POSTED ON Jul 01st 2015 BY LESLIE LOFTIS UNDER Friendship, Life with dogs, Marriage and Wifery, Motherhood, Religion
In the summer of 1999 I had life sorted. I was living in one of my favorite cities, Austin, and about to enter my 3L year at the University of Texas School of Law. I had a very serious boyfriend, a lawyer heading up the Gulf War claims tribunal at the UN in Geneva. I would leave one favorite city to spend holidays with him off Lake Geneva. In the previous summers I worked in the British Virgin Islands. Life was good. I expected a proposal anytime, and 3L years are notoriously easy. I would be taking various maritime classes from favorite professors. I had life sorted.
A little less than 10 years before, I had entered into that ‘I don’t need God’ or external rules phase that so many young Christians hit. With the cushy life I had working in the late-90’s, I didn’t have much reason for doubt. I was cocky. God kept whispering things in my ear, and I had all sorts of fears that I ignored whenever possible. Mostly I tried not to sleep and avoided the quiet. I remember once telling the voice that I didn’t need any help. I could do this myself.
A few days before term started, I went to the movies with a friend. I can’t remember what we saw, but we went to the Central Market on the southside afterward. I needed her to do my measurements for a friend’s bridesmaid dress and CM had a good bathroom for it. (Weird, I know. In Austin it made sense.) As we walked in we passed a father and his young daughter giving away three puppies. They had found them covered in ants in a box at the door of a closed animal shelter in the August Texas heat. They were about 5 weeks old. Dad and daughter had tended their bites, but they couldn’t keep them. Dog lover that I am, I cuddled with them for a bit. Then, Amy and I walked into the bathroom to do the measurements.
I whined that I wished I had time for a puppy. In two years we’d known each other, I’d done a fair bit of whining to Amy about what we would now call #firstworldproblems. She had lost patience with me months before and had taken to giving me direct advice. “Leslie,” she said, “Time? Do you think you would have more time for a puppy next year after we start working?” I looked at her, gave it two seconds of thought, walked out of the restroom, and chose the black and white little girl with the perfect nose.
Excited, I called Jim in Geneva and left a middle of the night message that we needed to talk. I wanted to surprise him and tell him that we got a dog. Instead I panicked him. He called me at 6 AM Central Time after a morning of worrying that I was breaking up with him. And so our adventures with Ripley started.
As a careful reader might gather from the previous paragraphs, and the toddleresque “I can do this myself” declaration, my having life sorted was an illusion. I only thought I knew what I was doing. And oh, the mistakes I made with Ripley. I cooked for her and coddled her. She slept in a crate at the foot of my bed for a short while, until she sleep on the bed. I used positive reinforcement only. Do you know what happens when you coddle a Border Collie pup in the city? If anyone in Austin happens to recall a young brunette woman in a nightgown chasing a speedy young dog in the middle of 38th near Lamar at 11 o’clock at night in the winter of 2000, that was me.
When I realized that all my positive, intelligent ideas had gotten me to a place where I could not protect her, my doubts started. Perhaps I didn’t know everything. I couldn’t even handle a puppy—and I had no illusions that this wasn’t on the easy end of the life’s challenges spectrum. Slowly I started to look to God again.
That lesson was big—the biggest really—but over the next few years, Ripley taught me even more. She also saved me, physically. First, she kept me away from a snake on Lake Travis. She positioned herself between me and the large water snake I did not see. I noticed that Ripley was oddly still. One year old Border Collies are rarely still. She was concentrating on the snake, specifically staying between me and it.
She saved me from a fire, twice. The first time we had just returned from a walk. She hated being on a leash and was usually glad to get home, especially since she was afraid of bikes, and men with hats. (Two tons of longhorn steer, no flinching. A guy with a hat, she’d almost jump out of her skin.) When we got home that night, she wanted to go right back out. When I asked her what was wrong, I swear she rolled her eyes at me before going to sit before the closet door. I opened it and smoke rolled out. A short in the water heater had set the insulation to smoldering. The flames started just as the firefighters arrived and made quick work of the tiny fire. They tried to thank Ripley, but men with hats, tanks, and masks? Ripley was having none of it.
One of my favorite stories is the day I had to fake an injury to get her home from the park. All that positive reinforcement I had done, well, that had failed by the time she could out run me, which for a Border Collie is really young. (It was that night on 38th Street.) When I took her to dog parks, we couldn’t leave until she was ready. If Jim was there, then this was not a problem. He was not an arrogant fool. He had established himself as the alpha when he first met her. At the time I thought it was his James Earl Jones voice advantage, but really it was that he meant business and I didn’t. (She spared me a steep learning curve when we had children.) On that night in the park, she didn’t want to leave. I chased her for two hours. I finally feigned an ankle injury. When I collapsed in crocodile tears on the track, she came to check on me and I nabbed her.
Among the many things Jim and I owe to Ripley is our marriage. Our first year of marriage was hard in the way that most modern marriages are hard. We have unreasonable expectations of what our spouse will do for us. We have assumptions about how marriage will be great. We think more about the kind of spouse we have than the one we are. I had this problem in spades when we got married. About nine months in, I lost it about him not making the bed. My “why can’t you see what needs doing” accusation spiraled into a full out row about everything else. At one point he was so furious that he walked across the room away from me and sat down on the couch, probably so he couldn’t throttle me. I was yelling. He was yelling. He rarely yells. When he does, everyone knows it. When he sat down, Ripley jumped into his lap, put her paws on his hands, and then turned to face me. She was scared. She wanted us to stop fighting. She made us pause. We had scared our dog. What would this kind of row do to children? We calmed down. I spent the next day on the phone to my marriage mentors, Maverick and Sherri, seeking marital advice. I got that advice. I doubt that Jim and I have had even 5 arguments approach that intensity in the 15 years since, and they were about things of far more import than chores.
Ripley was my first baby, the angel on my shoulder, and the reason I didn’t make a bunch of mistakes with my kids. I made those mistakes with my dog. Actually, that was a piece of Sherri wisdom, you could spoil dogs because you didn’t need to worry about what kind of person they were at 35.
Readers can probably guess from the long post and the past tense, we lost Ripley today. She was almost 16. She had done the slowly, slowly then all at once decline. Last night she woke me in the middle of the night. She had fever and was in general pain. She was scared. I called our vet this morning. The office was wonderful. She left us early this afternoon.
When we get her ashes back, we will scatter them at the ranch. She loved it there, and my major regret for her is that we never got her a herd of goats. When she was about 2 years old, we took her to a friend’s property where they had about 30 head of tax cows. A couple of loops around a calf, and her genetic memory kicked in. She herded cows for almost 36 hours straight. At another friend’s she tried herding horses. They don’t herd so well. She thought maybe they could smell her, so she rolled in horse apples. She was so proud of herself for that bit of smelly inspiration. Took two baths to get the yuck out of her hair. She was a great kid herder though, especially when Calvin was our only. They were buddies. But our plan was to one day get a ranch, buy some goats, and make goat cheese. It just took longer than expected. We’ve not gotten the goats yet.
So my lovely girl, I am sorry we didn’t get you a herd of goats. I thank you for everything you did for me, for us. Goodnight, my angel. Sleep well.
And if readers ever find a cheese named Ripley’s Herd with a picture of a beautiful black and white dog, that’ll be ours.