Tuesday morning I woke up a dog-owner, knowing by lunch I wouldn’t be anymore. Which made it hard to look in the mirror as I brushed a cloud of toothpaste around my mouth. Usually, I like waking up and being me because I don’t hesitate to look myself in the eye—I’m doing my best to see the world from other people’s experiences, and I live by the axiom “try not to be a dick.” I rarely question if what I’m doing and who I’m being is morally okay. I mean, sure, I’d rather wake up and be Glynn Washington, but I’m a decent second place (except when I’m not).
Muni - short for Muneco - was described as a 6-pound, 8-year-old, brindle, one-eyed, blind chihuahua. When I told people I was adopting a dog who could use his own seeing eye dog, people had one of two reactions: cooing that is so great with an emphasis on the “so” and a tear in their eye, or the wary look of a concerned friend who really thinks getting your dream neck tattoo of potato salad isn’t the best decision but they love and you and believe in you so they enforce the rule of not saying anything at all when one doesn’t have something nice to say.
I’ve wanted a dog forever. (Curious as to if there’s anyone out there who’s wanted a mayo-filled tattoo for as long as they can remember. PM me.) Each Christmas I diligently wrote “dog” on my letter to Santa, top of the list...and each year there was something wonderful under the tree for me, but not with four legs and a little tail.
Still, there were dogs in my life. One birthday, my friend Angie gave me a rather large stuffed dalmatian who I immediately christened Sir Cuddles. I set a place at the table for him, and he joined us for meals, a small bowl of Cheerios in front of him which I always had to help him finish. Freshman year of college, I conjured up an invisible golden retriever, Dumbledore, who is (yes, is—he’s still with me and I still imagine him accompanying me places) able to morph from puppy to senior as befits the situation, and who of course, talks. Then there was Louie, a little Italian greyhound, a neurotic, very real dog who I warily dog-sat, and unexpectedly fell in love with. And finally, there was Muni.
To welcome my new companion, I went into hyper-nesting mode. A short list of preparations I made included:
1) Reading everything I could get my hands on about blind dogs (and subsequently bought different scented candles for every corner of the house so he could orient himself, hung windchimes on the porch so he’d know where “outside” was, and removed anything that was a foot off the ground so he wouldn’t hit his little head).
2) Fretting over collar sizes at Pet Food Express.
3) Gazing at his photo, conjuring up all the fun we’d have together and the life lessons I’d learn.
In a truly Elizabeth Gilbertian moment, I became besotted with the idea that owning a dog would change me (for the better, obviously). Smugly, I envisioned increased mindfulness and a higher zen factor. I’d accept dirt in the house and hair all over my car. I’d take this little man on adventures, to the cafe, to the lake, where there was so much to hear and smell — I’d make his last few years the best of his life. And even better, there was a whole new ME climbing out of my soul and right onto the surface of my body. My heart was wide open ready for the love that would flow back and forth between me and Muni.
Oh, how the best laid plans are simply expectations preparing you for a big-ass wake up call known as reality.
Muni arrived. I ran out to buy him a new bed, as he immediately soiled the one he had (no blankets-only for this little bean!), and once back I sat down to help him settle in. My roommate and I cooed over him, pet him, and giggled with loving kindness as we watched him bumble into the walls of my room. Sparkles, the cat, stood guard outside my door, clear there was something very new going on here. Muni ignored us, sniffed out his bed, flopped under the blanket and went to sleep, an adorable snore accompanying every exhale.
But even though he was 8 years old, I felt like I had a puppy on my hands. I took him outside every two hours, carrying him down and up four flights of stairs. I noticed his ears never flicked toward me when I cooed at him, or said his name, or came into the room, or made a peep. See, Muni wasn’t just blind. He was, as more than one dog-knowing friend put it, “deaf as a doornail." He was the Hellen Keller of dogs, and Lord help me I’m no Anne Sullivan. Muni and I had no way to communicate with one another.
Within 13 hours my “reverse course!” meter was on high alert. Undo, undo, undo my mind screamed. Why the fuck did you invite this into your life? I felt like I was in a hell of my own making. And it wasn’t this little beans’ fault at all. He was perfectly nice, but he was also more work than I’d bargained for. I broke down once, twice, thrice, four times. My boyfriend came over to take care of me after just one day of me caring for Muni. I was beat, hadn’t showered, and desperate to go to the gym.
Plus, I felt like the world’s biggest failure. What human can’t take care of a tiny dog? What kind of person looks at a helpless creature, one in need of love and devotion and attention, and thinks, “I wish I was dead so I didn’t have to deal with this.” I wished for an option that didn’t involve me calling the adoption agency to confess I hated this, one that didn’t require telling my friends that I had failed, one that zapped all this away. The story I told myself was that I was a horrible person for not being equipped and ready to handle a very special needs pup, that I should be judged and berated and beaten, and that I deserved every vile thought any person would cast upon me for this ultimate screw up.
I called the rescue agency, unable to come up with anything beyond, “I just can’t.” The woman, chipper and kind, told me she’d pick up Muni the following morning. “You didn’t do anything wrong. If it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit. You’ll know when it’s right.”
Before bedtime, Muni had a new long-term foster setup. The agency was texting me pictures of other dogs. I was beyond relieved—and felt like a jackass of a human for my relief. I cried when I said goodbye to Muni. He hopped in the rescue car, happier than I’d seen him since we met, nosing around and plunging into a bit of sandwich garbage he found.
“Let’s see about you meeting Banjo,” the woman said. Though I didn’t—and still don’t—have faith in my dog-ownership abilities, she did. “Your heart was in the right place. Don’t worry.” I’m wasn't sure she was right. I wasn't sure she was wrong, either. But damn, was I not sure she’s right.
I did learn a lot about myself with Muni. I learned that I could love something and it could be wrong for me, and it would be in everyone's best interest for me to let it go. I learned I'm built differently than I imagined. I learned I'm not sure I can ever have a kid based on this reaction, and I learned I'm really scared to try again. I just hope Muni took something positive away, too—if anything, the feeling I was trying to do right by him.