Choosing the Pack

“I didn’t know you had two dogs, “ my friend said, as she walked up the steps to my house. 

 “Actually, I have three,”  I said, as I stood in the doorway to welcome her in.  I could see the surprise on her face .

  Reading the blog, you might think Grizzly is the only dog here, but long before he burst on the scene, our Chow-mix yard dog, Pancho, and our miniature  Schnauzer, Wally, were part of the family. Pancho showed up twelve years ago as a stray puppy, full of mange and nearly starved. My husband and daughter  decided we’d adopt her while I was on a mission trip on the other side of the world. Pancho guards the yard and barks at approaching strangers whom she views as  potential interlopers. Wally joined the family nine years ago as a puppy we could hold in one hand.  He sits on top of sofa cushions and considers snuggling to be his only job, which  he takes very seriously. Just a year ago, Grizzly came to usher me through a period of darkness and transformation, though at the time I thought I was just getting a fierce-looking dog to walk with me. 

It’s a commitment living with a pack of three dogs. A few days ago my husband and I returned from a  trip on a Sunday night to an empty house. While we were gone, Grizzly and Wally had spent the weekend at the kennel and wouldn’t be picked up until after their grooming appointments later Monday afternoon.  I had only one dog at home for almost 24 hours, and that was Pancho, the outside dog.  I couldn’t believe how quiet and spacious my day felt. I’d forgotten how much time and space these dogs take up in my life! 

On a typical day, I first take Grizzly outside to the empty lot next door where he runs and frolics, tends to his business and brings me a stick for several rounds of fetch.  By the time we come back in, Wally is barking from his kennel or my husband has already let him out in the fenced backyard and he is barking from there.  When he comes inside, his high-pitched bark, accompanied by a twist of his head toward the laundry room, says he’s hungry and demanding his food bowl be filled. 

Each time I leave the house I put them in their kennels; and every time I return I let them out.  While Wally can wear himself chasing squirrels in the yard, Grizzly needs at least 3 miles of exercise.  When they’re sniffing the property lines of the backyard, I have to supervise to make sure they don’t find a hole in the fence. In the kitchen, I regularly take the broom under the stove to find all the antlers and beef bones Grizzly hides there, and a few of Wally’s lost tennis balls. We vacuum and sweep the house daily, and our Roomba makes regular rounds around the house. I fluff sofa cushions to hide the  evidence that Wally naps there. They both need to be bathed and groomed regularly.  Even after the Eucalyptus spray and the daily combing with The Furminator,  I still have to clean out my car every time Grizzly rides in it. My husband has a nightly ritual of brushing Wally’s coat to detangle him. 

Pancho, the matriarch of our pack and the only full-time outside dog, usually requires only a few cups of food and fresh water to keep her happy. She is definitely a low-maintenance girl, but last week the batteries in her Invisible Fence collar died and she went strolling over to the neighbor’s yard to explore new territory. That was a phone call and a credit card number and a few hours to repair  her collar and get her back in her boundaries.   

Grizzly, being a German Shepherd coupled with his service dog training, is a space manager.  He herds me, or herds people away from me, constantly managing the space around us for my protection.  I love it and it’s also a pain in the rear  -like when he follows me into a tight space  such as the pantry or the powder room.  Being ‘his person’ brings with it a set of duties which I do because I love him and need him, but sometimes it’s very inconvenient, especially if I’m in a hurry.  

I actually wrote these words across the pages of my calendar that week:  LEAVE ROOM IN YOUR LIFE FOR THREE DOGS!  I’ve written before about embracing the messiness  Grizzly brings to my life, but the dogs bring more than than just the messiness. The relationship has to be embraced and honored. Though costly, it’s worth it.  But I’d forgotten to count some of those cost.  The day without two of the dogs, the look of my friend’s face when she came over that day for us to plan a party we are going to host here (with three dogs), brought a realization to me that I’d been denying: relationship must be honored with time and space and energy and resources.   I live with them and they live with me. I’m not an independent agent. I’m part of this pack (hopefully the Alpha).   I spend time, money, and energy and share space with these three - intentionally.  In noticing their absence, I am more aware of their presence. My life looks different than my friend’s because I live with three dogs.   

 For several years, I’ve worked toward creating a Rule of Life, a rhythm for my days that serves my larger intentions for my life. Not once have I added ‘dogs’ to the list. It’s been as if they just magically took care of themselves, when in fact they need time on the daily calendar and should be a line item in the budget. I think this is called denial.

 I wrote recently about pruning my shrubbery and clearing debris  to make room for new growth, about reading old journals as part of my Lent practice to remember the goodness of God in my life and to let go of old habits of mind. As I walk through Holy Week, I wonder of all times why I’m writing  this week about living with three dogs. Then I see what I wrote:  honoring relationship and not living in denial. 

For the sake of relationship, Jesus suffered all the way to death and beyond. He was in anguish in the garden, praying for us and praying for another way if possible, but surrendered Himself to the will of the Father.  For the sake of relationship,  He welcomed the thief next to him at the end as much as the first disciples who followed him. For the sake of relationship, he invites the real me to show up, not the self-sufficient one, but the one who knows she needs Him.  For the sake of relationship, he forgives  the messed up, ‘doesn’t know what she is doing’ girl.

He’s not in denial about me. He counted the costs and paid them.  I’m celebrating this week that He made room in His life for me.