If you catch my posts from time to time, you may have caught post not so long ago talking about my old dog Jim and how much I missed him. He truly was a one of a kind dog, however it’s amazing how those unruly puppy years seem to slip from memory…until they are brought back by the unruly puppy years we are currently going through now.
After Jim died, there was a hole in my soul. You dog people feel me. It is a hole that no kid, cat, horse, fish or any other creature can fill. When you’re a dog person, you need a dog.
Because I was having babies, I knew jumping into a new puppy needed to wait until I could devote some time to the pup. So it was 2 years after Jim died that Harley came into the picture.
For some reason, I had had it on my mind for a while that we needed a Heeler (or Australian Cattle Dog). I had friends who had Heelers and had loved them. They seemed to make great farm dogs and were smart enough to stick around home base. A mutt of some kind would have been fine, too….just so long as it had some kid of “farm dog” in it.
So I started keeping my eyes peeled on social media for a dog…something that spoke to me. I knew I would get “that feeling” when the time was right. I wasn’t in a hurry…and I knew JJ would be PISSED no matter when or what type of dog I brought home. I needed to make sure I made the right move and get the Perfect Dog for the sake of my marriage (let’s just say the “animal lover” gene is not one he possesses).
As I was scrolling the hot sheets (aka local Facebook farm pages) one day, I saw an add for a litter of puppies that caught my eye. Not only were they farm puppies that seemed well cared for, fat and healthy, but one of the photos showed a little boy about my son’s age in a laundry basket at the vet clinic with all the puppies crawling all over him. Oh boy…I was on the EDGE of my seat seeing that photo. It was a sign! Then I noticed that the puppies would be ready for their new homes on April 20th….which would have been Jim’s birthday. I couldn’t respond SOLD fast enough.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Jenny is such a sucker. She totally talked herself into that puppy” and -well- you’re right. But -hey- that’s what works for me.
I contacted the seller and, as she lived 2 hours away and I could not travel to select a puppy, I wanted her to pick out the perfect pup from the litter for us. I gave her a list of all the characteristics I remembered Jimmy having when he was a puppy…I think a part of me was hoping that he had be reincarnated as one of these pups.
She picked out Boy #3 for us and we arranged to meet. Evan, my sister -Katie- and I drove to a small town in southern Iowa to pick up our new best friend.
And -like that- we had a dog again.
Finding the right name for him was hard. He didn’t have one for a couple days as we rolled around with Blue Dog, the Blue, then Carlos, then Walter and finally -out of nowhere- Evan decided he was a “Harley” (which is hilarious because we are not a motorcycle family in any regard).
Immediately, I realized this dog was NOT Jim reincarnate. He was terrified of everything and acted like a crazy dog when strangers were around (hair up, growling and cowering).
We didn’t immediately click as epic human-and-dog duos sometimes do. Cars driving by sent him into a panic and even horses freaked him out. He had ZERO “personal bubble” and was always jumping up or laying on top of people he knew (in a panicked, neurotic way…not the “I love you human” way that would have been endearing). He seemed both indifferent and also incredibly needy.
If I had a nickel for every time I said “Calm down, Harley!” I would have dog food for life paid for. Basically…I just wanted Harley to chill out and love the awesome dog life we were trying to give him.
“Oh lord, ” I thought, “I have completely picked the wrong dog.”
Now, I know you seasoned Heeler owners are going to say “They are a high energy breed and have a tendency to be neurotic. This is normal” and you are RIGHT! That’s what drew me to the breed (well, maybe not the neurotic part, but I was willing to work with a little odd). We are a high energy family with a big outdoor life and wanted someone who could keep up and was smart enough to stick around the farm. But no matter how many trips up and down the driveway he chased the us or how much fetch he had, it didn’t fix his crazily panicked tendencies.
That first year was hard. I was so ready to give my heart and soul to this dog and it just wasn’t working. I just wanted a best friend for myself and the kids.
“Harley is a family member” I told myself. My only choice was to dig in and find more patience.
Flash forward to today:
When Harley turned 2 a couple days ago, I found myself looking back at the beginnings of his life with our family and noticing growth on both sides. Our neurotic Heeler was settling in and -in return- getting more attention and positive reinforcement from us.
He has begun to actually just lie down and sleep in the house. He doesn’t bray like a sick coonhound with his hair on end quite as much when he hears new noises and he has almost completely ditched his jumping-up tendencies. He even brings us presents sometimes (eek!).
And we make him birthday cake:
With his budding maturity has come more time for just Harley and I to do things together like drive to pick the kids up from school. I have noticed that I am petting him more and am taking time to teach him more tricks and commands (Evan loves to do this too). My husband even elects to take him along on farm chores and down to the shop from sometimes, too. It’s a relationship we are all working on. It is a relationship that is growing.
You see, here’s what I was missing: Sometimes the perfect dog isn’t a perfect dog at all. Sometimes the perfect dog makes you work SUPER hard for that relationship.
Clearly, I am not a perfect dog owner. And though I may never be, I have found that having Harley is the perfect opportunity to grow, learn and work on giving him my heart. And, although he still does things that drive me NUTS sometimes, I am finding everyday that that piece of my heart for him grows by the day.
Turns out, Harley, you are just perfect for us.