“What’s wrong with her?” My friend Alec asked, peering around my bedroom door. I trailed him to the bed, where he reached out to pet my new dog. Emma Louise (a name both given and previously owned) shrank against the pillows. “She looks terrified,” Alec laughed, stepping away from her cowering form. “She’s fine! That’s her special spot.”
There are a lot of special things about my dog Emma Louise. For one, she never leaves my bed. Nestled between three pillows (trust me, we’ve tried two, and she simply has nowhere to lay her head), Emma reigns over my bedroom. She is safe in this corner of my room, where she can assess whoever enters. “Emma,” I coo, “do you wanna go outside?” I raise my voice on the out, thinking she may compile a vocabulary of dog-trigger words, like my dogs back home. They go wild at the mention of car, boat, Sammy (the cat). Emma just looks at me.
I usually (every single time except once when I believe she may have been sleep walking) wrap my arms around Emma and lift her to the floor. She’s only 37 pounds, so it’s not too difficult. All 37 of Emma’s pounds make her special–to me at least. Never did I think I would own a medium-sized dog. Medium! That’s like the human version of having the dull brown of your eyes match your un-shining hair. I fell in love with a skittish dog who has absolutely no connection to the AKC. From where did such a love come?
There’s not a very big difference between loving a dog and feeling bad for a dog. “Ah, poor thing!” rings throughout every SPCA in the nation. He makes you sad–but does that mean you should make him yours? When I first met Emma, I convinced myself that, as a “rescue,” she was tugging at temporary heart strings. She was cute and sweet, but did I really want her? A month and a half later, “Emma Louise,” was getting etched into a silver bone-shaped tag at my local Petco. I guess I really did.
Emma does this thing. She sits, raises her right paw, and reaches out to you. Sure, at camp (the dog kennel where I work, and where she was being fostered), I saw her reach out to other people. I felt an initial pang of jealousy (I thought she was only that cute with me!), but then I just felt good. Warm and fuzzy and shit. I fell in love with Emma Louise, because she reminded me of someone I would like to be.
Yeah, yeah, Emma’s a dog and I’m a human. Does that mean I can’t learn from her? By god, she requires a lot of patience. She requires even more patience when you try to tell someone, “she requires a lot of patience,” because at that very moment she leaps into their lap as if she were no trouble in the world. That’s the worst part about Emma–she is no trouble. She doesn’t chew. She doesn’t bark. She doesn’t have accidents. She’s just stubborn. She will not destroy any physical object; she will look deep into your soul with her big brown eyes and destroy everything you ever thought you knew about yourself.
“But I’m good with dogs!” I constantly insist, to no one in particular. “Ha!” says Emma”Ha! Well you’re not so good with me.”
I’m really not so good with my dog, Emma Louise. I should have her in my living room right now, curled up on the rug, like a normal dog. She should chase my cat! She should chew the toys I place before her! She should bark for no reason at all! If I were good with Emma Louise, I wouldn’t feed her breakfast in bed. I would tug at her collar–not carry her to her next location. I would somehow, some way, train her to never again tuck her tail between her legs. I would erase all of her fears.
What is my Emma scared of? I really don’t know. She’s six months old, and I “know her history.” That’s what people say when they see my quivering, medium sized dog…they lower their voices and bend down to let her sniff their hands, “Well, do you know her history?” I’ve just started saying, “No, no I don’t.” Because when I tell them that she’s had a pretty okay life, they raise their eyebrows (she must be the one beating her, then, those eyebrows seem to say).
Maybe Emma isn’t scared. Maybe she’s not so unlike me, after all. I thought, with all that reaching out and quiet, well-mannered behavior, that Emma Louise was simply a kind soul– too gentle for most people to understand. And I do think that Emma is gentle. But maybe she’s also just a little bit picky. Maybe she’s kind of a bitch. Maybe she doesn’t automatically assume that people are good. She cowers because she’s testing them. I’ve never met you, why would I give you my paw? Emma Louise, resident Mean Girl.
Emma lets me sleep in my bed. Every night we curl up, side by side, in a world that recognizes neither OUTside, nor rules of normalcy. Last night my sister came home late and came into my room to say good night to Emma. I woke up to a bark. Two barks. Emma, ears perked, paw on my chest. Sissy, laughing, backing up. My Emma barked. I stroked her ears, “it’s okay doll.” She quietly snuggled back in under my neck. Emma Louise, my unnecessary protector. Maybe she’s a work in progress. But I’ll be damned if I could find a better partner in such a venture.