Life with Maris: Part 1

Grrr, woof woof, awoooooo!

Maris is an Entlebucher Mountain Dog, Entles for short. It is a very active breed – always moving around, extremely alert, lots of energy, simply joyful. Entles were bred to be cattle herders, like border collies, so Maris used to gently nip my heels whenever we were moving around the house. She stopped trying to physically herd me as she grew up, but she continued to herd my heart and mind for the next 11 years.

Dog owners know that their canine family members teach them many lessons while they are with us. Maris was no different for me. We got her during what is clear in hindsight to be a time of many changes in my life, and she saw me through all those years, making sure that I was trending toward self-improvement rather than spiraling into entropy :). Through our adventures together, Maris taught me many virtues, the least of which is love.

The first two weeks Maris spent with us were extremely stressful. Maris turned out to be a very headstrong, vocal, and stubborn puppy. I needed to crate-train her, but she broke down the crate we had bought for her – I had pictured a sweet puppy face instead of a real animal, haha, and I had mistakenly bought a crate made of plastic, canvas, and mesh… with a zipper opening. She tore the thing down in about 2 seconds. I got her a new large metal crate that she could grow into, but then she would cry and bark when she was in it. When she was out of the crate, and I played with her, she was so joyful and just happy to be around us. I had not had my own puppy before, so it was so fascinating just to watch her find joy in play.

I remember those first few week for something else. I knew I was now responsible for this animal, and she was such a life force that I mistook her for a child. To be specific, I saw the child that I was many years ago in this small animal. I wanted to give her the best “childhood,” perhaps one that I had always dreamed of. So the pressure was on… to do the impossible – to give this puppy the happy childhood that I didn’t have. I know… so silly. But at the end of the two weeks, my low self-esteem go the better of me and I said to Jeff, “I don’t think I can make her happy.”

Jeff asked me, “so, do you think we should take her back to the farm?” Wow, I had not considered giving her up. She had already etched a permanent place in my heart with her little paws. “No,” I replied… but I was depressed about my inability to make her happy because I was projecting my disappointments on this innocent little puppy and trying to change the course of my life by making her the happiest animal on earth. So this is how I ended up seeing Maris as an inevitable extension of me. I mean, after all, she was very headstrong, vocal, and stubborn… exactly like me! Even though she was a dog that would use the yard as her facilities and liked to eat goose poop, Maris was for me a second chance at a happy and innocent childhood… perhaps to right some of the wrongs.

Later, I happened to say the same thing to a good friend who was a dog expert/trainer: “I am worried that I’m not making her happy.” She looked at me curiously and said, “no, she’s supposed to make YOU happy.”

And that is exactly what happened. She made me happy just by being who/what she is. She showed me ways to get lost in the woods with wonder, the simple joys of togetherness, and the virtues of being a working dog. She taught me how to be in the moment instead of being haunted by the past or worrying about the future. Maris already embodied what innocence is – I didn’t have to give her the happy existence because she already owned it.

The last 11 years with Maris was a decade of many lessons. And to think that I was worried about being able to make her happy when it turned out that she was taking care of me this whole time. Oh, the irony!

Maris is soooo over everyone gushing over her
Such a rebel

The other patient in the house

ever sweet, ever loving, ever ours

Through the saga of Jeff’s surprise surgery and the recovery process, something else has also been bringing us together. And that is our dog, Maris. On March 24th, just one day before Jeff’s aorta ruptured, we found out that our little furry family member has an aggressive form of cutaneous lymphoma. All of our attention was on the dog for about 24 hours until Jeff’s surprise visit to the ER on the 25th.

Maris was born on May 14, 2011 at Double Gap Farm in North Carolina. Jeff and I had been newly married and was interested in getting a dog. We really liked the Swiss German canines, especially the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. But these dogs get to be as much as 150 pounds. I am not little, but I am 5’4″ and at a healthy weight. I told Jeff, “I will not be last in pecking order!”

One day, we were just browsing through the American Kennel Club website, and we saw a smaller version of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. After some research, we found out that there were four Swiss Mountain breeds: Greater Swiss, Bernese, Appenzeller, and… ah, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog. We found a breeder in North Carolina, visited the farm to “meet the parents,” and then on July 19, 2011, we traveled to the farm to pick up the 9 week old puppy named “Pink Camo” that would become Maris.

I am sure that I will reminisce about our amazing 11 years together when the time arrives for us to let her go. For now, we are focused on cherishing our time together and on trying to make her as comfortable as possible. Maris still has some energy – still likes to go on walks with us, even though the distance is much shorter than it used to be. She tires easily. She has sores on her body that make every day activities uncomfortable, I am sure. But she doesn’t complain – she just works around it. We place a cone on her at night so she doesn’t scratch her wounds while she is sleeping, and she wears a blue inflated donut around her neck during the day for the same reason. But she just accepts that she will now be wearing these things for the rest of her life and is just happy to be next to us wherever we go.

She is such a good dog.

Jeff’s medical ordeal put Maris’s health challenges into perspective, so I am at a relatively calm place. Everyone who knows me well knows how much I love my dog. And she has had a great life because of it! People used to say to me, “when I die, I want to come back as Anna’s dog!” Maris was a great friend to me when I felt the most lonely, and the combination of Jeff and Maris was the perfect healing salve because Maris was the prism that expanded Jeff’s ray of sunshine into a beautiful spectrum. Living with them, my world grew a much richer palette of colors.

But some time this year, I will have to let her go. And I think my experience volunteering with hospice patients may help me here. During these last weeks/months of her life, it will really be about her, not my grief. We will have the most fun possible, share the most love possible, and eat as well as possible. She does not know that she is dying yet. We will cherish the time we have left together, and when the time comes, Jeff and I will be grateful that we were given the opportunity to be stewards of such a magnificent animal. It was another gift that God gave us to teach us lessons in love, giving, and healing. All creatures belong to God – and how wonderful that we got to take care of one of them!

Maris is about to teach me the proper downward facing dog