I love dogs and know the comfort their companionship brings. But my friend, Karen didn't "get" them until she and her husband split. Her story proves that desperation can open doors beyond a 20x16 inch portal at the bottom of a kitchen entrance and lead you to unexpected delights.
After Karen's divorce papers were final, I started receiving agonizing texts and phone calls from her, crying that without her ex she was going to shrivel up and die.
I had to give it to her straight.
"Get a dog," I said.
"You can't be serious," she said. The hesitation in her voice signaled she wanted me to be very serious.
Having grown up without pets, Karen was clueless so I suggested she begin by checking out breeds online.
"It'll be good practice for Match.com," I said. "View their pictures. Read about their personality traits."
I told her to seek a breed that fit her lifestyle (she works an office job). Then, after she narrowed down her preferences, I promised to go with her to check out a few shelters. Three weekends later, we visited our first shelter. After seeing all the dogs up close and personal, Karen started having second thoughts. Her trepidation was about the fur they'd shed.
Now, Karen's a savvy businesswoman and dresses exquisitely; she's not one I'd imagine showing up at work with dog fur on her sleek navy blue pantsuit. But underneath her cool exterior is a woman who'd taken a risk to marry someone she thought she'd live with forever and was suffering not only from the marriage's failure, but also from the authentic ache of separation.
She could learn to live with carrying a tape roller in her purse.
After we got into her car, I veered the convo away from fur and in another direction by asking what she missed most about her ex.
"Sundays," she said. "Every Sunday we'd take long drives up the coast past Malibu, and stop at the beach to get our feet wet and run in the sand..." Her voice trailed off. In the silence that followed, I swear I could hear her thinking the exact same thing I was: A dog could fill the vacancy she'd just described.
"The sex was great!" she said, grinning like she'd had me. "No dog is going to fill my ex's shoes there."
Did she really think I was suggesting a dog could do it all? Nothing or no one does it all.
Though Karen's ex did have a number of fine attributes, he couldn't stay away from pretty ladies and had cheated on her three times (that I knew of). Full disclosure here; it's been a while since I've been in the relationship game or have had sex, let alone great sex, so I was and still am in no position to argue against it. Yet, I knew that the loyalty and unconditional love a dog could give Karen were qualities she needed and could learn to appreciate again.
It took a few months until she found and rescued a Corgi-Collie mix. His soulfulness and eagerness to please made up for being a little rough around the edges and all that fur. I helped out as much as I could before she hired a reputable dog walker. The adjustment wasn't easy but I knew she'd made the club when I stopped hearing from her on Sundays.
Last week we met up at our local dog park and sat on top of an old table with an overview of the entire knoll.
"Hey," she said, nudging me. "Look at that one."
"Which one?" I asked, eying a cute little toy Poodle trying to make friends with a larger dog.
"By the Maltese," she said. "Brown curly hair, jeans, red Reeboks. "
A nice looking man about to throw a yellow tennis ball was smiling at her. He tossed the ball our way and before a crew of dogs could get it, Karen jumped off the table, picked it up and triumphantly held the ball in the air.
While Karen and her new friend flirted like crazy and frolicked with the critters, mine included, I sat alone, watching.
You know. I think it's time I learn to play with a two-legged friend again.
Hey, maybe Karen can teach me a few tricks.