For the From Left to Write Book Club we read "Cowboy and Wills" by Monica Holloway, a memoir about a boy with autism and the love story between him and the family's dog. Their relationship alters the boy's life and ultimately is a heart-breaking story.
I have two great, overwhelming fears. The first is that something, anything remotely bad might happen to my son. The second is that something might happen to our dog. Reading Cowboy and Wills just reinforced these fears.
We adopted Howie from a shelter four years ago. He was loving and cuddly and sweet as can be, so we treated him like our baby. An emotional dog, he took to the role rather willingly. Two years later Howie was joined by our human baby, William. It wasn't a great match at the beginning.
Some of Howie's frustrating traits, like his skittishness, his tendency to bolt at any chance, his mood swings... just seemed to become worse. I was in the fog of having a new baby and the stress of lack of sleep and juggling this new life meant I had no patience for Howie. He wasn't meeting my expectations of what I thought a family dog would be.
He kept his distance from William, sulked about sharing the spotlight, and spent a lot of time hiding. He started to bark when people walked in front of the house, acted aggressive with strangers, and left the room if anyone raised a voice. He became worse on the leash, started begging and stealing food, and even gave William a few warning snaps when he got too close to his dog bed.
I started to get annoyed and then nervous and finally apathetic. My relationship with him became strained, Matt would get frustrated with me for not paying more attention to him, for showing him more love, for being more patient. All my attention, love, and patience was going in another direction, not the dog's. So, Matt tried to overcompensate, which only made me more mad. I could use some love and attention too, you know. It was a weird dynamic and no matter how hard I tried to go back to our loving relationship, Howie would steal a snack off the highchair tray and I'd revert back to frustration.
One night when we were getting ready for bed Matt told me about a pea-sized lump he found on Howie's leg. I assured him it was probably nothing, but reached for The Dog Bible and read about what it might be, the worst was cancer. No way, I thought.
I brought Howie to the vet the next day and learned it was cancer. I started crying with the vet, but pulled it together enough to find my way to the car where I called Matt and just about ... lost ... my ... mind. It had been a long week of being a mom and this just about broke me. For all the frustration, annoyance, and scolding I had done, I suddenly felt guilty. I regretted ever thinking he might not be the family dog we really wanted. And I immediately imagined William growing up without knowing him. It broke my heart.
Thanks to early detection, quick action with the vet, a surgery to remove the tumor, and our willingness to pretty much empty our bank account, Howie is cancer-free. But, it was tough. The thought of losing him was too much to handle for me then, it still is now.
He might not be the perfect family dog, but he's ours. And we love him, even if he drives me crazy and is terrible on a leash. In my heart I know he'll learn to love being a family dog in his own way.
This post was inspired by Cowboy and Wills by Monica Holloway, which I received complimentary as a part of From Left to Write Book Club. See how other bloggers were inspired by this book here.