dangerous projectiles soaring through the skies over our house. They had no idea of the impending doom just outside our windows, but I expected them to be in duress. D.J. has been gone since December 26, 2004, and I still anticipate how every bang and boom will affect her. It was clearly she who trained me, and not the other way around. And, with my luck, by the time I unlearn this behavior, I will probably once again be living with a scaredy dog.
Now, lest I leave you with the idea that knowing and loving D.J. left me traumatized and scarred, let me point out that I wrote about her lasting positive influence on my life in another entry a year ago. D.J. truly did save my life in many ways--giving me hope when I was hopeless, teaching me about the power of unconditional love, leading me into a life of service and volunteerism, and proving to me that no matter how dark and scary the storm might be, the sun always rises the next morning. She had a can-do spirit and never let her physical limitations slow her down. Despite her spinal problems that the vets told me had to cause great pain and constant discomfort, she always had a smile on her face and she often managed to span great distances while my head was turned. She left me way too early, but she left me with a lifetime of positive memories.
It's funny how dogs change us. My sister and my mother-in-law both recently decided to welcome a puppy into their households. They are both people who haven't owned a dog for a few years and have said that they didn't really want another dog. In fact, they are two of the last people I would have ever dreamed would be adopting dogs right now, especially puppies! My sister has a full plate with a full-time job and four kids in the house. She's got 2 older cats who she adores, but who are very low maintenance creatures. My mother-in-law is at that point in life where she enjoys her quiet time in the garden and the ability to travel when she wants. She also has a resident cat who makes the rules and does as he pleases. I can only imagine how their lives will be turned upside down by these little furry additions!
I can't wait to hear about the frustrations of housebreaking, the wonders of weird behaviors, and the discoveries of destroyed shoes, paperbacks, pillows, and other seemingly uninteresting household items that somehow prove irresistible to a teething canine. I can't wait to see the pictures that document the changes from puppy-faced cuteness, through their awkward adolescence, into adulthood and the senior years. I can't wait for the way that living with a dog will change them. I hope that they will experience the joy, the fun, and the laughter that accompany life with a dog in it. I hope that they will wonder if their hearts are going to burst from sheer love for this four-legged baby. I know that someday they will feel the pain of loss, but I hope that that day is long and far into the future, and that their happy memories will make it all worthwhile.
So, tonight, as the stillness of the summer evening is disturbed by bottle rockets, M-60's, Black Cats, Roman candles, cherry bombs, repeaters, and various other exploding devices, I will practice no longer being tense or worried. Instead, I will think about how happy D.J. was on all the days of the year not punctuated by fireworks. I will think about how happy my sister's puppy will be in his new life, getting to know his kitty sisters and being loved on by a houseful of kids. I will think about how happy my mother-in-law's puppy will be in her new life, getting to know her kitty brother, chasing squirrels out of the garden, exploring the ruins of Civilian Conservation Corps' campsites, and romping among the ghosts of the Civil War who inhabit the side of Lookout Mountain. And, I will think about how happy D.J. would know that my life has gone on and that two dogs in need have found forever families. Sounds like a good enough reason for fireworks to me!