Wednesday, April 06, 2011

My Happiness Evolution

Since evolution is a gradual process, exactly when dogs became domesticated is up for much debate.  Recent studies using mitochondrial DNA, suggest that wolves split off into a different species between 50,000-100,000 years ago and occurred as a result of a mutually beneficial relationship between the two species.   Dogs helped to hunt and with a keen sense of alertness, safeguarded our long-ago ancestors to dangers among them. In return, dogs had an assurance of food, shelter and safety…in theory.
 
“Who will take care of it?” “Who will walk it and make sure it is feed properly?”
 
Growing up, my brother made several unsuccessful attempts at caring for goldfish, which just reaffirmed my mother’s stance when we pleaded with her to get a dog.  Since both parents worked full-time, the responsibility would fall on my brother and I.   With each goldfish we had to flush down the toilet, there went our proof that we could take care of another living creature.
 
Although my desire to have a dog during my adolescent years seemed feasible at the time, as I became an adult, the excuses to hold off became more abundant.   “I’m working all the time, when will I take them out?”   “What happens when I need to travel?”   “I heard they chew on everything and I can’t afford to buy new shoes every few weeks.”   Although I could hold out on the last excuse and just try to enjoy my custom ventilated sneakers, deep down, I just was not sure all the sacrifices would be worth it.
 
Despite living in Florida, January 2009 had constant frigid temperatures. Bleary-eyed as usual in the morning, I shuffled into work.   It was still fairly early but the office was already buzzing, and there was some commotion coming from the adjacent cubes.   “They’re so cute!”  Disregarding the distraction, I tried to get started on my day, however people were bustling in and out.  Additional comments starting with “ooh’s and awe’s” filled the air.  Mustering up the energy out of utter curiosity, I headed over to the corner cubicle, which had an office door.   People were huddled all around but the door was closed.  “What’s going on,” I inquired.  “Puppies!  Go look at the puppies!”  Un-amused, I opened the door and there they were…two pint-size puppies with adorable faces staring at me.  For a moment, my heart softened.  They were lying on the floor, one, light brown with piercing hazel eyes and the other, its twin, in dark brown fur.
 
My co-worker Paul was sitting on the floor with them, “where did they come from?”   “We’re not sure,” he replied.   “When we opened the back door this morning, there they were.  We assume someone dropped them off at the Humane Society in the middle of the night.”  The Flagler Humane Society is located across a main highway, Route 1, from our offices.  Which means, cold and dark, they crossed this busy highway alone.
 
Paul, a dog-owner, was keen on finding them a home.  Asking around in the office, most responded with how sweet they were but either already had a dog, or had the same laundry list I did, why not to take them home.   Deflated, he resigned to the fact that when the Humane Society opened at 10am, that he would have to drop them off.   “Well…” I began with hesitation. “I always wanted dogs, and always wanted two so they could keep each other company when I wasn’t around.  If these two stay this small, it shouldn’t be too bad.”  Paul’s face lit-up!
 
After a few moments, while attempting to reclaim sanity from the admission of adoption I was offering, Paul’s wife walked in with some dog toys and food she had rushed home to get for them.  Paul had me reach into the bag of kibble so they could eat out of my hands.  Burying their noses into my palms, the two pups nearly inhaled the food.   “Oh look, they are bonding so well with their new Mommy,” Paul cooed.   ‘Mommy!  What?!   Where?!  Who?!’    When I realized he was referring to me, a shiver ran down my back.   ‘What did I just get myself into?’
 
Ecstatic, Paul rushed out and told everyone that I was going to take our newfound friends.  My co-workers actually started cheering…I felt like a quarterback that just threw the winning touchdown pass.   “Congratulations!"  “Way to go!”  A hesitant smile was my response.
 
“What should I do now?”   My cohorts advised to take them to the Humane Society anyway so they could be checked out, given their shots…neutered.  Since it would take five days before I could pick them up from all their preparations, I spent that time ‘puppy-proofing’ and preparing for what I was being told, was a life-changing bond.
Everyone kept asking me if I was excited, if nervous counts as excited, than yes…I was VERY excited.   Collars, leashes, dog bowls, water bowls, crate, bed, toys…forgetting something…FOOD.  Need to get them food, but what do they like?  What if they turn their noses up at my choice?   Will they even like me?  Panic was setting in.
 
Even though I was trying to exude a fa├žade of confidence, the Humane Society volunteer handed me a DVD on pet adoption and care.   I tossed it in my bag with complete disregard.   However, when we got home, the DVD went in, and notepad and pen came out, ready to absorb as much insight as I could.   About halfway through, I realized, “Where were the puppies?”  A quick search revealed they were already making a home in the crate.   Crossed ‘crate training’ off my list with a newfound zeal.
 
The next morning started with real confidence this time.   Heading to their crate in the next room, I noticed some white substance all over their bed and they both looked very lethargic.  The morning walk turned into a hacking contest between them.  Ok, now I was back to panicking.
 
The vet diagnosed them with kennel cough to which they were just vaccinated.   Still upchucking white phlegm all over the apartment carpet was not helping.  Since the floor in the minuscule railroad kitchen was linoleum, it seemed to be a more logical location for them to stay, and easier for cleanup.  Luckily they loved peanut butter, so I was able to get their antibiotics down without a fight.  But on the second day, while dragging them out for a walk, the dark-haired pup put his nose to the grass and out came a flood of green fluid.   In turn, I became green and once again, panicking.   “Oh it's just some bile, shouldn’t happen again but call us if it does,” the vet concluded.  Granted, they deal with this every day, but I don’t…I didn’t know how to be so nonchalant.   I felt horrible and scared.   I sat on the kitchen floor with them, rubbing their bellies, when I began to sob.   Having always doubted whether I could truly be responsible to take care anything other than myself, I looked at them and knew...knew that I needed them as much as they needed me.  Sacrificing is not a curse, but a gift.
 
By the end of the week, they were running all around the apartment, wrestling with one another…tails wagging.  Ah, joy!
 
When I finally made it back to work, my caring friends inquired after them.  “Oh and what did you name them?”  Grover and Grady!   Because that is where we found each other and became a family…at Hargrove Grade.
 
Some canine experts claim that dogs do not feel happiness, that actions are based more on instincts, conditions and response to stimuli; emotions are not a factor.  After two years, when I come from work and Grover and Grady come running over to me, with their entire bodies wagging like they are doing the wave at a sporting event, I know they are happy, and despite what research tells us, that happiness is mutually beneficial.
 
“Animals are not just the backdrop of our own story, but at the center of the whole drama, and how we treat them is one of the great themes of the human story."
Wayne Pacelle, President/CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and author of The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them.

[1] Dog History:  How Were Dogs Domesticated?  By K. Kris Hirst, About.com Guide