Things I’ve learned from dogs
It’s interesting to me how some events and words stay so strong & deep in my brain, to the point that it feels like what I’m writing about happened yesterday and yet it was 2 years, 10 years or over 30 years ago. And then sometimes I can hardly remember what my husband said to me last night.
I guess it means these moments were memorable to me, so my brain held onto them. And these are the ones that included dogs.
Growing up my family loved dogs; Dalmatians in particular. The first two dogs I remember were May B and Miss A, names after family members. I only made that connection a few years ago when my dad mentioned it. They were black and white Dalmatians and I always loved that I felt special as a child when I’d watch 101 Dalmatians, because we were a Dalmatian family.
Then we got our first show Dalmatian, Calli and she came with a fancy show name, I think it was “Calipades Royal Reciew”. She was a Dapper Dalmatian I think it was called, meaning she was brown and white. And she was sweet and gorgeous and my mom loved her so much. I remember how she smelled when we got her as a puppy, going to dog shows with my mom and then finding a suitable mate for her to breed puppies. Yes we were breeding show dogs and they were born in a big wooden box with heat lamps someone my parents hired to build in our playroom. My parents gave me one of the puppies to be responsible for, her name was coachman’s copper penny, but we just called her penny. My parents sold all the puppies except for 1 other one, and we drove her to North Carolina to be my grandmothers dog. Her name was Coachman’s Carolina lady and she went by Carolina. My mom obviously cared for penny mainly, but it was fun to say I owned a dog. Experiencing all these dogs slowly pass away was the first time I really felt my heart get nudged and I began to see the impact a dog can have on a family’s life.
Christie was my uncle Freddy’s dog. Together they lived out of his Volkswagen bus and they were inseparable. When Freddie returned from serving in Vietnam I saw he and Christie a few times in North Carolina, but he wasn’t around our family much because my father and Freddie didn’t connect well. When Christie passed away, uncle Freddie took his life a short time after, and it was the first time I really saw how deep a sadness can go over a dog. But my family didn’t talk much about Freddie, sadness or depression, so it remained an unprocessed memory for me until years later.
I think it was late summer 1997 when Taggart entered my parents life. She was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppy and when I first met her on the back porch of my parents house she didn’t have a name yet. I was fresh off the river and had just dislocated my shoulder from kayaking and was on my way to the clinic for an X-ray. I was surfing on the Weber river, and was on the wave Taggart when I’d flipped on my offside and was unable to set up my roll ergonomically correct, so the momentum of the water took my shoulder out. When I saw the puppy I said to my parents, “name her Taggart,” that wave just kicked my ass. And it stuck.
Taggart was famous for eating rocks and going on any length of hike with my mom, but my main memory of Taggart was how amazing a companion she was for my mom when my dad left her January of 2004. Taggart stayed glued to my mom, and followed her to her new home she built for herself after her time with my dad was complete. Taggart was my mom’s protector. My mom knows herself well and can also feel when a dog’s time is coming to an end, so she adopted Boo, who helped escort both Taggart & my mom to Taggart’s crossing the rainbow bridge. My mom still gets teary eyed talking about Taggart, as do I.
I’ll could write a whole book about Sadie, so I’ll do my best to keep it to a paragraph or two. She was my first official dog who was all mine to care for. She was around 3 when I adopted her from the pound outside of Park City just a short time before I moved to Colorado for my sophomore year of college. My parents didn’t think I was ready for a dog, and in a way I saw where they were coming from because my life and decisions were all over the place. But when Sadie and I came together it was magic.
Sadie would come to some classes with me, she’d sit outside stores and restaurants and wait for me and she was trusting and flexible in that she’d sleep anywhere I placed her bed. But her favorite spot to sleep was under my bed, because I’d raise my bed up 2 milk crates high, enough to create a perfect storage area and nest for Sadie.
Sadie and I were together for about 6 years, and she carried me through and stood by my side as I moved through all my life experiences both in college and massage school. She was such a loyal and strong spirit.
But Sadie watched me go through some pretty dark stuff during our time together, and she watched me stuff away my emotions and not face them. So she too stuffed away pain she picked up from me. A few months after I finished massage school Sadie began to develop a bad habit of biting people when she was at my parents and I was out of town, and she’d sometimes do it while I was there. I depended on my parents to take care of her during the day when I’d be at work in park city or Salt Lake City doing back to back massages, but when the biting started, they said she was too much of a risk to have around.
I couldn’t send Sadie to a new family knowing how unpredictable she was, nor did I have the time or energetic tools or knowledge to help Sadie. So after she got reported for the third unprovoked bite, I made the most painful decision of my life and released her to the care of animal control to be put down. And I still cry writing about this. I was so broken on my insides that I didn’t have the strength to stand up for my dog when she needed me, and I couldn’t even find the strength to be there by her side when they put her to sleep, or to transport her body for cremation. My mom did that and I’m still so grateful. So to my first girl, Sadie dog, I love you so much and I’m sorry I didn’t have the strength to save you. I needed to save myself first.
Scout was the most confusing relationship I ever had with a dog. She came about as an attempt to lift me out of my life & dog depression by my boyfriend at the time. After I put Sadie dog to sleep he asked me to move in with him and said he’d get me a dog. I said yes to both.
Scout was a rebound relationship and I should have known that. I wasn’t ready to have another dog or really a serious relationship either. But alas we got her and she was a blue tick hound/red bone hound mix. Yes I did raise her from 6 weeks old, but this was not a dog who was destined to have a life off the leash. This was a dog that was destined to follow her nose and run the first moment you took off the leash.
My relationship with scout and her dad ended about 6 months after we all moved in together, and 6 months after that, my ex released her to the local pound, as she was a true challenge to have, and he was starting his own new family with his new girlfriend. When I heard scout was up for adoption, it had been months since I’d seen her, but I still drove out to the pound to take her on a last walk and say goodbye. She didn’t even recognize me, so I was happy she’d find a family with big open fields for her to follow her nose in.
Zona came into my life in August of 2006 when I was in my first true committed long term relationship. We’d met on Match.com and had a pretty good relationship for a year, and I thought getting a dog together would help us grow closer. We hadn’t asked our landlord yet if it was okay to have a dog, but instead picked out some dogs to see online from an adoption website, and went looking just to feel it out.
A few hours later we had a little 5 week old black puppy that we’d taken from an awful foster home. I was supposed to fill out paperwork and apply, but I couldn’t leave this puppy in that dirty house, with trash and feces everywhere, so when the little boy went inside to find the number of his mom for me to call and say we wanted the puppy, I had my boyfriend open the car door for me, and we jumped in the car and drove away. We named her “Arizona”, or Zona for short, after the movie “Raising Arizona,” where the couple kidnaps the baby. I did call the adoption agency and pay them, and get her paperwork, but it felt exciting and purposeful to give this little black nugget a new home. As she grew the white mark on her chest took the form of a “Z” which was perfect.
Zona was my companion and we had a beautiful relationship. She’d come to work every day with me at Align Spa, and she became the guardian of that space as well.
My mom loved Zona too, and it was so nice to be able to leave Zona at her house when I needed to, if I wanted to take a trip somewhere. The longest I left her was for a month, and I told myself that was too long, because it stressed her and me to be apart that long.
Zona left my life unexpectedly the morning of April 22, 2016. She’d been living with me by the beach in Costa Rica for almost 3 years, and had come down with tick fever, a totally treatable and common illness in Costa Rica. But unbeknownst to us, the treatment for tick fever had made a tumor in her belly burst, so she began to slowly bleed out. We had her at the vet for observation, and she passed peacefully in her sleep. But I didn’t handle the news so peacefully.
This was the first experience I’d ever had with true grief and it leveled me, and made me slow down and sink into my experience of healing myself from this trauma. So to Zona, I thank you every day for your heart and trust, and for being such a perfect companion for nearly 6 years to me. You helped train me to be a mom and I think of you whenever I see a tennis ball or coconut. I’ll love you forever.
The Lanka Pack
When I met my husband Adam he had 3 dogs at the time. Bone, Daisy, and The Oracle. They were 3 distinctly different personalities and sizes, and it was my first time joining a pack, and Zona’s first time. This pack was one of the reasons I considered moving to Costa Rica; because by law of dogs (Adam had 3 and I had 1), Adam outnumbered me, so if I wanted our relationship to move forward, I needed to join his existing pack in Costa Rica. Navigating life as a pack and watching all the dog relationships find their balance has been so rewarding, and as each dog comes and goes, I feel my heart getting more exercise.
The current pack
Right now on the dog front there’s Bone, Daisy, Ruby, Reba and Zoe. And holding space for them as they move through their pack dynamic has made me a more compassionate human being in the world.
So that’s a tour of my dog life, and I thank all the dogs I’ve ever had for all the love they gave my life, whatever it looked like. My dogs taught me about Commitment, Connection, Companionship and how to men a life and navigate a broken heart. All skills that have come in handy for life, not just parenting dogs.
I wish dog energy for everyone, and if you’re not a dog person, I hope you get these similar lessons from somewhere else.