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Penny is not the only dog for me.
The math is straightforward. I had a dog before her. I brought home a dog after her.
Less straightforward is my conviction there can never be, “the only dog for me.” Because if that dog did exist, I had him. Now that Eko’s gone, believing he was the only dog for me means believing every other dog must live in his shadow.
How do I avoid the cruel temptation to make impossible comparisons which no dog could live up to? My secret is that I have an incomparable dog.
Penny is not incomparable in the traditional superlative sense. Penny is incomparable in the deepest sense of the word. She is unable to be compared. She is a creature so unique as to make comparison irrelevant.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort on my part. Before I even brought Penny home I was comparing her to Eko, daydreaming about how she would match him. But Penny went on to defy whatever comparisons, expectations and demands I had for her, thus earning her moniker, “Mayhem”. We butted heads as my idea of the dog I wanted clashed with the reality of the dog she was.
Penny humbled me into the realization that acceptance must always come before expectation. When Penny was a puppy I made the terrible mistake of not offering her that full acceptance. It wasn’t until I embraced her – all of her – that our relationship blossomed. When I stopped trying to separate Mayhem from her quirks, wild energy and relentless disposition, I discovered a dog so much greater than the one I imagined.
It was a lifesaving revelation. Had I forced Penny to exist only as an extension of Eko, his death would have made her life a bitter reminder of my loss. Instead, Penny was the phoenix who rose from the ashes. Her fiery and unyielding temperament, which I once resented, became my salvation when I had no motivation to get out of bed on my own.
In the years since, Penny and I have become inextricably bound. Closer to each other in some ways than I ever was with Eko or could be with Zero. Because while Eko adored Emily, and Zero fawns over my children, Penny remains singularly attached to me.
Why? I’m not entirely sure. Even after all this time together, Penny and her motivations often remain a mystery to me. And though I may not fully understand her, we have come to a full understanding about the terms of our relationship. Terms summarized thusly –
I, Penny, Monarch of Mayhem, Demon of Demolition, offer no compromise. I will test you, challenge you and defy you. But love me, and anyone else who tries those things will swiftly regret it.
Some get a guardian angel, I got a guardian devil.
For six years now Penny’s stood steadfast between me and the world. Problems knock on my door, see Mayhem’s home, and suddenly remember they have an appointment elsewhere.
In lieu of lions, Penny keeps the darkness of life at bay. My diminutive, wiry creature might seem overmatched, but I’ve lost count of the adversaries who’ve mistakenly underestimated her. She may not meet the Rhodesian Ridgeback standard (or any standard, really), but Penny is a pure distillation of the breed’s ancient and audacious hunting instinct. The more impossible the foe, the more recklessly she charges after it.
As a young man holding her for the first time, I couldn’t have dreamed of what an ally my hellhound would be. Because life is a series of impossible foes – there is no overcoming it, no winning, no ultimate victory.
It’s a hard truth which leads many to despair and surrender. There is no way around it and no running from it. But the whispers of the devil on my shoulder helped me discover another path. The one straight forward, into the darkness.
It’s a path where Penny has taught me to defy fears, reservations and odds. A path which forces me to spend less time nervously calculating and more time joyfully pursuing. Along the way I’ve discovered the bliss of chasing the things I’m afraid of.
These days, with two young children, I have more to worry about than ever. It’s easy to become paralyzed by the swirling uncertainties ahead. This is why I appreciate Penny and her wild wisdom now more than ever.
Today, on her 6th birthday, my dainty demon remains as intractable and inscrutable as the day I brought her home. But I am so grateful she remains mine. This is a birthday Eko never made it to. I’m grateful for the gray in her muzzle and the gray in my beard which she is undoubtedly responsible for. We have won and lost so much together, but most importantly, we have persisted. When I was unable to move forward on my own, Penny was more than happy to drag me along.
It’s funny. If I’m honest, I can easily imagine Eko and Zero living with other families. Loyal and regal, Eko could have made anyone fall in love with him. With his big head forcefully nuzzling your face until you relent, Zero can quite literally force anyone to love him.
But stretching my imagination to its limits, I can picture Penny and her feral ferocity nowhere else. Well, I can imagine her on the five o’clock news for various reasons, or leading any number of revolutionary wars, but those scenarios are infinitely more plausible than her living peacefully in another home.
Thankfully, for Penny, me, and public safety, Miss Mayhem is all mine. Now and always.
Penny is not the only dog for me, and that’s a wonderful thing. Because what I’ve discovered is that Penny is the dog for me only. A one time creation of the universe, delivered to the one man who could learn to fully embrace her nature.
Bound together, more tightly than ever, Mayhem and I continue forward into the darkness. I do not know what awaits, but if you do, as a birthday present for my girl, please let them know Penny’s coming. It’s more fun to give the terrors a sporting chance before I set Miss Mayhem loose!