Pet Stories: In Your Own Words
I adopted Jacob when he was four months old. I had never seen a dog like him before; a mixed breed of Sheltie and Corgi. Fortunately, he inherited the best physical traits of both breeds, which produced a thick, strong body covered in a beautiful red and white coat. Unfortunately, Jacob was destined for schizophrenia, as Shelties are known as herders, while Corgis are known as "reverse herders" (Corgis were used to chase away the livestock of neighboring farmers). In other words, there are times when Jacob doesn't know whether he is coming or going.
He is also gregarious. Jacob has never met a creature he didn't like. This was our first conflict. I had always been a recluse and was not prone to speaking to strangers. I had no close friends and only a few acquaintances, and those were primiarly co-workers. Most of my disappointments in life were direct results of my relationships with others. I saw myself as the proverbial nice guy who always finished last, and I was tired of even bothering to race. It seemed that if there was a scapegoat needed, I was always it. Staying away from people seemed like my best option.
Having this happy, friendly creature in my life who loved to attract attention was not what I had in mind when seeking a canine companion. I wanted a dog who would provide me with enough company to keep me from missing human interaction. However, from the moment I brought Jacob home to my apartment complex, he made it a point to get to know each and every one of my neighbors.
I found myself surrounded by strangers each time I took Jacob outside. Even when I thought I was going to be able to sneak past someone, Jacob would bark and wag his tail as an invitation. Conversations were forced upon me, and questions about my dog eventually led to questions about myself. When I was finally able to escape back to my apartment, I was emotionally exhausted. I considered taking Jacob back to the Humane Society, but what would I tell them? "I'm bringing him back because he likes people." I imagined my name on the Humane Society's "worst people" list, if ever such a thing existed.
So Jacob stayed with me, as did the unwelcome conversations with strangers. And the human interaction got worse. One neighbor, while throwing a stick that Jacob had brought to her for a game of fetch, invited me to a Christmas party with other tenants from our apartment complex. Although she loved Jacob, she kindly asked me to leave him at home. "I have an old tomcat who hates dogs," she explained.
I panicked. I'd made the mistake of telling her that I didn't have plans for the night of her party, so there was no backing out without coming up with an elaborate lie, especially since she lived next door. Even worse, not only would I be spending time with a group of complete strangers, but Jacob would not be able to come with me. As we finalized the date and time, Jacob stood between us and wagged his tail.
The party was only two weeks away, and I felt like a "dead man walking." I pictured myself breaking down at the party, unable to converse with the other guests and eventually slipping out the door, hopefully unnoticed. My worries followed me to sleep, and one night I dreamed of the dreaded Christmas party.
In the dream, things were going as I expected. I was standing alone in a corner with a glass of wine while the other guests ignored me. When I attempted to join in a conversation, I was given either rude glares or outright insults, so back to the corner I went. Now and then I would overhear the others saying terrible things about me. Hiding tears, I ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind me.
Standing in the bathroom, which had transformed into the apartment courtyard, was my deceased father. He held Jacob in his arms. "He's not supposed to be here," I told my father and nodded at Jacob.
"Neither am I," he replied and handed Jacob to me. "You're about to wake up, so I don't have much time," he said. "Your life is your own creation. Not everyone is going to die on you."
And I woke up with Jacob still asleep at my side. Although my dream conversation with my father had been brief, his words held deep meaning.
My father had died young (a smoker), while I was a toddler. His death brought me and my family great pain. He had left me alone to grow up without him. If my own father had hurt me so deeply, how could I expect anyone else to do any better? This was the logic that I had lived with for my entire life, the logic that had resulted in the creation of dysfunctional and abusive relationships throughout my life.
I can't say if my father has returned to me through Jacob, of if Jacob is simply his messenger, but I do know that my friendly companion was trying his best to show me that not all people are untrustworthy, and I kept yanking him away by his leash. It finally took an intrusive invitation to a party, my worst nightmare, to lead me to a personal revelation through a dream. Without a leap of faith, without trust, genuine, fulfilling relationships cannot develop.
Today, I share my apartment with two dogs. I adopted Molly, a Chihuahua, to keep Jacob company now that I have a social life. Of course, Jacob still has first call on my time. And after I'm finished with my nights on the town, I come home and call Jacob and Molly to bed, where we read together until we all fall asleep.