Saying goodbye to our last wonderful dog, Cassie, was heartbreaking. But it was also heartopening because it mean we could go rescue another dog, another German Shepherd, who needed a home.
I contacted Cassie’s foster mom, PJ, who works with German Shepherd Rescue of Northern California. After I told her about Cassie I asked her to keep an eye out for another dog for us. She said she had one right then that she thought would be a good match. It was a female white German Shepherd that hadn’t been posted to their website yet. I made an appointment for us to go meet her right away.
Cassie had totally bonded with my husband. This time we were looking for one who would bond with me. And if I were lucky, my heart dog.
Two weeks before Christmas we drove about an hour away to meet PJ and this new dog they were calling Noelle in a parking lot. I had seen one picture of her and been told she had a sweet personality. That’s all I had to go on. The picture was okay but it didn’t capture the essence of the dog.
When PJ and Noelle got out of the car, Noelle’s tail was wagging and she looked up at PJ as if to say, “Time for fun?” My husband stayed back, even though I knew he was dying to pet her, and let me touch her first. As soon as my hand stroked her back, Noelle leaned into me, pressing against my legs and wagged her tail even faster.
I looked back at my husband and told him, “I love her.”
He smiled and said, “I can tell.”
We did our due diligence and walked her around the parking lot, pet her some more, and then, too soon, I handed the leash back to PJ. We started the hour drive back home to discuss the possibility of bringing this particular dog into our home. (No matter what we wouldn’t have been able to take the dog home that day since the rescue group needed to do a home check to make sure we were set up to live with a GSD.)
As a writer, I never run out of ideas of what to write. I have 7 novels waiting in the wings, a list of 23 potential essay topics and a notebook full of snips of poems-yet-to-be. But before I can sit down and actually dig in to do the work I have to have one idea that obsesses me. One character that has me head-over-heels in love with it, so in love that I am willing to follow it through the pain of outlines and crappy-first-drafts, the frustration of writers block and the joy (tempered with frustration) of multiple revision. I have to love a story a lot to be willing to go through all of that.
It’s a lot like making the commitment to bring home a new dog. Not just any new dog, but a rescue dog where you have no idea of the history of the life she has led before becoming a part of your family. Would she like other dogs? Would she chase cars? Would she dig hundreds of holes in the garden? It’s a gamble. The foster parent can give you a general idea of temperament but most dogs don’t show their full personality until they are in a new home for 2-4 weeks. This is what we were told about Noelle: she was found wandering as a stray in Monterey. She had ears full of foxtails. She had no tags, no collar, no microchip, and she hadn’t been spayed. (All marks of an irresponsible owner.) She appeared to be sweet-tempered but PJ had only had her a couple of weeks so there was still much of her personality to uncover.
But I knew. I felt that tug on my heart the same way I do with a story idea. I wanted this dog. I needed this dog and she needed me.
Halfway home I asked my husband if I should call PJ and tell her we’d take Noelle. He said we should at least make it appear that we had spent some time discussing it and I should wait until we got home. An eternity later (okay, an hour) when I called PJ to tell her we wanted Noelle, she said, “What took you so long?”
In just a few (oh-so-long) days, after the home visit, Noelle, whom we decided to call Zoey, came home to her forever home with us.
I can’t start a new book without a title that I feel has a pretty good chance of sticking with the book after it’s published. I can’t write a story without the right names for the characters from the start. And I can’t write at all if I’m not feeling the love for the book or essay or poem that is waiting to be written.
I’ve been in the writing business over 25 years. Along the way I’ve written and sold, greeting cards, short stories, essays, picture books, educational books, poetry, newspaper articles, magazine pieces, and novels. I’ve even done some ghostwriting. I love the act of writing. I love it so much that I often took writing jobs that came from a heart other than mine. Those were always the most difficult and least fulfilling projects to work on. On the flip side, there was a time in my life that I was working three stressful jobs just to try and make ends meet, worrying about my kids who were fighting some hefty battles, and dealing with some health issues of my own. Yet somehow, in the middle of all that, I managed to write Hugging the Rock. How? I loved the story I was trying to tell. I loved the characters. I didn’t mind giving up sleep in order to squeeze in a bit of writing. I wrote poems on scraps of paper while sitting in the parking lot at work trying to find the energy to go inside. I brainstormed plot complications on my lunch hour. I even called myself to leave messages on my answering machine with ideas I didn’t want to forget.
Love gives you the energy to do things you think you can’t possibly do.
Experts often say that it takes 30 days for a rescue dog to bond with their new family. I feel like it took about 30 minutes. The hour long drive home, up and over the Santa Cruz mountains, didn’t phase Zoey at all. She stretched out on her comforter in the back seat and rested. (Poor Cassie never really enjoyed riding in the car and serenaded us with high-pitched barking everywhere we went.)
At home at last I walked Zoey around the house on the leash and then let her go. She took off to sniff and then kept coming back to check in with me. She ate her dinner and took care of business in the backyard and when I invited her up on the couch to sit with me (something I have always wanted but never had from any dog I have ever owned) she didn’t hesitate a second. She folded her body like a noodle to fit into the space next to me on the couch, plopped her head on my thigh and one paw over my leg, and went to sleep.
And just like that I felt the love swell inside of me and overflow.
I know training Zoey won’t be easy. I already know she is a mouthy dog who was never taught that it is not appropriate to play with human hands and feet like they belonged to another dog. I have bruises up and down my arms and legs. But I understand. She is still a puppy, even at 15 months. She is sweet and loving and has had absolutely no training. This is the challenge. This is the fun. She is smart. Oh so smart. And food motivated. The combination makes her a joy to train. I’ll spend the next six months or so getting to know Zoey’s personality and the rest of her life working with her, training her, and loving her just because she deserves to be loved.
I’ve taken some time off from my current WIP, a young adult verse novel. This week I am ready to go back to it. I never fell out of love with my characters or their story. I had just fallen out of love, a little bit, with being me.
But Zoey has changed all that. She won’t make writing any easier. In fact, she will cut into a lot of my writing time and reading time and sleeping time. But what she gives back to me is priceless. Her unconditional love and her belief that I am the center of the universe give me the confidence to be okay with being me, the best and only Susan I can be.
Like I said, love gives you the energy to do things you think you can’t possibly do.