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My Dog Taught Me Everything I Know About Myself

Why We Should Love Our Animals and Strive to Be Like Them

I adopted Ryder from a kill shelter when he was six months old. I didn't know he was already convinced people couldn't be trusted, or that because of his colors, people were convinced he couldn't be trusted, too. I didn't know about the health scare we'd have that'd keep him quarantined for nearly a month and away from people who might've convinced him humans weren't so bad, or that he'd grow to be 80 pounds and occasionally be an absolute terror to walk.

I just knew that we liked each other; that the vibrant, over-excited puppy that I locked eyes with sat and watched me when approached him, a goofy look that would become all too familiar plastered on his face.

Over the last three and a half years, Ryder and I went through a lot together, from the threat of a deadly disease to separation, social, and ocular anxiety (imagine having a boy that big that barks when things go bump in the night). He's barked and growled at guests, left me big stinky presents when I left him alone so I could find my way back to him, bit my boyfriend when provoked (shout out to that man for sticking around), tested my patience and my strength and, at times, my faith in life. I can't count how many times I responded furiously to him—but no matter how much I yelled and fussed and rued the day I brought him into my life, or how much of my ugly I showed him, he approached me delicately and loved me. Adopting a dog has done more than make me get off my lazy bum and exercise. I learned that I could—and even longed to be—patient, forgiving, and strong. I learned who I was and saw who I wanted to be, and what I wanted for my sweet, goofy, but fearful dog who loves toddlers and cats and playing tag and keep away and fetch and calm women with sweet voices. I found that I needed to put into him the faith and effort that he put into me. I owed him that much.

So we put effort in; I researched different dog trainers and their methods and played around until I found something that seems to be working for him. We get a lot of exercise so he doesn't have as much energy to focus on everything he's afraid of. We both try to be a little more social than we're used to—he gets yummy snacks for his work and I get the treat of seeing him warm up to people he doesn't know and learn that those tall spindly creatures aren't so bad after all.

It's a work in progress. Ryder is still pretty skittish around people. He occasionally gets too excited when he sees another dog on our walks. He'll still growl to remind everyone that he's uncomfortable. And I still get so irritated at times that I have to shut down and quit for a while. But even that feels like a testament to our growth; knowing when to step back and take a breather. 

We both have a lot of vices—and despite the massive difference in our species, I think we're more similar than I'd care to admit. But when I have the most doubt in myself and the life I'm leading, I look at him and see that I've done some good in somebody's life, and how much that somebody loves me in spite of my shortcomings, and I think that maybe there's hope for me—for us—after all.

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