I’m dog-sitting this week for Cricket, a sweet, well-mannered former shelter dog who sits when you ask and comes when you call. I hang out with her in the morning until about noon, then come over again to let her out in the evening and once more before I go to bed.
Cricket has a big backyard that’s fenced in so I bring Bella, my boxer/shepherd/some-sort-of-hound mix, so she can run around with Cricket and play. I open the sliding-glass door, let them out and watch them rip around the yard, kicking up red Carolina clay as they go. But as soon as I’m back in front of my computer, Bella is throwing herself against the door, wanting to come in. Playtime has lasted less than 5 minutes.
She’s been like this since we brought her home from the shelter nearly six months ago. My girlfriend and I were hesitant to get a dog because we hadn’t yet invested in a fence. As it turned out, it didn’t matter. Bella wasn’t interested in being outside — unless we were there, too.
When I go from one room to the next, Bella follows me. When I sit on the toilet, she sits at my feet. When I’m at the computer, Bella lies next to my desk. Wherever I am, she’s not far behind. And when I’m not home, Bella does all of those things with my girlfriend.
One friend suggests Bella has abandonment issues. Likely that’s true. All I know about her is that some guy surrendered her to the animal shelter. There’s nothing in her record to say why. I suspect it’s because she pees when she gets nervous, but there’s no way to know what prompted him to give her up.
Bella sat in that shelter for two months before I showed up and picked her out of a lineup of 20-plus, penned-in dogs that were barking hysterically. I was drawn to her because she was the only one not barking hysterically. It didn’t hurt that she looked like a smaller, freckled version of my late dog, Duke.
I don’t want Bella to be this clingy, needy dog. I don’t want her to follow me from room to room. I don’t want her to choose inside with me versus outside with Cricket. I want her to run and play and lose herself in the freedom of that big, open space. In short, I don’t want fear to define — or confine — her.
While she sits on the top step waiting for me to let her in, I think about how often we do life that way. There’s this whole big world we could explore and yet we turn our backs to it, longing to stay where it’s comfortable. Like Bella, we have our reasons. People have abandoned us, treated us poorly, even abused us. When we find a safe haven, we never want to leave. After all, if we go run around that great big world, we could get hurt — or even die.
But we also might live — really live — and know what it means to be fully alive.