Life lessons from our shelter dog

Wally and wind

The Wind and the Wally

On a road trip back from Chicago in 2011, I turned to Jason and uttered some life changing words.

“I want a dog.”

We were driving. The comment came out of the blue. And J was a little flabbergasted. After all, we were CAT people, with two cuddly fur balls at home already.

Now, even after we had his and hers cats, I wanted to bring home a dog, too? Seriously? J’s tone was kinder than this. But, he had to be in a state of mental panic.

I said, near tears. “Babies aren’t happening yet, and I need something more than the cats to nurture. I need something else to focus on, or not having babies is going to make me crazy.”

Back then adoption wasn’t on my radar. I was still clinging to the adoption-after-biological-children narrative. I suppose I wanted biological kids to be my guinea pigs for my parenting skills.

J loves me and took me seriously about the desire for a dog. We made it home. That same week I found Wally on a shelter’s website, and instantly (and stupidly) fell in love with his photo. He’d been in the shelter since about Halloween, and it was now January. I felt so concerned for this adult dog, who nobody wanted to take home.

So, J and I went out to meet the Walnut. I fully intended it as meeting only; we’d check him out, seeing if it’d work out with him, us and the cats. J knew there was no way I was meeting the dog and not bringing him back home with us.

Wally hopes for pumpkin

I’m cute. Feed me pumpkin.

Sure enough, J was right about the situation. Wally, with his sorrowful brown eyes, came straight home with us.

I loved him. He let me snuggle all 4o pounds of him like a teddy bear. During the chill of winter, as we slept at night, I lay sandwiched in a toasty cocoon with J on one side and Wally on the other. Somehow by the time we woke every morning, Wally had taken over two-thirds of the bed with J and I crammed into the remaining third.

J and I got in the habit of taking him on long walks after dark, and some of my favorite married life moments have been our quiet strolls under the moon and stars. J wins the prize for being the one who picked up the poop most often, and Wally was a poop machine on walks.

Oh, and lest you think the Walrus was just my fur baby: he was J’s sweet pea, too. Wally was the beagle J always wanted but never thought I’d let him have.

When Wally was good, he was great. When he wasn’t good, well, it’s a good thing he was cute.

And he did know how to make himself appear cute and repentant after he did something he knew was naughty. He was adept at hanging his head with his big, forlorn eyes. You can’t be mad if I’m super cute.

Young Santa Wally

Santa Wally

Then, the blissful honeymoon period wore off. We learned Wally’s quirks.

That’s when the real lessons about love began.

Wally’s tenacious beagle nose led him into trouble frequently, including one incident where he daintily (and silently) drank my brother’s chocolate martini from the dining room table while no one was looking. He never tipped the glass while he perched politely on the dining chair, and we only noticed right as he finished. Wally then jumped up on the living room ottoman, only to drunkenly fall off. His tail never wagged quite right again after that escapade.

Wally required relentless supervision around food; no unattended food was safe with him. We usually avoided giving him people food, since every lapse would generate weeks of an entitled Wally pacing, barking and whining while we ate.

Making crock pot meals, while convenient for dinner time, led to crazy Wally in the evening. After smelling food all day, he barked and whined incessantly to sample it long after dinner had concluded. I can’t fault him for that! Food smells good, and his amplified sense of smell was taunted with it all day! He didn’t win the discussions, but he did strain the edges of our patience. We learned to cautiously weigh pros and cons of crock pot meals.

Also, since Wally would try to steal food from people afraid of him, we learned to kennel him when we had kids or groups at the house for dinner. And that always felt awkward, but safety first.

In more recent years (and I suspect due to the cancer, even though we’d taken him for multiple vet visits), Wally developed a propensity for peeing in the house, in spite of our best efforts to cure (or at least limit) the behavior. Couch. Rugs. Beds (his and ours). Hallway floors. It started with the couch, so we moved Wally to being a floor dog instead of a lap dog. Once changing our bed sheets more than once a night became an actual thing, we put a bed for him in the hallway outside our door. He couldn’t sleep on the floor in our bedroom since he would eat dirty clothes and anything in the garbage can.

The height of all this insanity was last summer, though episodes continued to happen til he died. Wally had taken to peeing everywhere, and we hadn’t yet figured out his pattern or motivation; meanwhile, Clyde the Cat decided he hated the new litter box and would rather poop on our new basement rug. With the amount of Nature’s Miracle we were using daily, we should’ve bought stock in the company.

Our house felt like a giant public toilet. Embarrassing on so many levels. Also, we felt like the most incompetent pet owners.  Underlying the embarrassment was a bigger question: if we couldn’t figure out this animal fouling issue, what business did we have thinking we could be parents?

We did figure it out. Well, mostly. We solved Clyde’s issue: he requires a jumbo, non-electric litter box. Anything else leads to pooping on my beautiful new basement rug. We learned how to limit Wally’s peeing issue; we never fully eradicated it.

Wally was an adorable handful. He was not a particularly good or obedient dog, but he was ours. And we loved him bunches.

Ultimately, Wally taught us about our capacity for grace and commitment. We learned how to stay in committed relationship with someone who has hurt us. We learned how to forgive and, perhaps more practically, how to set boundaries. Boundaries haven’t been our strong suit round these parts. Also, J and I learned how to tag team: delegating responsibilities to the other party when one or the other reached the limit of patience.

J and Wally in car

A boy and his dog

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One thought on “Life lessons from our shelter dog

  1. What an awesome story. We have an 11 year old shelter dog, half bullmastiff and half Rhodesian Ridgeback, who’s our pride and joy… even though as I type this is snoring like an old man and doing her silent but deadly farting that can clear a room… yesterday we left the window a little too open when we went into the plant nursery and 10 minutes into looking at plans all the sudden I realize she was right next to me… our old girl climbed out the window and came to look for her mama 🙂 hooray for shelter dogs!

    Liked by 1 person

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