A dream named our dog. A suitable messenger considering what preceded was a nightmare, an ordeal that almost sunk my marriage. It began when just the thought of having a dog was akin to owning a home. An “I’m all grown up” kind of feeling that makes you think of having a yard and a pet to go with it. For me, it was a brewing romantic ideal that led to consternation and couples’ therapy. All while a sparky yellow lab was being born, one who would change my life.
My husband and I were newly-married at the time, though we’d been together for nine years. I never realized it was my fear of commitment that was responsible for delaying our wedded bliss. Apparently, it was going to take a dog to make that happen.
Complicating the issue is I’m sure my husband is part dog. There’re decades of proof. From his childhood pet, the storied Two-Toes, on forward, he’s photographed at all ages lying on the ﬂoor with his dog. So, when I said, “Let’s get one,” I had unwittingly crossed a line and gone all-in Texas Hold’em style. I totally missed the heralding of trumpets and his heart taking wing.
We went to our local animal shelter. Only two dogs were available, both lovable and deserving of a home. How could I choose? I nervously ﬁlled out the paperwork for each, delaying the “Sophie’s Choice” feeling of it all.
Driving home, I watched my husband ablaze with excitement and never saw doubt get in the car, hitching a ride home with its sidekicks misgiving and anxiety. What was I thinking? With a brimming plate of responsibility, clearly, I let the fantasy of having a dog reign, when I should’ve considered midnight walks, vet bills, and those plastic bags I’d carry around forever. So, I did what was in my nature, nothing, letting the worry bubble to a boil.
Yes, it was just a dog. But, to me, it was one more straw on the camel’s back of my novice self. Raised in a troubled home, I’d cautiously test the ice of life to see what’s safe. Maybe my commitment savings account was empty? After all, I’d already taken on the lifetime charge of motherhood and marriage.
I broke the news: no dog. Just as I failed to hear trumpets, so too the heartbreak. After days of awkward silences and tears - both me, I arrived home to see my husband building a kennel in the center of our living room in a house that was 1,400 square-feet on a good day. My eyes grew wide as I spied double the pet paraphernalia! He then announced to my dropped jaw that we were adopting both dogs.
What followed? Weeks of arguing. Me accusing him of being insensitive. He, of me going back on my word. While I was so right, I couldn’t be wrong, both dogs were adopted by others and I considered moving out. All our words grew bigger than what we were ﬁghting about. No longer about a pet, it was whether we were so different we couldn’t be together. I was heartsick. Then came the couples’ therapy, which somehow led us directly to that yellow pup, Bouksari, named after my husband’s dream of a legendary dog.
We called him Bouk. He was a dog of a lifetime. Our sentinel, comfort, and clown. For over 15 years, he gave to us seamlessly. Bouk taught me “dog,” for which there are other words, like loyalty, love, and unconditional. Right to the end, when he couldn’t walk and we’d jointly carry him to the green grass, he showed that, for those we love, our interior bank accounts only accrue.
The lessons of having a dog are not dissimilar to having a marriage. The commitment they require broadens experiences, capabilities, and quite simply, the heart. Rather than fearing commitment, I’ve learned the joys of it. Being welcomed when you walk in the door, having a soft place to be when things are hard, and navigating in partnership this sometimes-bumpy world. It’s the kind of foundation that builds relationships, with man or beast, that are indeed legendary.
Carole Vasta Folley is a Vermont award-winning playwright and columnist. Contact her at carolevf.com.