Listening to NPR one day driving home from work, I heard an essay broadcast about a dog, his master, divorce, and the dog's beloved squishy thing. It was hilarious and yet it resonated with such clarity of life. Essentially the dog was trying to convey to his man that if he'd just focus on the most important thing in the universe, his squishy thing, all would be well with the world. And, much to his chagrin his man wasn’t buying it.
Looking at my dog, Cinnamon Toast, a 65 pound “toast hound” of boxer and Aussie shepherd decent, as she peered dotingly at me with her squishy thing in mouth I realized she was trying to pass on that same message to me. Cinnamon is an infinitely happy dog no matter what calamity is at hand. It is truly a dog’s world for her. She came into our lives as an SPCA adoptee when she was approximately four months old. It was my entire fault she became an Ackerman and now, despite our past experiences, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Her first year in our household was so challenging; I vowed never to take in another creature for the rest of my life.
I grew up in a household where purebred dogs were family and mutts were expendable or so it seemed. Bitsy disappeared after a week of using our new carpet as a potty. PooBear 6 never came home one day; I’m not sure why I was only six years old myself. And Doc was gone within 48 hours because of his malodorous stench, according to my mother. Our Airedales, shepherds, Scottish terriers, and wirehaired terriers all thrived until old age or illness did them in. So taking in a dog like Cinnamon and keeping her despite our trials and tribulations was totally foreign territory for me. Thank heavens my husband wouldn’t even consider returning her to the shelter. Once a family member, always a family member or ‘ohana and that decision made it one of the most powerful lessons for our daughter about life, love and tolerance.
When I first laid eyes on Cinnamon, she was a twenty pound brindled puppy with a white bib, a stripe on her nose and little half socks on her front feet that my husband figured wouldn’t really grow much more. She was a shoe in as ours when she wrapped her two front gangly paws around our necks and nuzzled us with her nose. But, as is often the case, grow wasn’t all she did we didn’t expect. At the time, we owned a small 800 square foot house in Monterey, CA. It had a backyard that housed our daughter’s playhouse and slide, turf that was rolled up every night by marauding raccoons, and newly landscaped flowerbeds. There was plenty of shade with two large California Redwoods and four young bay laurel trees lining the sidewalk. We purposely adopted Cinnamon in the middle of the summer so there’d be plenty of time for training and adjustment before ever being left on her own and besides the backyard was securely fenced and, we thought, spacious.
My daughter, at the time of Cinnamon’s adoption, was nearly five years old and this was her first dog. Cinnamon learned quickly which toys were hers and which belonged to Maddy. I believe my husband had visions of Where the Red Fern Grows when he pictured Cinnamon with Maddy as they both matured. Whenever Maddy burst into tears, Cinnamon would hit the deck since it must be something she’d done to create such a noise. She was a sweet sensitive dog who loved her family, especially my husband, with complete devotion. I spent the most time training her and dealing with her foibles and puppy mistakes so I became the alpha dog to Cinnamon’s extreme submissiveness.
As Cinnamon grew and spent more and more time outside in the backyard, she began to systematically take apart anything that wasn’t bolted down or chew on it if it wasn’t. Not to mention the fact that she began to grow exponentially. By the end of three months, she weighed fifty pounds. I reached the crossroads with Cinnamon when I walked out into the yard one afternoon and felt a change more so than saw one. There was something wrong with the ambiance, what was left of it, and the geometry of the landscape. (Cue Psycho stabbing music) I looked up and in the center of the flowerbed, where a large flowering tree once stood, and in its place was simply a pointed stick jutting up from the ground. Not a leaf was left dangling and it had been gnawed as if the Tasmanian devil had passed through for a small snack. Ah, you’re thinking, give the dog a bone! We supplied Cinnamon with so many bones and toys that our back yard had the appearance of a serial killer’s crime scene dig. She was walked twice a day and frequently rode with us in the car on outings but she needed acreage to run and play in for her puppy days. Puppy days for Cinnamon lasted four years.
Just as I was about to return Cinnamon and claim failure, my daughter looked up at me with tears streaming down her face and said, “But mommy, Daddy says she’s family, you can’t take back family, can you? Please don’t take Cinnamon back.”
I realized at that moment that my position in the family would be irreparably changed in my daughter’s and husband’s eyes if I followed through with returning Cinnamon. My stomach hurt and I felt sick. She’d eaten almost all the branches she could reach on the trees beside the house, gnawed off the bark on the California Sequoias, and reduced our yard to a trench filled mud hole (did I mention she LOVED to dig?). It didn’t matter. She was one of us no matter what she did and it wasn’t her fault I hadn’t completed her training.
Cinnamon stayed with her people and I, very slowly over time, became one of her most protective fans.
Cinnamon has grown into a beautiful companion for Maddy, playmate for my husband, and gentle protector for me. She’s ridden across country and back in extremely small quarters without complaint and shown me that a little tolerance and love can make for a strong family foundation. I owe a great deal to Cinnamon for my development as an understanding human as well as being able to put what is really important in the proper perspective.
It all comes down to the squishy thing.