Adopting a puppy frightened me far more than buying a house. The house intimidated me plenty, and for good reasons (legal forms! mortgage! washing machines!). Still, bringing a 7-pound puppy into that house scared me in ways home-buying never did.
I've always identified primarily as a "cat person," but for years I said that when I had a house I would consider adopting a dog. When I mentioned this to my friend Sara, she took it upon herself to become my canine match-maker, sending me links to local animal shelters during study breaks from her honors thesis. One of those links included pictures of a new litter of hound pups.
|A very wee houndling.|
These big eyes won my affection immediately, and on a rainy spring afternoon, Sara and I drove to the Prichard Animal Shelter and filled out the adoption forms. When I picked the wee beast up a few days later, I was both thrilled and terrified. What business do I have caring for a living creature? I thought. I barely remember to feed myself three times a day. Other worries were more selfish. What if she chews my things? What if I can never leave town for a weekend? What if she digs up my vegetable garden?
All these worries about one tiny dog came from an old and ugly truth: above almost anything else, I treasure the freedom to do-as-I-wish-when-I-wish.
I have spent much of my life trying to govern and limit this love, to delight in surrendering my own will for God and neighbor. Apparently, something within me still resists that surrender.
For the first few weeks I had my pup at home, I didn't feel much better. I don't love her enough, I would think as I drove home at lunch to let her out. She doesn't obey, I would grumble as I wrested another sock from her tiny fangs. I feel so guilty, I would tell my friends, still hearing her terrified bay and howl as I locked her inside the house.
Slowly, however, my fears subsided. When the semester turned to summer, I had more time to spend with her. I walked with her, combed fleas off of her, tested toys and treats to see what she liked. My language changed, and she became "houndling," "pupwise," "hobbit-hound," and a dozen other silly names.
I gave up more freedom and more time for her sake. And for all that I gave, my love increased.
For those of you with spouses, or children, or other sacred bonds, this paradox might not surprise you. Even I have learned it before: with every letter that I write or prayer I say, for every act of service or shared hour, I come to love a person better.
What made the puppy different, however, is that I was obligated to care for her. I brought her home; she was my responsibility, and this made our relationship monumental in my quiet little life. One of the strange things about being a single adult is that there are very few living beings who ever demand anything of you. That's not to say I don't have a desire or duty to provide for the needs of others; rather, it means that on a typical day, I receive far more requests in my professional capacity (Dr. Bear, can you help me with this journal?) than in any personal, vulnerable or taxing sense. This dog, on the other hand, asks for everything. Relentlessly and without shame she demands that I rise earlier, walk longer, play more often. And strange to say, the more she asks, the more I want to give.
Sometimes I worry that I have woven my life so tightly that there is little room for others to find a lasting home with me. Friends never ask as much I could give, and so I color my days and ways according to my own designs. Some days I even wonder, fearfully, "How could I ever marry? How could I make room for children in this happy, tidy life?"
But then I remember that once, I was brave enough to set aside Spare Oom, consecrating my house and days to making a home for others. And even as I remember, I receive a friendly nip from my little hound. I named her "Cora," deriving it from "cor," the Latin word for "heart." She is neither my child nor my hobby; she is my dog, my companion, my heart-hound, reminding me that more often than not, we must commit to something, to someone, before we can even begin to love.