For some odd reason, American Thanksgiving seems like an appropriate time for an embarrassing confession: we bought our house, and the five acres on which it sits, for the dogs.
Don't get me wrong. We like the place, and the privacy. There's nothing quite like heading out back to hang laundry on a hot July afternoon, wearing a dirty old t-shirt and your fat pants and belting out the entire score of Grease, secure in the certainty that no one will ever know.
But the driving force behind purchasing such a property, with its hours and hours of lawn-cutting, pipes that freeze every winter, and garden that needs constant attention all summer long, was having a place where our dogs could run free.
After 3 years of moving from military base to military base, and living in married quarters with nothing more than an unfenced postage stamp for a backyard, Rusty and Jerome were getting a little on the portly side. Letting them off-leash was a bit of an iffy enterprise because they were never what you'd call well-behaved around other people or animals. So when we drove up the driveway for the first time and saw the side field, the enormous yard and the complete lack of visible neighbours, we knew we'd found the perfect doghouse.
It sounds ridiculous, I know, and before owning animals, I'd have rolled my eyes at such a prospect. But despite the fact that they sneak food from the kids' plates, they embarrass us everywhere we go with their naughtiness, and we have to toss them out back or into the garage anytime we have guests over because of the barking and jumping, to me they're worth every penny we owe on the place and every hassle that comes with it.
While I never took the dogs in with the idea that I'd need them for protection, they provide just that. With the Captain gone as much as he is, having two large, noisy dogs pretty much guarantees that no one could break in here while we're sleeping. By the time the axe-murderer got one leg through the window, there'd be a snarling Rottweiler waiting for him on the other side. Having Rusty and Jerome wandering around the place allows me to sleep peacefully at night.
But it's more than just that, even. We rescued our dogs. Jerome was a tiny puppy when he was found in a sewer grate. The runt of the litter, he was unable to keep up with his mother and littermates when they ran for it after being discovered by some hikers, and he was scooped up and taken in by a rescue foundation. That same foundation helped us to add Rusty to our little family a year later. Her story was more heartbreaking. She was rescued from a local SPCA shelter after being picked up as a starving 6 month-old stray and was never claimed. At some point in those first 6 months of her life, some monster shot her in the face with a pellet gun. The plastic pellet remains lodged in her head to this day. And I guess when you look at the luxuries they enjoy--the enormous yard, free run of the house, daily tooth brushing and grooming (yes, it's true), expensive shots, checkups and parasite prevention treatments every spring without fail, and treats galore--you might get the idea that they won the canine jackpot. And in a sense, you might be right.
But in reality, they rescued us. We were a childless couple running on a pointless treadmill before they came along. We were too exhausted to get any exercise, and too focussed on our jobs, our place and our money worries to realize there was so much more out there. And then one day this little black Border Collie moved in, dropped his hair everywhere, peed on the carpet, barked like a maniac and ran and ran and ran, never getting tired, until we finally had to drag him, and ourselves, home. We never realized there was that much love in the world, let alone inside us. Our dogs prepared us for the chaos, the mess and the exhaustion of having kids. They taught us that it's better not to live a perfect, hermetically-sealed existence, to stop and smell the roses (or someone else's crotch, if that's more your thing), and that life always looks a little better after a good, long nap.
Rusty and Jerome are now both seven years old. I know they won't be with us forever, but what they've taught us will. And for that, I am thankful.