Our dog Maria and her two puppies were discovered at a dump on a northern Minnesota reservation. A woman up there took them in. She works with a Twin Cities' shelter that periodically picks up her animals because they're more likely to find homes in Minneapolis/St. Paul than in a remote rural area.
They knew the puppies would be easy to place, once their fuzzy-bear faces appeared on the shelter's website.
But Maria would remain behind. In poor health and clearly starving, no one thought she'd survive.
The shelter employee, named Maggie, loaded all the dogs but found she couldn't drive away with Maria's penetrating eyes staring at the van. So she got out and promised she'd take the dog home and nurse her back to health, if possible.
It was possible.
About a year later, her dramatic eyes and story on their website captured my heart. We brought her home at Christmas. They told me she was a good dog with a sweet nature, but when she wanted something, she wouldn't give up until it was hers.
I had no idea.
All our dogs have been different in their own ways. But Maria alternates between being the most grateful and the most stubborn one ever. Upon her arrival at our house, she understood within minutes not to get on the
furniture or to pull things off the counter. She made no move to chew up
or knock over anything. She's escaped out the front door twice but had no intention of leaving the property. She's not interested in life on the run again.
Sometimes I can sense her apology, her eyes saying: "Excuse me, please." Still, other times I'm sure she's saying, "Absolutely not," like the hot day we walked along the Mississippi, and she unceremoniously flopped down under the first shade tree, with no plan to move until she was good and ready.
Friends, vets, groomers, and neighbors adore her, remarking on her gentle disposition.
But she's determined to have her way with me.
If she senses I'm too distracted elsewhere in the house, she'll trot to my office and sit. "Maria wants you to write her a story," Cliff calls out to me. She'll stay there until I arrive. I'm not sure my writing life is important to her, but curling up beside me at the desk clearly matters. Our togetherness becomes an impenetrable fence, insuring I'm hers alone as she sleeps on the rug beneath us.
She also lives to ride in the car with me. The destination isn't important. Being beside me is the prize. She never tires of the miles as she watches out the window. Trees, trucks, towers--all intensely interesting because we're passing them together.
Make no mistake about it; she has to be in front. Forced to sit in the back, she'll squeeze between the seats, inching herself forever forward, draped across the storage compartment and gearshift, oblivious to danger.
Finally Cliff bought a barrier to keep her securely behind us, convinced this netted gate would hold her at bay.
After a few miles, she barreled forward, straining against entrapment, however uncomfortable. No matter what, she would get where she wanted to be.
Into that van.
Into my office.
Into the front seat.
That same will allowed her to survive the reservation, running and hiding--without food or shelter. Alone with her pups.
We all have a history that builds our character or breaks us.
We learn to create a fence that protects what we value.
We learn to crush a gate in order to belong.
Even if it's just by a nose, we're there nevertheless. In our rightful place.
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