the best way to find love

I got a dog. A puppy, actually. Choosing a pet is never really about the actual animal, is it? Every time I’ve ever added a pet to my home, it was because there was a hole I needed to fill. I needed something to cuddle and nurture, a gentle presence curled beneath my feet as I worked at the table. Maybe you just love animals, but for me, animals always represent a deeper need, and I felt a deep intuitive pull to get a puppy in light of my mom’s death. Something to hold, some source of comfort, without fearing I was emotionally harming or overburdening them. I needed a creature whose only job was to love me back and not poop on the carpet. A puppy was perfect for the job.

For weeks I watched both rescue and breeder sites, searching for just the right pup. I needed a smallish dog that would not bully my gentle giant of a lab who both looks and acts exactly like a manatee. Eventually I found the perfect dog, a 4-month-old golden retriever/ cocker spaniel mix. He looked like someone shrunk a golden retriever to the size of a dachsund. He was exactly the right size to curl in my lap even when he was full grown, but he was not a temperamental sort who would yip and snap when my children carried him over their shoulder from time to time. As soon as I saw this dog, I just knew he was right for us. I contacted the rescue service, and the next day we brought him home. His name is Sunshine Severus Skywalker. Sunny. Charged with the task of bringing a little light into our lives.

And he is perfect, friends. He is calm-ish but still playful, tolerant of bossy children, and he and my other dog are a great match. Best of all, he seemed to instantly know I am his Person. He follows behind me every where I go, yelps in despair when I descend the basement stairs that are a little too scary just yet, and curls under my feet while I work. He is practically perfect in every way. There’s only one small problem.

He’s covered in this awful, scaley, itchy, ringworm. Contagious, expensive-to-treat, gross, itchy ringworm.

He scratches constantly, his little circular wounds ooze, and as a result of all of his scratching, he smells terrible. Also? He was so stressed by the transition away from his litter and into our home that he developed stress-induced colitis, which is to say he has explosive, disgusting diarrhea that stinks up both the back yard and our precious scratchy pup. The cure for this type of infection is medication and lots of reassurance. Yet every time we pet him, we are exposing ourselves to the ringworm.

To recap: I searched for weeks for the perfect puppy to bring a little light – some comfort and unconditional love – into my life during a time of deep grief. And I found him. I found a beautiful, comforting, loving scabby contagious puppy who will only heal from his explosive diarrhea by being cuddled and held.

This is my life.

At first I was frustrated by the whole thing. Seriously? This is what I’m doing for the next month? Treating rashes and diarrhea to help a little dog heal? But the longer I sit with my oozy precious predicament, the more I appreciate the poetry in it.

The only way to find life again after any kind of death is to allow it to flow through you – to both receive it and to give it. Comfort and love are found in the exchange, the back-and-forth between us. I can enjoy my sweet little dog curled under my feet while I work, but only if I also give him the medication and attention he needs to be better. Yes, I would love him if he were perfectly healthy and cute without the mess and extra work. But the act of caring for him, of giving him something he could not attain on his own, makes me love him more. Love does not grow by receiving it from another. That is the threshold into love, but it is hardly the full experience of it. We don’t truly experience love until we also offer it. If we can extend it to a creature who can do little more than offer a contagious lick of thanks, even better. We are best healed not by what we receive, but by the current of comfort that runs between us. We need the exchange.

So I sit in the evenings with a blanket on my lap, and the most precious, stinky, scaly pup curls on top of it, resting his full body weight against my belly as I carefully rub his. And I thank God for the light He has brought into our lives. For Sunshine, whose silliness and warmth brings just a little more life to our days. I scratch his little ears, listen to him snore softly, and I thank God for the love and comfort that is growing in the exchange.

But I always make sure to wash my hands when I’m done.