I’m not sure when I realized that my better-than-best friend was a fluffy, stinky (at times) German Shepherd-mix.
It wasn’t the first day when she came home and I oohed and aahed over her tiny ears, fluffy tail and miniature puppy pads. I do remember thinking, “Let her be mine” and “Can I take on a puppy?” and “I want a dog.”
It wasn’t later that month, as I rose in the middle of the night to walk her out in the cold and snow to pee. Or when I arose early, before classes and my full-time work at a domestic violence agency, to run three miles with her. It wasn’t when I paid the vet’s bills six months later, when she ate dead animal on a walk and then had chronic diarrhea and dehydration. It wasn’t the days she slipped past me at the dog park or Peter’s Hill- running to bathe in mud puddles and dodging my capture for up to an hour.
It wasn’t when she laid at the foot of my bed that first year, snuggled against my feet, as I battled anxiety and recovery from surgery to remove my cancer. It wasn’t when she nosed me up out of bed to get her water after I had my tonsils removed. It wasn’t when we cuddled in the car, falling asleep together nose-to-nose on a long drive, or after a hike.
I didn’t realized she was my better-than-best friend when we played soccer and I knocked out her baby teeth, nor later when I taught her how to dribble. It wasn’t when we swam together for the first time in my parents’ pool, nor when I followed her out into the ocean off Maine after she became disoriented and headed for the waves. I didn’t know when she looked at me stunned after a fall and head-bang, and I scooped her up in my arms and gently cuddled her. It wasn’t when I held her at the vet’s office as she receive intravenous fluids and had her temperature checked, nor was it when I changed her dressings after a piece of glass became inserted in her paw.
I think I began to know she was my better-than-best friend when she slept outside my door and followed me into the bathroom last summer- both of us sad and anxious. I think I began to know when I woke up in the middle of the night to find her spooning me in bed as I made the decision to leave my marriage. I began to understand when I drove her to Georgia last September to stay with my parents while I found a place to live then cried myself to sleep for days in my missing of her. And later, in February, when I knew she had to come back to me, and I made the decision to move into a dog-friendly home, only three months after my first move. I continue to understand this March when she first snuggled up against me in the car, her body overfilling the front seat and her nose on my thigh as we drove through the light snow back to Boston. And I got an inkling when she took care of me by “making” me play soccer, spray her with the water hose, and go on constant walks when I was sad and feeling lost as an unemployed person this summer. It was almost understood the first time she howled when I left in the early morning to teach this fall- after 6 months of spending almost every day together. But it wasn’t until today while we were walking to meet a close friend for a walk, with my coffee in hand and her nose touched my knee that I was able to articulate it: My favorite shepherd-face, my Bryson, my love-face and my stinky, is my better-than-best friend.
She is a companion, a confidant, and a cuddler. She soothes me, challenges me, and encourages me to do better. She asks for her needs to be met and meets mine in return. She is my love, and I am both an awesome dog-mama and a thankful friend for having her in my life.