Everyone loved my dog.
Well, OK, there was one exception, once. I used to work for Sun Microsystems, when it was Sun Microsystems, and they had an Open Dog policy. You were welcome to bring your canine to work. I only worked onsite one or two days a week, and so I brought Kaia in with me.
I did not know that the Director I worked for at that time was afraid of dogs.
I was walking down the hallway, and someone asked me “How big is that dog?”, and I had her stand up and put her paws on my shoulders. She was just a little taller than me. In that position, I could scritch her belly until her legs gave out from the yum of it. So I was chatting with my co-worker, and scritching Kaia’s belly, and I heard a muffled scream from the end of the hallway, and the slam of the Director’s door. He then phoned his admin (who was a friend of mine, and sat at the desk directly across the hall from him) to have her tell him when “that animal” was gone.
But other than him…
All kinds of people that don’t know me, knew her. Partially that’s because Jason, Marc, Charlie, my Mom, and Beverly have all walked her, so there’s some different fanbases there. But partially, it was because Kaia looked just exotic enough that everyone’s first reaction was “oh my, what a beautiful wolf.”
I spent a lot of time explaining to people that she was a Malamute-Coyote cross. Then they’d argue with me. Then I’d tell them that, having owned her father and met her mother, I was in a great position to know precisely what kind of animal she was, thanks much, and that the reason everyone thought she was wolfy looking was because Hollywood often uses Malamutes rather than wolves, because they’re totally pliable and directable and friendly. Wolves, not so much. So the popular idea of what a wolf looks like has been informed by the general affability of the Malamute.
Partially, it was because she was so friendly. Kaia loved everyone. She’d walk right up, sniff, and then just lean into you until someone else walked up that needed greeting, or until she knocked you over. Kaia made everyone feel like they had a special bond with this wild creature, and people love to feel special.
I have no idea who this guy is. Kaia wandered over to say hello to him on one of our days hanging out on the meadow. But the look on his face is pretty representative of what happened to people when Kaia said hello to them.
In the last week before we had to put Kaia down, I must have met 30 people who I’d never spoken to before, who felt the need to come tell me how Kaia had touched them. People I live near, people whose boats I walk past all the time, people that Kaia had simply, at some point, said hello to. My pal Scott told me that a year ago, at the Goodbye party for his dog, Paco, there was an impromptu poll, and the three most popular people in the Marina were Paco, Kaia, and Jim Norris, but the dogs didn’t have to walk the docks as much as Jim did.
So now that she’s gone, I find myself just saying hello a lot more. And I had always thought I knew a good swath of the community here, but apparently, Kaia knew more. And everyone loved her, mostly because she just said hello. So I’m working on that. I’m not as cool or exotic or soft and fluffy as Kaia was, but I think that, just a little, I can keep her memory alive as long as I keep saying hello.
I’ve been taking Kaia for walks for a very long time. When she was a puppy, they were about learning how to walk together. When she got a little older, they were about learning to come when called, about learning to play well with other dogs, about exercising out some of her tremendous energy. We’d spend hours on the beach, with her zooming around like a low-flying missile.
But since she got older, and more tired, and she wasn’t moving like she used to, the walks were social for her. She’d want to say hi to everyone, human and animal (the cats never, ever understood that, but eventually, the raccoons did), but she also wanted to sniff all the scents all the other animals laid down. So walks with Kaia, for the last few years, weren’t so much walks, as they were slow ambles.
I got frustrated with it, sometimes. I’d tell her “on by”, and try to get her moving. I had kids that needed stuff, meals to prepare and a boat to clean and a chore list eight miles long. I didn’t really have time to stop every two or three steps and sniff around and then do that again for half a mile.
Until the end, of course. When I finally figured out that it had nothing to do with actually walking, and nothing to do with sniffing, but a whole lot to do with simply being in each other’s presence. The joy is in the hanging out, the not-going not-doing-not-accomplishing, the just-being. It’s not about finishing the walk. It’s about how many opportunities you have to reach down and pet them, how often you can let them know they’re exquisite, about how much of their thinking and their interest you can pick up on by being really present in that moment.
It’s easy to lose track of. And my boat’s a mess, and there’s chores to be done, and my to-do list is looking pretty mountainous. I am quite sure that anyone visiting my boat just now will judge me as a hideous slob and a rotten homemaker. But housekeeping will wait for me, and the opportunities to just-be with Kaia are gone now, and I’ll never get them back.
So this serves as official notice to my chores: get stuffed. I have kids, who need me to just-be as much as Kaia did, right now, and I’m not losing track of this lesson, not for anything. If I get judged, that’s a shame, but a little judgment is nothing in the face of the fleeting opportunities for just-be that I have in front of me.