I wasn’t prepared for how hard my life was going to be. None of us are. Unexpected hills and valleys, illnesses, loss, broken hearts, and then even more loss in different forms. There are so many things I have now that I thought I would never have: love, marriage, a sweet husband, a good, well-paying job, and relatively good health (aside from chronic migraines).
But I am healthy enough to get up and go, to work, and to take care of myself and my family.
I am guilty of making decisions in the hope that this “one thing” would make everything better. If I move here- to this place- my life will get better. If I get this job—my life will completely change and everything will work out. None of it is absolute. So many pieces have to fit together. I learn new lessons every day—some infinitely more painful than others.
Last year, as it came time for my annual post about Bear—my 7th, celebrating his 7th year as my sweet boy, I struggled to write it. I try to post on January 17 every year, the date I adopted him. It has always been fun to revisit the previous year of his antics and stories. The last few years have been harder for me to write, because I see time already affecting him and slowing him down. Mind you, he is now only 8, and he has an activity level now that probably represents a normal dog. When he was younger, he had the energy of 10 dogs, and I remember thinking I couldn’t wait until he slowed down.
And now he has.
As I have written before, he truly was a part of saving my life. In a low point—my lowest—I felt there wasn’t much to live for. I had battled depression for most all of my life, and I was losing the battle, the war, and my very desire to try.
Bear wasn’t one of those decisions where I thought—if I get this dog, it will make everything better. Deciding to adopt Bear was an out of the blue, completely unplanned, and not-thought-through, snap decision. Something in me knew he was mine-- and I was his--the very second I saw him. It wasn’t a choice, or a hopeful decision. I just knew he was supposed to come home with me, even though it made no sense at the time to bring a dog into my life.
I have no idea what he went through before he came to me, but I know it probably wasn’t good. He was only 12 weeks old, and for the first few days I had him, he was calm, and seemed sad. He perked up quickly, though, once he seemed to realize that he was staying and not being taken anywhere else.
He was stubborn, demanding, hilarious, and a big cuddle bug.
He is still all of those things today.
The biggest difference between now and even a few years ago is the stomach issues he has. This was a dog that could eat anything—and I mean anything—and would leave the vet scratching his head as to how he ingested a myriad of things, including: matchbooks, lightbulbs, packets of shampoo, Christmas ornaments, and large amounts of chocolate (just to name a few) without so much as a whimper, any sickness, or any damage, or need for surgery.
Now, if we give him too many treats in one day, his stomach gurgles and moans, and he feels awful. Not so awful that he doesn’t continue to beg for more, but he doesn’t have his cast-iron puppy tummy anymore.
We also no longer have to brace ourselves and guard the front door in acrobatic fashion—as he doesn’t dart out the second he sees an opening. This activity consumed our lives the first three years we had him—and I cannot count how many times I ran through several neighborhoods in hot pursuit of my 110 pound dog who had once again Houdini-ed his way out the door and down the street.
But, oh how lucky we are to share every moment.
I know everyone believes their dog is special (and as the saying goes, they would be right). But there are a few dogs—I see this in other dogs I meet at the dog park or other places—that hold some special quality that makes you believe there is something deeper lurking behind those big round eyes staring back at you.
Bear has that quality. He seems so aware of the world around him—in an almost human way. He senses when my husband or I are struggling and comes to us in ways and with gestures that take our breath away. I have a connection with Bear that is hard to explain, and yet, I love to tell people about. The bond he shares with my husband Shea is almost magical to watch. Bear loves Shea – adores him—and has from the second he met him. He hangs on Shea’s every word.
Bear is different with me, more subtle. Cuddling next to me on the couch, wiggling like crazy when I get home from a trip, and wanting me all to himself when he is sick. More than anything, Bear knows when I am off--not feeling well, or depressed or stressed--and he comes and finds me. He comforts me—silently, but not silently. With his big, brown, soulful eyes, he does communicate with me.
I adopted Bear in Charlotte, NC, and then we moved to Myrtle Beach, and then traveled across the country with Bear in the car to move to the San Francisco Bay Area. As Shea and I have had our ups and downs with our careers, family stresses, financial worries, and other issues, Bear was always our constant—the rock that made us laugh in the middle of tension-- and pulled us closer when we needed each other.
I love and hate marking this anniversary—eight years with Bear. I want time to stop. I don’t want to ever think about not having Bear in our lives. It’s silly, I know, to worry like this already. Bear likely has many more years with us, and is far from being old. But I also want this awareness of the fleeting time I have with him, because it makes me and my husband appreciate every second. We absolutely do. This boy has been loved beyond measure from the time he became mine, and every single day he knows it. He is spoiled, given more kisses on his furry head than we could ever count, and gets away with getting in the garbage and eating too much fruit in the backyard because we want every moment for him to be happy.
He does generally get scolded for chasing our cat, or trying to steal treats from his little brother Boone, but other than that, he has a pretty stress-free existence.
He LOVES stuffed toys, but doesn’t tear them apart like other dogs do--along with his brother Boone. He just loves them and carries them around. And every night, when he comes to bed, he chooses one toy to bring with him to sleep. Every night, I think my heart will burst when he does this.
He is hilariously impatient. He knows what we are asking for when we tell him “be patient” as we have to open a wrapper with a bone, treat, or toy, and he barks in defiance of the mere notion that he should be patient for that. He also wants to be let outside and back in the very second he requests both activities, even if that means they are only a minute apart. Once we let him outside and he comes to the door to be let in, he will bark once—urgently and loudly. If you don’t run to open the door, his barking becomes more insistent –and you can hear the annoyance in it. It makes us laugh, especially when he can see us walking to towards the door, but feels the pace isn’t quick enough and barks in rapid-fire fashion to let us know it.
A few months ago, I had the scare of a lifetime. It was very early, around 7:00am, and I was still sleeping after a late night of work. I was woken suddenly by an incredibly loud banging sound. I was sure that a generator had exploded in our neighborhood. The house was dead silent. Even the dogs were so shocked- they didn’t bark, which is unusual--they looked around as I did, confused.
I turned over to see that Shea wasn’t in bed with me. I called out to him. Silence. I got up and walked through the house, still thinking it was a generator that had exploded, not noticing that the lights were on and ceiling fans were running—all the while calling out for Shea. Not in the den, not in the kitchen. I had left my cell phone on the kitchen table and was hoping to see a text from him “gone to the gym”—his usual note to me if I was sleeping when he leaves to run.
Then, I turned to look down the hallway. In a moment I will never forget, I saw that Shea’s bathroom door was closed. That door is never closed unless he is in there. I started running down the hall, now screaming his name. Then, the dogs started barking. I pushed against the door and it wouldn’t open. To my horror, I realized Shea had collapsed and fallen against the door. The loud bang had been his body hitting the door. I pushed against the door, terrified—Shea was unconscious--and I was panicked. I was afraid of not being able to get to him, and also afraid of hurting him further as I pressed the door against his limp body on the other side.
Then, I noticed Bear next to me, pushing against the door with his head, scratching wildly at the floor, crying. He was panicked, too. But the miraculous thing was that the very high dog gate I had the boys blocked into the bedroom with was still in the same place, completely blocking the bedroom door, with no opening for escape. It’s too high for Bear to have jumped. I will never know how he got out in the hallway. All I know is that he had to try and get to his beloved dad, and he was trying to help me.
Thankfully, as I started dialing 911, Shea came around, groaning, the sweetest sound I have ever heard. He ended up spending the night in the hospital for observation, but was totally fine, and the whole thing boiled down to him passing out from extreme pain in his knee.
The night he spent in the hospital, Bear was inconsolable. He sat staring at the front door, whining, jumping at every sound outside to see if it was Shea coming home. Bear never likes it when Shea is gone, but this was different. This was worry. I had to force him into the bedroom that night, and he stood at the gate for most of it, staring down the hallway, whining.
Since Shea came home, he can’t shut the bathroom door without Bear scratching, or managing to open it. He sometimes stands in the bathroom while Shea showers. He is keeping an eye on him, and his worrying is so human, so real. We both talk to him and assure him. But, it’s in those eyes of his. He understands what happened, and he is worried.
As much as I try and explain it, I can’t. The special being this dog is. His sixth sense of knowing so many things that he shouldn’t be able to understand. The way he cocks his head when we talk to him. The way he comes to me when I am too deep in thought about things I can’t change, and no one but me knows my heart is hurting, and I am in the bedroom alone. I hear the soft click-click of his claws as he enters the bedroom and comes to me, quietly, slowly, and puts his head against mine, and then lays down next to me.
When I first brought him home, Bear literally saved me.
He still does, every single day.
It’s funny, I have made so many (what I considered to be) well-thought-out decisions in my life, in the hopes of that one small, insignificant thing changing my whole life for the better. But the one decision I made without thinking, without weighing the pros and cons, and without putting the weight of all my happiness on the outcome, turned out to be the one decision that did all those things and more.
Thank you, sweet Bear, for eight years with us.
You are so loved.
We are so lucky.
All of my Bear posts, year by year: