Back in 1998, country singer Collin Raye released a song called “Corner of the Heart,” which you can watch here. It has a good solid core idea, although the lyrics overall are weak, I think. Nevertheless, the chorus points to the fact that in most relationships there comes a time when one must choose to turn the corner—to recommit at an ever-deeper level to the other person, or to walk away.
I haven’t yet had the opportunity to test this theory with another person in my own life. I have seen for myself, though, how it works.
From the day I got my girl dog, Reggie, she was, to put it mildly, a problem. She peed and pooped in the house, she ate her own and Rudy’s poo, she was an incorrigible mule on the leash, she tore up my stuff, and she chewed up and ate things that blocked her bowels. For the first two years of her life, I was in a nearly constant state of rage, frustration, and anxiety. I actually talked to my doctor at one point about getting some pharmaceutical help to deal with it (although ultimately decided not to go that route).
I admit, I did not love Reggie much for most of those first two years. Everyone who knows me got to hear all about my problem dog, and how miserable she made me, and how she was ruining my sleep and my carpets and my peace of mind, and how much I wished I could rehome her but how I just couldn’t because I’d feel too guilty letting her go to anyone else. There is no end to the variety of bad homes and bad owners for dogs, and neither I nor my home is perfect but we’re better than most. Besides, she could be so cute, and so charming, from time to time. I fell in love with her the first day I met her and was so excited to bring her home. But when she peed in the middle of my bed within minutes of arriving, I couldn’t help but think I’d made a terrible mistake.
When Reggie was about 18 months old, she developed a series of what appeared to be urinary tract infections. This led to the complete loss of her house training and pee everywhere—on the couch, on the bed, in the car, and on the carpets in every room of my house. It was a pee-a-palooza. It took several months and hundreds of dollars’ worth of tests to determine what was actually wrong with her, which turned out to be a congenital defect called a hepatic portosystemic shunt. She has an extra blood vessel on her liver that was shunting blood around her liver rather than through her liver to be filtered. Although she was very fortunate not to have suffered any long-term damage from her inadequately filtered blood those first two years, her life would have been significantly shortened if the shunt were not fixed.
Feeling guilty and hard-pressed but also hopeful that this could resolve her urinary problems, I opted to have the shunt repaired in 2011. It was a major operation, and Reggie struggled in her recovery.
The largest struggle was with bacterial overgrowth in her gut, which gave her diarrhea. I had to keep her in a crate during the day when I was at work to keep her quiet, and it was bare empty because she would eat any fabric I put in there with her. She would poop all over her crate, then eat it, then poop it again. Every day. This pushed me to my lowest point of anger and disgust with her horrible habits.
Fortunately—by grace, evidently, because I can’t say it was by my conscious choice—this is when I turned the corner in my heart with Reggie. I finally realized that she was not “misbehaving” just to spite me and that her behavior was nothing she could choose to control. I stopped seeing her as a vexing burden I shouldered out of guilt, but rather as a small creature in my care who needed my help. In short, I stopped allowing her to make me suffer because I stopped seeing her behavior as any reflection whatsoever on me.
From that point forward, I willingly made arrangements to get Reggie out of the crate when she needed to go, even when I was at work, to break her coprophagia cycle and to help her heal. I administered her medications punctiliously, I kept her clean and dry, and I cuddled her close when she seemed to be feeling bad. I stopped seeing her accidents as affronts to me and damage to my home and started seeing them simply as a symptom that she was struggling. I did all I could to help her get better, but at the same time I accepted her for exactly the dog that she was instead of always pushing her to be the dog I wanted her to be and punishing her for not being that dog.
I’m happy to say that the surgery was 100% successful and that Reggie was once again fully house trained after all her medical issues cleared. She is in the very pink of health now and I expect her to live out her full normal life span.
She has not, however, become the dog I wanted her to be when I got her.
She’s become so much more than that.
There was a time when I would have gladly handed Reggie over to the first person who came along and asked for her, but now I would not trade her for anything in the world. She is in my heart for life.