A few days ago, my dog, Janey, fetched a thrown stick, and I almost cried from joy and pride.

You might be confused that such a basic doglike thing could provoke such a reaction. Longtime readers will know that when I adopted Janey, a little over two years ago now, she was what we in the medical field call “a hot mess.” She was scared of pretty much everything: all human people, every noise, several pieces of furniture. Her fear had probably helped keep her alive as a stray dog in Mexico, which is how she spent the first few years of her life, but it prevented her from really being a proper dog. When I first got her, she didn’t know what to do with toys. I’d put a stuffed hedgehog in front of her, and she would give it a sniff, and a little lick, and then – nothing. I’d wiggle the hedgehog around. She would just stare at me like I was crazy. (Which is fair.)

Eventually, she started chomping on soft stuffed toys, and sometimes even chased after them if I gave them a gentle underhand pitch across the floors. But seeing sticks thrown just scared her. Maybe she was hit with sticks in her previous life; maybe she just understands velocity.

But my mom’s dog Kingsley loves sticks. He loves fetching them, and after several vigorous rounds, he likes chewing them up to mulch. My mother and I are legitimately worried he will ruin our kindling supply for the winter. And Janey sees him fetching the sticks, and it’s obvious he’s having the time of his life. And a few days ago, Mom threw a stick for Kingsley in the yard, and Janey ran after it. She grabbed it right out from under Kingsley’s flat little nose and she sat down; if chewing can be done proudly, that’s how she did it.

I knew that being part of a family pack again would be good for Janey; I didn’t realize just how much it would heal her various psychological wounds. I’ve worked long and hard with her for the two years we’ve been together, and I like to think I’ve done a decent job, but I simply cannot compete with two shih tzus. (Well, one shih tzu and one shih something.) And I don’t blame her – after all, we are two different species, and there are bound to be some communication issues between us (even though we are also one soul in two bodies).

It’s funny – Janey doesn’t seem to particularly care for Rocky and Kingsley individually. She doesn’t cuddle with them, or play with them very much. But if the two of them are doing something, she simply must be there. If the boys go upstairs, she follows. If the boys hop into the car, so will she, even though she may be the only dog on the planet who doesn’t like car rides. At first, Mom tried to walk the dogs separately, because of the massive differences in speed and leg length, but Janey got so sad when she was left behind that Mom had to give up and walk the three of them at once. There is a lot of happy leash tangling. She is part of a pack now, and by god, the pack must stick together.

It’s not all bliss and perfection. Janey has never had any interest in chasing cats before; now, after seeing Kingsley do it for a few weeks, she’s decided it’s her new, fun hobby. (Mom is working on rectifying this with a squirt bottle, and I have encouraged Juno to use her claws to set boundaries.) And it’s not like she’s a completely new dog. While Rocky and Kingsley greet every stranger as their new best friend that they just haven’t met yet, Janey hangs back in suspicion. (Loud, barking suspicion.) As far as she’s concerned, every human is guilty until proven innocent. Guilty of what? I don’t know, but it’s clearly some sort of horrible puppy-related crime.

And that’s OK. Janey will always be Janey; and it honestly makes me feel a little relieved that she hasn’t done a complete personality turnaround. Maybe it was her early life experiences, or maybe she was naturally predisposed to being distrustful, apprehensive and anxious. I know I sure was. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a lot better at finding people who I can hang around who make me feel calmer and safer. Now Janey gets to experience the same feeling. In fact, we actually share one of those people who make us feel calmer and safer. Janey’s been spending a lot of time with my boyfriend lately and has taken to falling asleep on his lap. That’s even more impressive than fetching a stick.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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