He’s the difficult child. The one who makes me look like a bad parent. He doesn’t listen. I have to repeat myself a million times. He doesn’t come when called. He runs out into the street. He doesn’t play well with others. He spits out his medicine. He’s stubborn. When he’s done, he’s done. He digs his heels into the ground and I have to drag him away, tail between my legs, wondering where I’ve gone wrong.
He’s the dog. Until now, I’ve had it pretty good as a parent. My kids threw fits here and there, sure. A couple of bad ones in public. But I never felt like the parent everyone always scrutinized. Now, when I can even get this four-legged kid to go for a walk, pet parents look at me with disapproval when he misbehaves.
“Katy wants to play,” a woman beams as her panting dog bounds toward us.
Great. I’m trying to keep Rowan from barking or growling. “I’m not sure he’s interested,” I say and try to steer my unsure dog off the sidewalk. He doesn’t like big dogs.
And there’s the look. At me. Like my kid just spat in her kid’s face. Let’s be honest. We’re out here to poop and move on, lady. Your giant, fluffy poodle is freaking my tiny terrier out. And me a little too if you want to know the truth.
We’ve had our dog, Rowan, for about ten months. He’s an anxious dog. We don’t know what kind of life he had before he came to live with us. We rescued him from a temporary home of more than 20 dogs. He was a stray before that. To be honest, some days we can maybe see why he became a stray. He’s made progress, slowly. He’s kind of the weird kid. He rolls in dead worms on the sidewalk. He’s the clingy kid who follows his daddy or me around every second. He doesn’t want to play with his kind.
He’s been a challenge. He channels Houdini, escaping his locked metal crate, bending the bars, losing a tooth in the process. He ate some blinds, a scone, lots of tissues, some holes in our bedspreads, probably some Legos, and he used to pant and shake when he knew we were leaving. The vet, a trainer, they both gave advice. Nothing seemed to help except what we felt in our gut. We had to medicate, quit using the crate when we left the house—every experience has been another story to tell.
With the kids, my husband never ran through the house in the middle of the night in his underwear frantic that they had run away in the dark. We never searched the yard in pajamas with flashlights calling their names, wondering where they had gone. (Though the teenage years are yet to come.)
I never consulted “experts” with the kids. I didn’t even read parenting books. But one day I found myself taking Rowan to doggie day care so he could socialize with other dogs. And as I left, I held my breath that I wouldn’t get any phone calls to come back, that he would pass and be allowed to return. He did. We watched him on a webcam as he ran from door to door that day, ignoring the other dogs and lifting his leg freely. Even now, we still see him misbehave on the webcam, doing the exact things he hates for other dogs to do to him.
As many times as we’ve threatened to get rid of him, Rowan has worked his way into our hearts—some more slowly than others. He makes us laugh at his speedy bursts of energy around the room. He makes us realize that we all come with insecurities and quirks and that none of us are perfect. And he’s challenged us to love when it hasn’t been easy.