Must Love Dogs. Till The End.

I was 17 when my first dog found me.  I had just finished high school and was arriving for my first job of the day (I had three).  I was starting my morning with a little before-school nanny service at my former Biology teacher’s home.  Every morning I would get her kids up and off to school before heading to my college classes.  This particular morning was different and definitely one I’ll never forget.

As I pulled up in front of the house and parked in the street, a giant wolf started approaching my car.  He had one blue eye, stood tall enough to peer straight through the driver’s side window of my gold ’87 volvo, and he stood there just looking at me.  I turned the car off and contemplated what to do.  He was clearly a dog of the Husky variety but with Cujo/bear proportions.  Having zero dog experience, I wasn’t overly familiar with the multitude of dog breeds and didn’t know about the gentle giant that is the Alaskan Malamute.   I was in for the treat of a lifetime – but not just yet.  I still had a wolf outside my car door at 5AM.

I honked the horn quickly and he didn’t flinch.  I needed to get inside to let Mrs. Horton leave for work so I decided that I’d open the door and if he did anything weird, I’d retreat.  I cracked the door and he took a step back so I flung it open.  As he stood back looking at me, his calm demeanor emanated so I stepped out of the car.  Before I could reach to lock the door he shoved the crown of his giant head into my leg and snuzzled me.  He was sweet but he smelled horrid and had obviously been on the lam for some time.  He followed me as I walked to the door and waited on the doorstep as I went inside to ask Mrs. Horton about the beast outside.

Even though he was smelly and covered in filth, we thought he was amazingly beautiful and with beauty like that, he must be a girl.  No one was interested in digging through the double coat in violation of his privacy to check so we assumed he was a female for the better part of three days.  No one knew where he came from but he hung out in the neighborhood when the kids got off the bus and played with them until dinner and then disappeared into the night until the next morning when he would meet me at my car, follow me to the door, and wait there until I left for school.  He did this for a week and during that week, the kids made signs, I called all the vets and shelters, no one was missing him.  I had already grown so attached to this dog, I had to do something.

In college, working three jobs and still living at home, I wasn’t able to keep him.  I talked about him to my parents and at work every day and finally worked out a plan to get him a home.  The head chef at the resort I worked at, Hank, was looking for a dog for his kids, this one was awesome and needed a home.  I wanted to make sure he was totally taken care of and Hank didn’t have the money to cover vet bills so I volunteered to collect him, take him to the vet and get a clean bill of health before bringing him out to their house.  My parents agreed to let him stay until his appointment.  To this day my mom still thinks it was all a ploy for me to keep him, but I know she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The vet diagnosed him with heart worms and the treatment would be a six week process where he would have to have multiple appointments and be kept calm at all times – any excess of activity could kill him, even his own excitement.  By the time of the first appointment, my mom was already in love with him, she was secretly excited that he was going to have to stay for another 6 weeks.  He truly is a kindred spirit to all with kind spirits.  It was probably within the next 48 hours that my mom turned to me, sitting on the couch with his paw on her lap (he pets you back when you stop petting him) and said “you know he’s not leaving here, right?”.  That was it.  The dog and I had each other forever.  He needed a name.

He seemed so spiritual and sacred that I immediately went to Native American names, maybe it was the wolf-like appearance but he seemed like he should have a dreamcatcher draped around his neck at all times and that he would shift into a raven at any moment and fly away.  On some list somewhere, the name Merlin said it meant “sea fortress” or “from a place by the sea”.  Well, when he found me he smelled of foul seawater, we live at the beach and his one blue eye made him ultra wizardy so that was it.  I looked no further.  Merlin and I were soulmates and it was the beginning of an incredible journey.

In 2001 the vet estimated that Merlin was about a year old.  He could have been older, but we called it a year.  He had a bb in his ear and on the top of his snout.  My heart breaks to think about what my gentle bear-dog went through before he found me.  I can only hope that now, 12 years later, he’s completely forgotten.  Loud bangs still make him run inside to cower though.  I long to know what it was like to hold him as a puppy.  Whoever gave up this wonderful soul and allowed him to be subjected to whatever got bb’s embedded in his face really missed out on the lesson of a lifetime.

After spending more than a decade with Merlin, we’ve grown into one on a soul level.  Like twins with a secret language, inflections in his voice mean different things, he’s at my side with his gentle breath when I’m upset just before I even realize I need his love, and so many other little special moments that we share, just knowing that we know.  For more than a decade he’s always been there, like my mom, always there with endless gentle kindness to ease pain, teach lessons and guide the way.  Over the years he has followed me everywhere.  We’ve hiked and partied, camped and beached, and moved – a LOT.  I think for the better part of this relationship I’ve depended on him much more than he depended on me.

Now that he’s getting older, I cherish every bit of our special moments more than ever.  I get choked up when I see posts about elderly dogs needing homes, I can’t imagine Merlin being homeless now, at the end of his run, after giving so much unconditional love.  I’m finding out now, for the first time, how much things change when your dog ages.  He’s slower – at everything.  He has a harder time hearing me and doesn’t always jump up when I enter a room or something sounding like a leash jingles.  He used to drag me down the street and now he strolls around, in circles sometimes!  Getting to know the old man Merlin is a completely different journey full of more love than I ever knew I’d feel.

We have a younger dog, Goober, he’s a three year old Shar Pei and Boxer mix.  He runs around like Merlin used to and Merlin has taken to sensing when he’s barreling down the same path from behind and hunkering down until Goober flies by so he doesn’t get knocked over.  Because he’s kind of unsteady with his steps these days, Merlin lets me know with a special voice that he’s waiting for me to escort him up the three steps from the living room to the rest of the house or outside past the porch.  He’ll wait until I’m there to put a hand on his back and let him know that I’m there if he stumbles, and I’ve had to catch him about 20% of the time, the number grows as time goes on.  However much it saddens me that he’s aging, I treasure the opportunities I have to baby him and attend to his needs like he has done for me for so many years.

Now I’m almost 30 and he’s pushing 13…or more.  I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to him not hearing me come in the door.  My heart stops every time I have to go find him.  But when I see him sleeping sweetly and catch my breath, I love being able to softly stroke his head and whisper sweet things to him until he wakes.  The flutter in his eyes when he realizes I’m there and it’s time to do something exciting is a feeling I’ll never stop reliving – just like the day he found me.  He’s getting old and our time is running short but no matter what changes we’ve lived through together, the moment our eyes meet is still the same as it was on the first day.  It’s always time for an adventure.

 

Happy Life

I reflect a lot.  But sometimes it takes a special moment to bring me back and really make me remember and give a special, soulful, emotional credit to those who have helped shape me into the person that I am.  I have mountains of words to speak of my parents and my childhood caretakers that gave me my roots, but as I grew, there were some very special people who sprouted my branches and I ran into one of them today.

As a child in high school I got a silly job as a pizza delivery girl on a resort.  The pizza kitchen was inside a banquet kitchen for the whole resort and there was a very special General Manager, or should I say Micro Manager, who single handedly ran the entire operation.  In those simple words I can say she taught me that if you want something done right you HAVE to do it yourself.  And she did.  As a nobody in the huge operation of the resort, I followed her lead and barely knew her but when the pizza operation came to an end for financial reasons, she called me into her office to see what I had.  I didn’t know what was coming, but it was the start of my path.  Looking back, I feel like she already knew what was in store for me but I was clueless.  I got word that I was being laid off but Kely wanted to meet with me and I put on my best high school clothes and arrived at her office 15 minutes before said appointment because that’s what my mom taught me to do.

I sat.  It was easier than I anticipated and she praised my year or so of dedication and explained that she wanted to keep me in the company.  I knew nothing of what she was speaking but I accepted graciously because it was a job.  I still had one.  I learned that I was to be thrusted from dredges of the catering kitchen to the front line…the FRONT DESK.  I’ve always aimed to please and in this moment I was scared but I accepted with a hearty smile and adjusted to my new schedule and my new duties.

I could write forever on my experiences of the Front Desk.  It was the start of everything.  I learned how to say yes to all guests even if I couldn’t give them what they wanted and that keeping heavy objects on the counter was a bad idea because they were possible flying missiles for the disgruntled douchebags that like to throw their weight (or whatever is within their reach) around.  I was a tender-hearted, very naiive girl that cried the first time a guest yelled at me but Kely made it all better.  She lead by example and taught me what it was to be a great manager, a great person, the kind of hard worker that everyone should strive to be.

When high school ended, I went to college to be a zookeeper and was volunteering at the local wildlife refuge.  Kely took a special interest in all of my endeavors.  She allowed me to use our resort’s facilities for fundraisers and to foster baby raccoons while I was at work.  She entertained every avenue I wanted to delve into while teaching me how to do it the right way all the while.  I think a lot of people experience the nurturing that she provided but never grow into the greater good that allows for the appreciation of it.  She was always steadfast and professional, private and stoic, but always had a lesson to give with her actions.  On random late nights, you could catch her just needing her Diet Coke and wanting desperately to unwind from the multiple weddings and group functions we had just expertly executed.  I say we, but I really mean HER.  She was the micro manager that made everything happen.  And after all of that, when she FINALLY made it home, she would STILL come back in a heartbeat to balance my credit card machine if I was too retarded to figure it out myself.

At the time, she was a figure.  A manager, like the president.  Someone you take for granted because you assume they’re just doing their job without taking the moment to think about them as a person with a life.  Kind of like how you grow up and realize your parents are people with feelings and lives and relationships.  She spoke briefly about growing up without a mother when it was relevant, but it never hit me until I grew up and thought about it.  She ultimately became the most wonderful mother to everyone she touched and taught.  However private and stoic, she tenderly mothered all of us and taught with the greatest example ever.  Her actions.

So I ran into her today at a professional function.  I was proud to tell her who I have become, I was proud to tell her about this website that I’m blogging on.  But I really didn’t get the chance to thank her.  I took public speaking classes in college but they pale in comparison to the opportunity she gave me to construct and execute nature tours for our snowbirds.  While working under her wing she allowed me to share every dream I had and live it.  She let me build a family of ducks for our pond, plan the theme for the summer parties on the resort and incorporate wildlife awareness to all of our guests because that was what I believed in and through her allowance and nurturing of my dreams, she believed in me.

There are no words to thank someone for the immense fortune of what she gave me.  She taught me how to be a professional, how to manage people but what that really means is how to manage life.  Every professional decision I’ve made has been in the shadow of her light and I still thrive as the entrepreneur that she taught me to be.  Every professional success I have, I attribute to her…and even when I feed the ducks, I think of her and how her guidance shaped me.  I hope she knows what an incredible life she has lived and what an amazing example she has been.  Life is good for so many reasons but it’s especially good because of Kely.