I have a great family. A large, loving, quirky, complicated family. And I love dogs. All dogs. I think most dogs are beautiful, and there is only one dog that I could not connect with despite trying, and that is my brother's old, highly protective Catahoula-lab mix, Chief. I've tried all the friendship tricks that I can think of, and everything I've ever learned on the dog programs on the Animal Planet and National Geographics Channels, to no avail. But I digress.
My youngest sister and I are very close. We have quite similar interests, though she is much more disciplined and organized than I am. She has a husband who probably helps her maintain that discipline, because he is one of the most disciplined people I've ever known. In fact, I think I may have only known one person in my life who can beat him in that. He also has a great sense of humor, and is one of those high energy people who never stops working at something or other. He is also a well trained nurse, and adores working with patients. He loves helping people. Loves it.
To bring all this together...that brother doesn't always understand my love for dogs. It took me a long time, but I think I finally understand this. In the last two years my husband and I have experienced some difficult struggles, which have led to some deep emotional problems; depression, arguing, sometimes feeling hopeless and ready to give up on the marriage. In February of this year, 2009, we lost our beloved labrador, Maddie. She was twelve, and had lived a good, loved dog life. But I have always been the dog person in our relationship; and I have always preferred bigger dogs. I used to say that it isn't a realy dog unless it is at least 25 pounds (beagle, basset, that was about as small as I wanted to go.)
When my first marriage was breaking up in the 90s, I credit the dogs we had with literally saving my life, because I was sometimes suicidal in those days, but on days when I was sitting on the stairs crying, the dogs, bassett hounds, would lay there heads on my lap, and look up at me, and I knew that, despite the despair I was feeling at this "failure," I was both loved and needed. So after
Maddie, I just couldn't see myself coming home to a house without a dog. So I went to our local shelter and picked a dog. Or maybe she picked me when she wiggled her entire body to the front of her kennel and pleaded with me to take her home. She is a small terrier mix, no idea really what she might be, but it was a doggy love I never thought I could feel, for a small dog. My husband is also smitten in a way I've never seen him with a dog.
All this is to say that I think I finally understand the difference between myself and my brother in law. I had one of those "Aha!" moments this week, and I hope that it will lead to a greater tolerance of this difference. Maybe he and his boys can stop joking that if I love dogs so much, next time I come over they will sniff my rear instead of giving me a hug, etc...(yes, I laugh at the jokes!) I once told my sister that I don't love dogs more than people, but I love most dogs more than some people. When my brother in law has been at his very lowest points in life, he had my sister. He had people to help, and he could bury himself in that and work through those times. I've had the same thing, but during some of the worst times, the people I would turn to lived far away from me, and phone and email just don't do the same thing. But I had dogs with me. The didn't judge or question me, they just came to me with a wag or a lick, and made me feel as if there was a reason to go on. It's not that the people in my life wouldn't have made me feel the same way, but they just weren't near enough for a hug at that moment. So my devotion to the dogs deepened. And it has never been betrayed. So, yes, I deeply love my sisters. I have often said they are my best friends. They haven't been replaced by dogs, and I don't love dogs more than them. The relationships are different, and as I've always told my kids, different isn't a bad thing. It's just different.