I spent my last day with Eko racing across the beach while the wind and water raced around us.
It was a Thursday, just after a storm, and I had to catch a flight to a friend’s wedding a few hours later. Eko, Penny and I had the entire beach to ourselves. Most run from storms, but the beach, my dogs and my soul are most alive when we face them.
Eko’s death was a storm I could not run from and did not have the strength to face. Since that day I’ve worked to rebuild the confidence Eko gave me. The confidence to not only stand against any wind, but to run joyfully into it. Adding Zero to our family was one of the most important parts of that process, and with each trip we take to the dog beach I recover a little more of the resolve I once had. The bond we build with Zero is forged with the strength of Eko’s love.
While growing into themselves, puppies go through intermittent phases known as “fear periods.” It’s during these times your blissfully unaware pup begins to realize the potential consequences and dangers of the world around them. Any changes to familiar routines and places during these periods can make your dog skittish. It’s important to encourage your puppy through the fear-inducing experience with positive reinforcement. But none of the training materials mention what to do if you happen to share a fear period with your dog.
This past Thursday, just after a storm, with a flight to a friend’s wedding a few hours later – I stood above the beach with Penny and Zero. The voice in my head was crystal clear.
GO HOME. CANCEL YOUR FLIGHT. SAVE YOUR DOG.
This terrified impulse compelled me to run away. Zero would have eagerly followed. The roiling waters and whipping winds had him totally spooked. But Penny believes the only acceptable definition of retreat is “to be given a second dog treat,” so she refused any such surrender. As always, Miss Mayhem lead us into the fray.
The beach was flooded worse than any time in my memory and the pups paused to inspect what remained. Zero stood tepidly on a small island of sand, studying Penny while she walked through the flood to face the waves.
I watched her with the same anticipation Zero did. The fearful part of me wanted Penny to tuck her tail between her legs and come hide under the covers with us while I called to cancel my flight. But Penny cowers to no man, beast or storm, and I knew in my heart she would do what she always does – show us how to master our fears.
Penny crashed into Zero like a rogue wave and then took off at full speed, daring her little brother to follow. As scary as the flooded bach may have been, nothing is more terrifying for a puppy than the thought of missing out on mischievous fun. Zero forgot his fears and chased Penny into the wind.
The Maestro of Mayhem picked a baton from the detritus and conducted Zero through a joyful symphony along the shore.
Penny also discovered magic in the storm’s debris. Her wand conjured an equally joyful memory from our last day with Eko.
We left the beach lighter than we arrived. Zero and I discarded a few of our fears in the sand and let them wash away. A scared voice still begged me not to leave the dogs for the weekend, but the sound – once so clear – was lost to the wind. My courage had faltered, but as always, Penny was gracious enough to lend me hers.
I quieted my doubts, gave my pups a kiss and headed to the airport knowing that no matter what happened, I wouldn’t do anything differently. Then or now.
After a great weekend with friends and family, Penny and Zero gave us a traditional hero’s welcome home. An uproarious reunion of laughter and love, with no pretense of ceremony or care that we’d only been gone a few days. It was just the positive reinforcement I needed to move past my own fear period.
Buried under an avalanche of kisses, I was reminded that even when beset by fears I must always be guided by joy.