Spot, the Wonder Dog, had been laid to rest. A marble headstone, “Spot, the Wonder Dog 2000-2016,” was erected in the back yard.
My husband, DJ, and I made a pact that day. No more dogs. It just hurts too much when they are gone. All the joy of having Spot did not outweigh the pain of losing him.
Three years later, the pain I felt when I lost Spot was nothing compared to the pain of losing my husband, DJ.
Two more years passed and the thought “dog” wandered through my mind. I allowed myself to think that if I had a dog, it would have to be a little dog. It would have to be small enough for me to be able to bathe it and control it.
On the other hand, I strongly didn’t like yippy little dogs and, PLUS, I had made a pact – no more dogs.
One day while I was scrolling through Facebook, a picture of a small white dog stopped me. It was curled up and looking up like he was looking right at me. It was posted by my friend, Haydee. I reminded myself, “pact” and scrolled on. At age 73, I didn’t need a dog.
Later my daughter Jill came over and asked if I had seen the cute dog Haydee had posted on Facebook.
“Yes,” I said, “but I scrolled on because I don’t need a dog.” But Jill encouraged me just enough that after a few days, I called to ask if someone had adopted him.
No. No one had adopted the dog and he was headed to a shelter the upcoming weekend. She told me some of his background and promised he was house broken and chipped (microchip for identification) and “small for a Husky”. Then I made the fatal error.
“Maybe I could foster him until someone adopts him?”
That’s when I discovered what “foster” really means. It means “keep forever”. It was almost 10 p.m. when Ghost arrived from Los Angeles to Santa Maria. Terrible fires were happening along the coast and the person bringing Ghost had to take a long route around the fires. After being cooped up in the car for over six hours Ghost bounded out of the car and…he was HUGE. It was October 2021 when I broke the pact. I sent out an announcement for the newest member of the family. It said, “My house is not haunted but there is a Ghost in it!”
For at least for the first month, life with the Ghost was not as advertised.
He was barely house broken.
He wasn’t chipped.
He ate my purse.
I suddenly realized my two cats would not be safe with this dog whose primary instinct is to kill small, fast animals. And in my 70s, I realized I could not walk –– or especially run –– with this beast.
When he jumped up on me, his nails cut my delicate skin.
He was afraid of my car and didn’t want to go for rides. I worked on “up” when I wanted him to jump into the back of my Ford Flex. Finally, he would jump in –– if he wanted to. If I really, really needed him to jump into the car, he would not. I could not lift him. So we would just sit there. I was intent on getting him into the car and he was intent on not getting in the car. Eventually I would resort to bribery and usually a bite of turkey would do the trick. Finally, I got him in the car and went to my swim class (yes, windows down and water in the car). He ate the seat.
We spent the first month setting boundaries. “No, you cannot be on the bed. Off!”
On the other hand, he was fluffy and white and had one blue eye and one brown eye. There was even a touch of blue in the brown eye. And he was big enough to make someone who wanted to cause me harm think twice.
When I complained to Haydee about all the issues, she offered to re-home him. I thought about it, especially right after he shrunk his body enough to get under the 6 inch gap of my driveway gate. I also started thinking about the freedom I had from the time my husband passed away until Ghost showed up. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. I could do as I pleased. This dog, especially if he didn’t want to ride in the car, was going to be worse than the Covid pandemic at keeping me home. Re-homing him was a very logical conclusion. But my response was, “Oh, heck no.”
Making rationalizations for him, I told myself during those first few months that he did not believe this was his forever home, that shelter life taught him that nothing was going to be permanent, so eat the purse, be the alpha dog to this old lady.
But Ghost also provided me with a daily routine. I HAD to get up to let him out and feed him, the cats, and the outdoor birds. If I’m not up with the sun, Ghost will jump up on the bed, stand next to me and stare until I’m up. He will sing the Husky song of the wild if I dilly dally. I try to stick to a training routine early in the morning while I still have energy. On dog walking days, I take him into the cat area of the house after his walk. He’s too exhausted to care that there are cats there. Now he curls up under the desk while I work on the computer.
He’s so “under foot” that when the trainer was trying to train him the command “come”, we couldn’t get Ghost far enough away from me to make the “come” command worthwhile. He’s more than willing to nap when I run out of steam around 3 p.m. He alerts me to anyone at the door and any alarm I set on my phone. In fact, he equates the phone alarm to the dog walker showing up and gets quite excited about the alarm even if it turns out to be an appointment reminder.
In short, he’s great company.
So, now we’re about a year into our relationship. I pay strong, young people to walk and run him three times a week. I have a treadmill for non-dog walker days and it’s good for me, too. I paid a trainer to work with me (he trains humans, not dogs) and we have made great strides in keeping all four paws on the floor and he follows all of the commands I give him (if he wants to). We have a long way to go but we’ve also come a long way.
He’s still only allowed in the presence of the cats under supervision and he’s had a few “outings” (meaning he got away but was found). But in spite of these mishaps, I believe he knows that this is home. When I leave for a few hours, he knows I’ll be back. He knows he’s in charge of the house.
After all that time teaching him that he could not be on the bed, I now slap the bed a few times and he jumps up and curls up behind my knees, and all is well.
Whether or not I believe in reincarnation, I believe some of DJ’s spirit is in Ghost. My husband DJ died in June of 2019. Ghost was born in October of 2019. Just like DJ, Ghost protects me and makes me feel safe. They both have a stubborn streak and a strong sense of independence.
I didn’t think I needed a dog. I thought I was too old, it would be too much work, I wouldn’t have the time, I would lose my freedom. But I forgot what I could gain. A regular schedule. A daily walk. A sense of security. And ultimately, a partner.
Ruth Jackson is the mother of two perfect daughters and four delightful grandchildren. For 50 years, Ruth worked with people who have a disability. For 32 of those years she has been a Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) surveyor, who compares the work of a rehabilitation agency to a book of standards for the purpose of accreditation. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.