is a hard thing to do

I am in the middle of the longest 7 weeks I have endured in… oh, a very long time. When we met the little puppy we would later name Lucas, he was only 1 week old. After the serendipitous collision of fate between us and this little canine munchkin (aided and guided by the spirit of little Maris, I’m sure), I knew it would be a painful 7-week wait. I am keeping myself distracted with work, business trips, girlfriend time, cleaning, etc… and lots of preparation work for the arrival of our next Little One.

That prep work involves shopping, of course. I’ve already purchased a playpen for the dog, researching the best dog training fanny packs, reading The Forever Dog by Rodney Habib and Karen Shaw Becker, and watching a lot of YouTube videos on puppy training. Some guy named Nate Schoemer has been my instructor, and he is fantastic. I trained Maris 11 years ago, and she was a very compliant and studious dog: Maris learned how to sit, lay down, shake, rollover, stay, and was potty trained within 2 weeks of arriving at her new home. The rest of her puppy years, we developed a routine together that lasted until she left us due to cancer. With Lucas, I’m going to be even more disciplined and teach more commands. I’m a little nervous about training a puppy because I haven’t done it in 11 years… but Nate talks through the steps with me, and he makes me feel like I can do this!

I keep hearing that Australian Shepherds are wicked smart. Could they be smarter than Entlebucher Mountain Dogs? Would Lucas be smarter than Maris? That is really hard to believe because Maris was smarter than me and Jeff. I always had a feeling she was just watching us, just shaking her head in “tsk tsk tsk” manner, thinking “you silly humans… I guess I was sent here to guard and to herd you for a reason.” Thinking of these whip smart dogs, I said to Jeff one day, “I think Lucas might already be smarter than us.” (Jeff doesn’t think so, but oh, just wait.) I also can’t help thinking that there is some stuff going on behind the scenes. Maris, from the Rainbow Bridge, is probably training Lucas telepathically- “I think you’ll really enjoy being a Rathbun. They need all the help you can give them. The alpha dog is the larger of the two humans, and he is very ornery, but in a funny way. He always played games with me and tried to trick me – but I always let him know that I was on to him by howling my head off. The beta dog is the smaller human, and she will always just want to hug you, kiss you, and to cuddle. You’ll have to get used to selfies. She’s also the one who sucks all your fur with this long machine that makes so much noise – I hated it. But you have to be really nice to her because she’s the one that has the treats all the time. Most of the time, she is the one to feed you in the mornings. And she’s the one that goes hiking, so you’ll get to check out what they call the Metropark System. Within a few months, you’ll realize that your job is to be loved, to love them back, and to protect and to guide them. You have herding instincts – it will be natural.”

Honestly… the dog has probably already figured us out by now.

In the middle of the long 7-week wait, Jeff must have been getting an earful from me on the puppy front. At first, I would ask him, as each day progressed, “do you think the puppy is *this* much bigger today?” using my forefinger and thumb, and squinty eyes to indicate an infinitesimal amount. I would whine while looking at the latest puppy photos from the farm. Either Jeff got tired of my pining or he felt really bad… he tried to make the situation slightly better. One day, I came home from work, and he said, “go into the bedroom, you have a visitor.” I walked in gingerly because the last time he told me there was a visitor, it was the neighbor’s dog who wanted to see me on my driveway… (haha! I know, all the dogs of the neighborhood know me). When I went into the bedroom, there was a stuffed blue merle Australian Shepherd animal waiting for me on my side of the bed. It looked almost exactly like what Lucas would be. I named him Chopin. I don’t need jewelry or a fancy vacation… Jeff knows the way to my heart.

Waiting is hard. But it is giving me time to prepare. The last, and perhaps the most important aspect of waiting is the precious time I have alone with Maris in my heart. All my memories with my little one, all the walks, all the laughs, those precious eyes, the kisses… she was the fountainhead of daily joy. I miss her with all my heart, and there isn’t a day that passes by without a sharp twinge of sadness. But thinking of Maris hanging out on the Rainbow bridge, that wicked smart Entlebucher Mountain Dog orchestrating this Rathbun family formation, prepping Lucas with all the tips on how to be a Rathbun, and healing me with puppy preparation… I can see how in all of Maris’s wisdom, 7 weeks would be the perfect length of time.

Little Lucas at 5 weeks old… What a little munchkin!!

Little Chopin.

A second chance

when it calls you, finds you

Do I believe in fate? I’m not sure. I believe in providence, and I don’t know if the two are the same. Coming from a spiritual place, I believe that things happen for a reason, and that when things are meant to be in my life, things that are out of my control fall into place. Doors open. There is ease in the process. And when things are not meant to be… well, I have had doors shut on my face a few times in my life, so I know when certain things were not meant for me.

In a similar way, I felt that Maris was a gift to us, that she was meant to become a part of our family. She was God’s gift to us because we had so much to learn about life. Initially, she was supposed to go to another family, but they couldn’t take her at the last minute. So we received the call. Coincidence? I don’t think of life’s blessings as coincidences!

After Maris’s passing, my readers know that there has been a gigantic hole in my heart, in my routine, in my life. It has been so bad that I physically hurt… and have resorted to calling Jeff “my puppy.” One time, he came back from a concert and said, “the puppy’s home!” Clearly, I am discovering that I cannot live without a dog. Maris has changed the course of my life forever!

So it is no wonder that Jeff and I have been thinking about getting another dog. And honestly, after our European trip where I bonded with all the dogs of Europe, I realized that I needed one sooner than later. When we first started talking about adopting another dog, it was noncommittal. No real timeline, just thinking or dreaming about what our next dog will be, when might be the right time, etc. But one does not just casually talk about getting a dog. It becomes a real thing very quickly. The issue was that it wasn’t simple for me. This would be a dog that would take the place of Maris in our hearts… It would be sitting on a very special dog throne. It had to feel right.

I looked at rescue websites (that would be the quickest way to find the next dog love), discussed various breeds with Jeff, and asked our neighbors about their dogs. It was so confusing – nothing felt right. I probably had Maris on such a high pedestal. We discussed corgis, Bernedoodles, doodles and oodles, hypoallergenic, small dogs, etc. Do I want a small dog that I would be able to travel with? Or do I want a dog that will go to the Metropark trails with me? Maris’s legacy loomed large, my mind would change every other minute, and nothing would feel right to me.

Until this week. Just this Thursday, we found a good breeder for Australian Shepherds south of where we live. We thought that we would start the process of meeting the parents, the way we did when we adopted Maris. I had a good feeling about it, so Jeff and I took a short day trip on a beautiful October morning. There is nothing like an October sky in Ohio… We stopped in the Amish country at our favorite cafe (Salt Creek Cafe) and ate our favorite breakfast sandwich ever… honestly, we go back to the Amish country for this sandwich, haha! We walked around and bought a few mums. And then we drove to the farm where the dogs were. Two Australian Shepherds greeted us, Angel and Jake, and I just fell in love with the breed. As we conversed, the breeder learned more about us – and the fact that we love dogs more than words can say. She suddenly told us that she had a litter. Wait, what? She didn’t mention that when we called – we thought we were just meeting the adults to get to know the breed. The look on our faces must have been comical. She smiled and asked if we wanted to see the litter. Yes, yes, yes, of course, yes!

The puppies were born exactly a week ago on October 8th. They were so little!! The one girl was already spoken for, but a few of the boys were still available. I held several of them in my hands – they were soooo precious! Their eyes were closed, but you could already kind of tell that they were different (other than the fur colors). The very first one I held started talking to me so loudly! He was so vocal and so funny… I kept asking him, “do you want me to be your mommy?” Wah wah wah!! (Jeff later said, “maybe we should call him ‘Squeaky’!”) While I was in another universe with the puppies, Jeff asked the breeder when the puppies would be available to go to the new families. Early December… no way! That was exactly the ideal timeline I had in my mind because December is relatively quiet for my job. Really? are things really aligning? Perchance, fate?

After holding a few others, we decided to adopt the very first one that I held, the one that was singing to me. And the thing is that it feels right. I feel at peace. And I think it is also no coincidence that this new little one is also a cattle herder, just like Maris was. I am at peace that this little animal is the right one to continue Maris’s legacy of herding me through life.

Early morning drive to Salt Creek Cafe… not quite awake yet
A goofy photo, pretending to be surprised.