This past weekend, my parents came to visit for some family celebrations. Balton actually did surprisingly well during the visit, but only felt comfortable enough to come out and visit with his grandparents one day of the five they were with us. Nevertheless, he was content to hang out in the kitchen and back porch during most of their stay, and only barked at my dad a few times when he would get up and move about (my dad has been over to visit us less often than my mom, who Balton is by and large used to by now).
My dad is sort of used to being loved by all dogs, so I think it’s hard for him not to take offense that Balton did not immediately warm to him (or that he hasn’t decided to become his BFF by now). In spite of my dad’s natural love for dogs, and the fact that he has had dogs all his life, he’s also been pretty fortunate to be surrounded by your typical, resilient, tolerant family dog. In fact, as a child, we had a temperamental Miniature Schnauzer named Whitney who was not fond of children and a bit destructive (okay, he would chew his way through dog gates and one day we came home to find all the pillows in our living room had been shredded). We ended up rehoming him with a family friend when I was six, and he lived out his days being spoiled and pampered as the only at-home “child” when the three adult kids had moved out. Looking back now, it’s pretty clear he probably had some fear and anxiety issues. I think rehoming him was the best thing, but I also think growing up, we kids didn’t necessarily realize that dogs weren’t playthings, and that we were probably dealing with symptoms of stress instead of indicators of a bad dog. Yet, even with all his issues, Whitney seemed to love my dad and would cuddle up with him when we would go to parties at his new family’s house.
So this weekend, when my dad said to me, “I love dogs, but I don’t think I could love a dog like Balton,” it sort of stuck with me. I understand why he would say it – because Balton doesn’t give his love to just anyone. In fact, he has given it to very few. But as quickly as he said it, I was as quick to respond. Not defensively, but truthfully. “Actually, he’s a very easy dog for me to love.”
Sure, he can frustrate me and confound me at times. The level of management and energy he requires in order to live a happy life can be exhausting. I worry about his health and happiness. I realize his world is much smaller than those of other dogs, and it starts to make me sad, until I realize that he’s happy in that world, and that’s all that counts. He gets so excited to welcome his people home. It takes every fiber in his being to keep all four paws on the ground and wait for me to bend down to give kisses. His tail wags in a circle when Nick or I come home. His human social circle doesn’t really extend beyond Nick, the dog walker two days a week, and me. But when he joins me up on the couch for TV every night, or sunbathes peacefully on our back deck, or engages in silly wrestling matches with Nick and Ollie, or happily sniffs grass fervently on our walks to explore the world in a way that makes him feel good, senses when I’m sick and cozies up to give me nuzzles and licks on the cheek, it all reminds me how very much I love him. And honestly, there are no less than 20 moments a day that reinforce that fact.