Right after the turn of the 21st century, I found myself knee deep in what I now call my insane years. Let me define “insane”. I was a single mother since my kids were in their early grammar school years. By the time they made it to middle school, I was a masters-prepared professional with a good job and climbing the corporate ladder. We had a dog, 2 cats and a house in the suburbs. I had the freedom of finances to buy my daughter a used car from a dealer that was actually “cool” and I had taken temporary guardianship of one of my kids’ friends whose mom died suddenly. You didn’t need a research background to compile the stats that I was stretched pretty thin – did I mention that I had just returned to graduate school in pursuit of a PhD?
Yeah, I was pretty nutty but not conscious of my nuttiness, I guess because one day I looked at my dog and realized he was lonely. This dog therapist tendency resulted in me looking for a companion for him as my children became increasingly busy outside the home. It wasn’t long til I found ‘Ginger’ at one of the local shelters.
Ginger was listed as an Abyssinian Shepherd, which I had never heard of, but the photo they had uploaded showed a regal and proud dog whose spirit cried out to me to save her from the shelter. I became obsessed with finding her.
I traveled to the shelter, and looked high and low for the beautiful dog from the web. I could not find her, so I went to the desk for help. They took me to a dog who barely resembled the proud pooch I saw on the petfinder web site. Her ribs were visible, she was high strung and not very regal-looking. She also looked less exotic than the Abyssinian Shepherd she was purported to be, looking suspiciously like a Husky/German Shepherd/Greyhound mix with bad teeth. Still, something about her tugged on my heart strings.
She had been surrendered 6 ½ months prior, and had been fostered “unsuccessfully” several times. I was sure this was her last chance – she had that resigned look of “no one stops at my crate anymore” and I knew I had to get her out of there. I also knew that the high strung aspect wouldn’t be an issue; after all, we had an Airedale Terrier at home – the embodiment of high strung!
Ginger came home with me and my daughter was sympathetic while my son scolded me for bringing a “pound scrat” home and in fact, her face did resemble the scrat on the cartoon epic, Ice Age (the critter that chases the elusive acorn).
People who know me know that I would never return an animal to the pound, ever. But in the midst of my crazy life, and after Ginger escaped 4 times in the first week running up across a busy street, weaving in and out of traffic trying to get someone to open their door and let her in, I wondered where my brain had gone and why I had brought this additional stress into my life. Although Jackson, my Airedale, seemed to like the company, Ginger was a lot of work. She had a hard time going all day without peeing, so I had to put papers in the basement so she could pee before I made it home to let them out. To her credit, she never once peed upstairs and always went to the basement on the newspaper, but I needed an extra chore like a hole in the head.
One day I was sitting next to her on the couch and wondering why I seemed to make such rash and seemingly foolish decisions. As I looked at her, with her snaggle tooth sticking out the side of her mouth, her ribs still visible and the “husky hair” now scattered throughout the house, requiring daily vacuuming and sticky rollers, I struggled to find anything positive about my decision. This only made me feel guilty, though. I needed to, I WANTED to love her like Jackson; like my cats, but it seemed to be harder than I ever imagined.
In an attempt to communicate how sorry I was for falling short of the generous heart that I wanted, I reached out to pet her, and realized at that moment that this somewhat-homely dog had the softest, most perfect ears I had ever touched. They were irresistible and something inside of me said quietly, but firmly: focus on that one aspect for now.
I began to focus my thoughts and attention on Ginger’s soft, perfect ears. Every time I petted her, or interacted with her, I made sure to touch and appreciate her beautiful ears. Almost magically, my doubts about her began to fade, and she put on weight, removing the visible ribs and making her “snaggle-tooth” less visible. The better diet and teeth care improved her smile, she calmed down (a little, anyway) and became my constant companion, at my side whenever I was home. I came to know her for the wonderful being that she was and am blessed to be looking forward to the 9th anniversary of rescuing her (she was about 14 when I wrote this – she passed away in 2015 at the age of 17).
Ginger continued to be my shadow. My kids are grown and gone and without Ginger, no one would have known when I came and went, let alone care. I worked at home for a number of years and she was usually in her chair, watching TV or in my office with me. At the time I could not imagine waking up and not having her follow me to the bathroom, then downstairs to go outside and then waiting for her breakfast though I recognized (at the time I wrote this) that at 14 years, I would need to make peace with the fact that sooner than I am ready, I will have to say goodbye to Ginger.
Someone once told me that dogs come to us to teach us things that we need to learn. Ginger has taught me so many things, and continues to as she ages into her senior years with increasing needs for accommodations. Her most important lesson however was the lesson of her ears. When there was little else that I could see in her as positive, I found her ears which were soft, perfect – a thing of beauty amongst what seemed to be a pretty sad looking pup. How rich a lesson for dealing with people who are irritating, aggravating or seem to be more trouble than they are worth. Could I take the time to look for their ears – their soft, beautiful spot that I could appreciate and that could be the path toward loving them, or at the very least, appreciating them for the unique human beings they are?
While I’ve not perfected this by any stretch, I do find that more often I will pause and remember the lesson of Ginger’s ears which then allows me to shift my perspective, and find something in that person that I can honor and respect.
I now am certain that Ginger crossed that rainbow bridge, and was honored for taking an initially hard path in this world so that she would have the chance to teach a simple girl a most important and timeless lesson about love.
– – – – –
(( originally blogged in 2012 ))