My husband is a veterinarian, and the clinic where he works is where the strays in our county are brought, and where they remain for two weeks in the hopes that their families will find them. Elsie was one such dog, and when her two weeks were up, she was ready to be sent to a local shelter to await a hoped for adoption.
Through a strange mix of events that had to do with a hurricane dashing our camping plans for the weekend and my husband’s forgetting to do something at work, he happened to be at the clinic at the moment when the shelter worker had come to pick up Elsie. But Elsie had already captured his heart in the few minutes he’d interacted with her as she ran around the treatment room, and he called to ask me if I wanted another dog. I really didn ’t. We have three other dogs, one of whom has cancer. But I could tell by his voice that this was one special dog and he wanted to bring her home. I said we’d try her for the weekend.
Elsie is now part of our family, and I’m utterly smitten by her. I could go on and on about her exceptional attributes, but that’s not why you read this blog. What I want to write about is the ways in which adopting Elsie is both deeply joyful and also unsettling. And what I’m learning in the process.
I’m in love, and really all I want to do is play with Elsie. It’s as if the other dogs, as well as our cat — who’s the king of our household and to whom I am passionately attached — have faded. Imagine a photograph of our family of animals. There would be Elsie in sharp focus, and the others (Griffin, Sophie, Ruby and Sir Simon) would be blurry – as if the camera had room only to focus brightly on one. Ironically, Elsie’s black coat is actually shinier and brighter that the two other mostly-black dogs. So literally and figuratively, Elsie is outshining the household. How can this happen?
Before you write comments about how shallow I am, let me say that I adore all our animals. I’m giving them as much attention as always, albeit more intentionally rather than out of surfeit of desire. But oh, how fickle I can be falling in love with the new and exciting! And this is what has been unsettling. How can my feelings change for my other animals just because Elsie has entered our lives? What does this say about me?
I think what it says is as old as human history, and I think that my labile emotions are as common with new animal companions as they are with romantic relationships. Spouses leave their marriages after decades when they fall in love with someone new. Some of us are shocked; some are judgmental; some are deeply disturbed.
To me, what I learn from this is that my emotions are shapeshifters, and they are outside of my conscious control. My actions, however, are mine to choose. I can indulge my emotions and choose based on them. Or I can consciously show each of my animals the same love as always, knowing inside that Elsie is tugging harder at my heart, but refusing to indulge my desire to make her the supreme object of my affections.
In this way, I ground myself. I remain true to my values and commitments, even as I feel my heart flutter with adoration for Elsie. I deepen my understanding of the depth of love, for truly, what else is my passion for Elsie but a giant crush which, too, will deepen into something more enduring over time.
And so I’m in the midst of great joy and destabilizing confusion at the same time, trying to chart the MOGO path with my actions, if not my heart.
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