This summer, I decided it was time to get a dog. My plan was to find a senior dog, potty-trained and low-maintenance. But then, scrolling through a site that's like Tinder for pets, I saw Emmy. Her eyes were sad and tender, and I knew she had to be my dog.
As a puppy, Emmy was tied up outside through winter rain and summer heat on a lead so tight she could not lie down. She slept standing up, her collar growing so tight it embedded an inch into her skin, eventually giving birth to her pups in that condition. Thankfully, a Good Samaritan called in a tip about a chained, underweight mama dog and she was rescued.
At first, her legs were so weak she couldn’t walk and her embedded collar had to be surgically removed, leaving her with a deep scar. A wonderful shelter took care of her, noting that she was a good mama to her pups and was not aggressive in the least — just a scared, gentle soul. Eventually, all her puppies were adopted and it was her turn to find out what a good doggie life could be.
When I met Emmy, she was defeated — terrified of the world. As soon as I carried her inside my house, she ran to a corner and would not leave it for a week. She flinched at every movement, every approach, every sound, and putting on a leash or taking her outside caused her to freeze and shake uncontrollably. That first week, I wondered what I had signed up for, if I did the right thing taking her home, if she would ever be happy.
We kept trying, though. I spoke softly to her, crouched to her level, deliberately showed her my hands, rubbed under her chin, and finally left chicken and bacon as peace offerings. When I gave her a new bone and chew toys, she looked askance — like, "Um, what is this thing doing in my space?" She had never had toys before. But her curiosity won out a few days later when she discovered the peanut butter filling inside!
I worked to slowly expose her to outside sounds, the leash, strangers, the patio. Finally, one day, she carefully placed one paw on my lap as if to say, "Here, I'm trying. I want to be close to you." Later, I made popcorn, and after sniffing the air intently, she stood up, walked over to me, and cocked her head staring: "Can I have some?" It was a turning point. She felt brave enough to risk getting close, and admit that she wanted something from me. The snuggles and love she was experiencing were foreign but nice.
Three months later, and Emmy has gone from no trust and cowering in a corner to asking for ear scratches and sleeping on my bed. She wakes up at 3 a.m. and wags her tail excitedly like, "It's morning! Time to play! Time to get up!" While I'm less than thrilled that it's 3 a.m., I'm so grateful that she's enjoying life.
Emmy is the gentlest dog I've ever known. She takes treats very carefully, licks my hand, and boops noses to say “hello.” When I was sick, she stayed in bed with me the whole time, resting her head on my arm. She still is afraid at times. Yet in spite of everything, Emmy wants to love and be loved. She is teaching me how to be brave by taking the risk to trust another.
Loving Emmy has reminded me of goodness and resilience — if a little black lab can heal, then surely I can grow and heal and become the person God longs for me to be. If she can trust me, surely I can trust the God who made me.
As I write this, Emmy is curled up next to me on the couch, head on a pillow, paws holding her bone. She lets me pet her silky soft ears. I tell her she's a good girl. And she gives a small wag.