We wanted to get out and about recently to enjoy the good weather we were lucky enough to have in the UK, but we had a problem. How could we take Star out and about when she is only able to use three legs? Since her cruciate ligament rupture she has been completely lame in her hind right leg. Then we remembered the stroller we bought when she was a tiny puppy. We ordered it before we even brought Star home as we suspected she would never manage to keep up with or cover the distances that Buddy does. We were wrong; once she was about ten months old she has had no problem keeping pace with our Labrador. She did use the stroller when she was little, and we brought it back out to save her being trodden on at a crowded carol concert in the town square, but apart from that it has been seldom used.
Now we really needed it once more. We went off to Ellesmere, in north Shropshire,to walk around the picturesque lake and fit in some geocaching (more about that in a future post). It was a glorious day, every tree seemed to have come into blossom, and I was glad we had all made it out and about to enjoy the day. Star was at first outraged to be confined to the stroller, but soon relaxed and sat up in a begging position watching where she was going. The only problem I anticipated was any negative comments that might come our way. That may seem an odd thing to say, but sometimes Star simply being a small white fluffy dog causes some people to say something along the lines of her not being a "proper" dog. If we have ever carried her for any reason that has caused a greater incidence of negative comments, but put a small white fluffy dog in a stroller and some people think it's open season.
So I was ready with a withering repost, but refreshingly none came. There were lots of indulgent smiles, and lots of people pointed her out, and I even heard one woman explaining to her grandchild, "Oh look that doggy is old and needs to have a ride." Thankfully though, the nasty comments did not come our way. But I did find myself explaining time after time, "She's ruptured her cruciate ligament that's why she's in the stroller." After a while I started to wonder why I felt compelled to justify our use of the stroller. We had used it before and I had not felt at all embarrassed then, besides which what did it matter what these strangers thought of us? And then I realised; it was a beautiful day and we were at the park where every other dog was running round and having a wonderful time, yet poor old Star was stuck in the stroller. I was justifying myself because what we were doing made no sense unless you knew why we were doing it. Had I seen someone else not allowing a dog to enjoy a run round at the park I would have thought it absurd, so I assumed strangers would make that judgment about us, and I was forestalling it.
A few days later my behaviour puzzled my again. Over the years I have talked to many people who've lost their pet and told them that their grief is justified, that they are entitled to the emotions they are experiencing, and that they should not let anyone belittle their feelings. Yet I found myself telling friends about Star's problem, and then saying something like, "I know there's bigger problems in the world, but you know, she's our dog so of course we're worried." I was at it again, I was justifying myself. Why? I got quite cross with myself because I hate that "It's just a dog" attitude so why did I feel the need to defend what I was going through.
After a little reflection I realised that I was embarrassed by the strength of my feelings for Star, and I suspected that they were out of proportion when you set the problems of one dog against the backdrop of all the horrible things going on in the world. When you think of all the truly evil things done, the war, the famine, the disease, the financial suffering around the world, not to mention the vast number of people stranded or struggling to get home with the grounding of so many planes due to the volcanic ash in the atmosphere, did I really have the right to be so upset over one little dog?
And the answer, I believe, is yes. She may be only one little dog, her injury is fixable, not life threatening, and hopefully she will get back to normal or very near it, but she is our dog, we love her and so we worry about her. I think it is the very strength of people's worry or grief for their dogs that makes them feel they are not entitled to feel that way. I was overwhelmed by the dismay, panic and anxiety that washed over me about Star, and I fell victim to exactly what I've told others not to - I worried that I loved a dog too much. But when you live with a creature that loves you unreservedly, that wears their heart on their sleeve, is overjoyed to greet you each time you come home, and is always ready to keep you company, how can you possibly love that "too much"?
So I admit freely that with Star due to have her surgery tomorrow I am scared for her, and for Jenny and for me. I am worried about the pain Star will go through, and how she will cope with the long confinement of the recovery process. I am dismayed, panicky and anxious, and do you know what, that's exactly how I should feel.