I have a step daughter. When I met her she seemed to be a spoilt brat with her pa wrapped around her little finger. He would come running when she called, he cancelled dates when it might rain and at 10 years of age she remains and will always be his Sheila puppy.
Sheila puppy is a doberman. She is on the small side for this breed of dog and she has a gentle manner that would melt your heart… if she didn’t spend most of her time crying for attention. This sweet little girl was wrapped up in a love so full, so giving and so responsive to her every look that she need only cry and everything she could want for was hers.
When I met Sheila and her dad, Sheila was on time-share with a cat. This meant that for the most part she was an outside dog and when she did come inside she and the cat were kept separate. Sheila cried a LOT. Poor love. No longer was she a sleep inside in the bed with dad kind of dog, as she had when he was a single man.
Since spending time with me meant being apart from his girl, sometimes Sheila joined us on our dates. Mostly we took her to the beach where she would shouty bark at other dogs and fret at the water. Then we would go to my house where we ate dinner with her outside and she looked in at my cat, quietly observant of the fuzziness that was his majesty. And so our lives entwined.
Three months later Sheila’s dad and I joined our now blended family under the same roof and Sheila showed me just how much a well loved dog can cry and cry and cry. This particular method of getting needs met is an incredibly irritating one. Worse still, if you live next door to your landlords and you find out that it is distressing to them how much your fur baby cries, you begin to worry for the longevity of your tenancy. Sheila is in no way wanting for anything. She has simply learnt that she can get a large amount of affection, or prompt action of any sort through crying, and this escalates when you try to ignore her.
At this time, Sheila was, for the most part still an outdoor dog. Scott was concerned for Tenshi- my furry cat child. He did not believe that Sheila would be able to cohabitate peacefully with a cat creature. But I could no longer handle her noise. I started to shake up her routine and not respond immediately to dinner time antics and shouty noise. I responded with a sharp telling off, progressing months on to a newspaper for reprimand of excessive noise all the while inviting her inside when she was calm and quiet. A wonderful thing. Stretches of quiet increased to the extent that our landlord neighbours remarked on the quiet. Sheila did not try to maul the cat. And better still I began to love her.
As I asserted my role as pack leader, this previously irritating little beast who sooked when her dad and I had a cuddle, turned into a courteous and loving friend. I felt a care for her I did not imagine was possible. And the joy for Sheila is that she is far more calm and gets a truck load of inside family time.
When Sheila recently got sick, it was me sitting beside her coaxing her to eat, me working from home to monitor her health status and ringing the vet, and me who did not have the heart to send her outside at bed time. The bond that we have built through working damn hard at integrating our lives in a loving and sustainable way has caused such a love that the sight of her old hips giving out breaks my heart. The suggestion that further investigations are needed is met with a “then that is what we will do”. The thought that she is getting old and may not have a great deal more time breaks my heart. I love this little girl, she has forged a place in my heart, one I was not expecting. We just met, it doesn’t seem fair that she start on a health plummet. The solace that I take is in knowing that the quality of her years has improved, and though she had to work hard for it, she has everything she wanted. And if we are very lucky, she will surprise us and we will have her company for many years to come.
“Properly trained, a man can be dog’s best friend.” ~Corey Ford