I didn’t grow up with a dog. Pets were not a big part of the ecosystem in which I was raised.
When the idea was suggested that a dog would be coming to live with us last summer, and that we would be taking care of it for 3 months, I wasn’t exactly, um, well, thrilled… is the word, I think.
It was presented to me as something to discuss. But it was never to be a discussion. It was a unilateral decision. Minds were made, and plans soon followed. It didn’t exactly feel so good.
I arrived home a couple days later after a month on the road to meet my new housemate. His name, Oliver.
He was white, fluffy, and though he had just arrived hours earlier, Oliver seemed to have already made himself right at home.
[If you’re up with dog lingo, we’re pretty sure he’s a mini poodle meets bichon frise mix.]
[And by the way, this shot is from the first day Oliver and I met and is the very first picture I took of him. Sometimes there’s value in going back and starting again from the beginning. It’s there where you can find things you might not expect, which you won’t find anywhere else.]
In the days between the gauntlet being laid down and my arrival back home, the narrative in my head went a little bit like this, “I’m not a dog person. I’ve never been a dog person. I’m not in favor of this arrangement. Why does my opinion not matter?”
And then, I decided to change my tune.
I love a special lady. She loves dogs. I’ve never had a dog before. Maybe I can love dogs too. What would happen if I turned my frown upside down, threw myself into the world of being a dog daddy, and chose to love him from the start?
And you know what? I made the change and did just that.
It’s amazing what you can do when you choose to change your attitude.
And you know what? The experience was incredible.
I grew to love the little guy. Oliver and I became bros. In fact, we had a surprising number of similarities, so much so that I feel like we have the same spirit, just different bodies.
We love people. We love to hang out. We both like to work from home. We find ways to easily amuse ourselves. We enjoy going running in the morning. We eat when we need to. We like to try new things. Explore new places. Bark infrequently – usually when we don’t get the chance or enough time to meet new people. And we both have a soft spot for the lady of the house.
[Here’s a nice shot of Oliver amusing himself, playing catch with himself with his little friend the once-upon-a-time-was-stuffed salamander.]
Now, a common question I would get after sharing my story about Oliver:
“Wow, so are you a dog person now?”
My standard answer: I’m an Oliver person, though I’m not sure if I’m a dog person.
But here’s the thing. I might be a dog person. What if I am and never gave myself the chance when it mattered?
These days I’m much closer to knowing the answer because I said yes to a relationship with Oliver.
Yes to pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.
Yes to doing something I would not have done on my own, but am now so grateful to have had someone give me that initial push.
How do we know if something won’t work out if we’re not even willing to give it a go?
Oliver’s stay with us was 3 months, 90 days. Not short, but also not that long. And a lot can change in that amount of time. A lot did change.
With all the goodness he brought, it’s equally important to note that Oliver’s presence in our lives was not without its challenges.
Which got me to thinking, and what I realized about Oliver, about dogs, and about myself is that it’s not that I’m not a dog person, it’s that I’m an extreme people person.
Actually, some of my biggest fears came to light while living with Oliver.
There were a healthy amount of extra logistics involved, especially when headed anywhere away from New Haven, or the house, for more than a certain number of hours. He took up a fair amount of time that could have been focused elsewhere. At times we made choices that favored Oliver over people. And that, especially, was very hard for me.
However, there were some incredible benefits to having Oliver around.
First and foremost, we should start with the fact that I love him. I can’t help myself. And he loves me.
There is something about the love that a guy like Oliver can give that is so innocent and much less complicated than the love we sometimes exchange as humans.
What’s not to love about someone who is always happy to see you when you come home?
And that’s the biggest lesson Oliver taught me about being in a relationship.
There will always be tough times. There will always be logistics to work out. And life will not be perfect.
But with all the things we fight against on the outside, if we can come home at the end of the day and show unbridled love to the person that matters the most to us in the world, then we are going to completely change how they feel in that moment.
All of a sudden that day might just get a little better. For them. For you. Or me. For us.
Oliver changed my life.
Never could I have imagined that I would say this about a dog.
Never would I have thought I would be bros with a poodle.
Or even know that a bichon frise is a dog and not a type of cheese.
Or talk to a grandmother in the bus station on the day before Christmas about her third and fourth “grandchildren.” i.e. two dogs. Bentley is a Morkie (a maltese + yorkie aka yorkshire terrier) and Bailey is a Cavachon (half king charles terrier spaniel, half bichon frise).
But now when I see dogs, I see unconditional love. I see a relationship between two beings that matters and makes them both so happy. And what could be wrong with two beings choosing love, care, compassion, mutual interest and affection, … over the alternatives?
A dog is not what I wanted. It was not my ideal outcome.
But I had a choice to proactively participate. And I’m so glad that I did. And it became an ideal outcome.
Because, ultimately, Oliver pushed me out of my comfort zone, he got me thinking about someone other than myself, and he helped me on the road to be a better man.
I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my relationship with Oliver. A lot can change in 90 days. Sometimes, even more than you think.
Beyond just thinking about Oliver and his needs, it got me thinking about why someone special in my life would have such a love for dogs and animals in general.
Seeing how she would light up around Oliver. Seeing how much pleasure she took in taking care of him. It reminded me how wonderful she is at taking care of those she loves. How she’s such a great daughter and sister and aunt. Friend and colleague and boss. And teacher and mentor to her students. It also made me feel how wonderful she would be as a mother.
If you talk to a lot of pet owners or lovers, most of them have had a pet growing up. I’d be very curious to know how many who do not grow up with pets have pets as adults. My non-conclusive research to-date indicates few. It’s easy to be disinterested, and to say no, in these situations.
Besides, most of the time we say no to lots of things we don’t have experience with much more than we say yes, particularly when there is work involved.
But through this experience I was opened me up to this other side of myself. A side that loves animals too. All that work? It sure was worth it.
Though, along with that work, introspection and reflection helped me to realize how important it is to find the right balance with my human relationship needs too. But I believe that middle road is easily found, especially since now we know the why behind those feelings.
When it comes to the stuff that’s hard – the stuff that we’re afraid of, or perhaps just a bit concerned about – fear or concerns don’t mean, “No”, even though that’s often the first thing that comes out of our mouths.
Instead of an obstacle, we can look to these feelings and actions as more information. And given more information we have a better idea on how to work out any issues. Again, because we know the why. And that why helps us to make it happen.
When is your next chance to stay open-minded to something you think you’re so uncertain about?
Oliver was a catalyst for quite a bit of new thinking for me. He helped me to see a different side of others, as well as myself.
Who or what might be your Oliver?
And when it comes, will you not only open up your mind and say yes, but will you also open up your heart and share your love?
The photo immediately above is my favorite picture of Oliver and me. Ollie was never all that patient when it came to looking at the camera. Photo credit to a very talented photographer (AH).
The photo at the very top is a popular break time position for the little guy. As usual, he’s giving and sharing the love from a cozy and comfortable curled up position on the couch.
And when I was looking to find the spellings for all these dog breeds I have heard of, but never seen in writing, I came across this interesting article on the next generation “perfect” dog.