There’s a line from one of poems which says, “My feet anchor me in the disconnect between two worlds: One, the motherland that gave me life, and the other that brought me love.” Even though I talked about falling in love when I wrote that line, now it has a different meaning. In fact, what I think about isn’t necessarily romantic love - it’s about love and belonging. Love and belonging, where what you seek and the answer is the same thing.
My dog has taught me a lot about the sense of belonging - after all dogs are pack animals, they need a leader, and as much as I loved her, I wasn’t always a great alpha for her. There were times I was uncertain of myself that she felt she had to take over and lead me out of that place of misery. She always gave me unconditional love, even more love than I gave myself.
Now as I begin the search of a new forever home for her, I sense the sadness in her. She is unapologetically clingy, I see it in her eyes and the way she needs to be in my physical presence. We make the small moments count - watching sunsets, running around at her favourite beach, watching her sniff logs. I didn’t understand what other dog owners meant about a dog’s love until these last few weeks. Each day, a dog wakes up and shares that joy, and all they ask for is to be loved and have that sense of belonging.
Once you experience that love, it changes you forever.
The puppy that almost didn’t
My dog’s name is JC, which stands for Jersey Caramel (it’s a soft-toffee candy I used to love, which she happened to be the same colour when she was a puppy). I think some people assumed I was crazy enough to name my dog Jesus Christ.
Born in February in Waiotahi (near Opotiki), she came from a pack of hunting dogs and was a spitting image of her mother. Even though I tell people she’s a lab-cross, she really is a mix-a-lot. Got a big butt, and I cannot lie.
She wasn’t my first choice, we had already picked out a boy from the photos and that afternoon, I went to my friend’s house with the intention of bringing home a different puppy. There she sat, watching me. I could tell she was sizing me up, while all the other puppies were playing, she sat, watching me. Then, in one quick strut, she nuzzled my leg, and my heart melted. I must have taken a thousand photos of her as a puppy.
To be honest, I don’t live the lifestyle of a dog owner. I never did. We got JC after our home had been broken into twice in one year. I worked late at the studio most nights, and it was definitely easier when there were two of us looking after her. I didn’t prepare myself for the changes I had to make when it became just her and I.
She really did change me
Before I moved back to my parents’ house, JC and I used to be nap buddies. When she was sprawled on the bed, she was pretty much my height, which was an amusing sight. You know that saying that dogs take after their owners? We all know how much labradors love food, right? I remember how one time we made the mistake of leaving a roast chicken on the kitchen bench - that girl had a feast that night, while we had to make another trip to the supermarket.
Now that it’s just the two of us, we’ve still made memories together. Like that Christmas we went camping in Te Araroa, I wonder what dogs think about when they go on road trips? I guess as long as I was with her, she didn’t seem to mind. On our last afternoon at the campground, we encountered a curious (and rather mischievous) sheep on the way back from the beach. JC was on the lead, and the sheep kept following us. I had to keep calm because I didn’t want JC to feel like she had to defend me, but that sheep man, it wanted a fight!
There’s a big part of me that feels selfish for rehoming her, dogs are supposed to be for life, I know that. She has taught me so much about compassion and unconditional love. My dog got me through the fire and kept me grounded, best of all, helped me to become the person that she saw all along. Here’s to letting one rip because you can, my chewed up jandals, slobbery kisses and fur in my clothes. You will always be my day one...here’s to a new chapter for us both!
What My Dog Taught Me About Love And Belonging is an extract from my second book to be released circa 2019, and the sequel to STUCK - Friends, Lovers & The Obscurity of In Between (May 2017).