8 years, 7 moves, 2 divorces, and she’s always by my side. Trips to countless beaches, hikes on sun-dappled trails, canoeing in provincial parks, and road-tripping all over Ontario.
Each morning we wake up together, she curled in a ball beside me and me on my side with one hand on her back. She sits patiently for me to brush & floss but comes running into the bedroom when I start to get dressed. As her nose sniffs the pants I’m putting on, she either gets really excited or goes and lies down. Excitement and hopping around is for yoga pants because she knows we’ll be headed out on a walk, while lying down and heaving a big sigh is for jeans or dresses because she knows we’re just going out for a quick bathroom break before I leave.
Desdemona turns 8 tomorrow, and I’m deeply aware today of the profound impact this 60-pound, goldendoodle has had on my life.
My first husband and I got Desi after I’d had an ectopic pregnancy. The experience was traumatic and involved hospital stays, countless invasive ultrasounds, and chemotherapeutic drugs with significant side effects. Losing the baby was awful, and all I could think about was that I needed something, anything, to mother. We had another dog, and he was such a comfort during my recovery, but I craved the baby I never had.
So when our breeder said she had another litter of puppies, we drove out to see them, and I fell in love with the timid, quiet, wiry- haired runt. She came right to me, snuggled into my elbow, and we became inseparable.
Heartbroken after my first divorce, living in a new city, and working at a new job, all I felt like doing was hiding in my apartment and watching season after season of Deadwood. Or Battlestar Galactica. Or Mad Men.
But Desi had to go out, and not just for a short walk around the block, she needed to run for an hour. On so many days, I begrudgingly laced up my running shoes while she danced in circles impatiently waiting for her playtime.
At the abandoned quarry just out of town, we’d hop over the “No Trespassing” sign and amble around the overgrown hill of dirt, walking the full circumference of where they started to dig before they hit an underground spring. The company’s loss was our gain because the water was clean and clear and Desi would chase ducks and swim after sticks, and her complete joy at following her natural instincts began to heal mine.
I learned how to read other dogs in order to keep Desi safe, and therefore remembered that I could trust my own reading of other people and choose which ones made me feel safe.
I trusted my body to hike on uneven paths and catch itself if I started to fall, and therefore proved over and over that I could trust my body to hold me well during whatever came next in my life.
I saw how calm and collected I could be in a crisis, like when Desi dislocated her toe, was in extreme pain, and we were far away from the car, or like when she had her tail amputated and kept throwing up in her neck collar. These experiences taught me I could weather any of my own crises with the same resourcefulness….and that I have a high tolerance for the ick-factor.
One of my biggest surprises after being divorced was how much I missed physical contact. There are a zillion studies out there about how essential touching another living being is, but until it was taken away, I took it for granted. Thankfully, Desi is very assertive in her need for affection, and she will use her nose to physically move my hand to her body and demand petting and scratching. Apparently, this is called the “poodle poke,” and Desi is a Jedi Master. Her insistence for love reminds me time and again that I also require love and physical connection, and that I can be open to receiving it.
We’ve been together for so long now, we’re basically an old married couple. We have our routines. She knows that after I clean her ears or clip her nails, she gets a treat. Or how when I sit down in front of my laptop, it’s time to settle into her favourite corner of the couch for a nap. Or if I’ve just watched a really moving YouTube clip of baby elephants or Britain’s Got Talent, she knows to come and rest her head on my knee while tears roll down my cheeks.
I read recently that looking into a dog’s eyes triggers a release of the love hormone Oxytocin in both the human and the dog. Whenever I’m at my lowest, feeling confused, frustrated, or sad, Desi’s liquid brown eyes staring into mine remind me that she loves me and I love her, and together we will play and swim and snuggle for the next 8 years.