On May 19, 15 years ago, something happened that changed my life forever... It literally changed the kind of person I am. Not many things are capable of such things, but this was--both because it was such a leap for me and because it required so much from me in terms of altering my behavior. It is often that we dream of things that will bring success into our lives; but it is very hard sometimes to understand that the thing itself doesn't bring the success... It is only a symbol of the success that comes because of the hard work that made the dream possible in the first place.
"I wonder if that one's mine," I said to my roommate.
"I doubt it." My roommate, a college graduate from Philadelphia who was planning a move to New York City, was visibly nervous and excited about the afternoon's event. At the same time, she was certain that we would be last--and it seemed that she was right.
I don't remember which of us was called first--it's easy to become amnestic about significant events and forget everything but that most special moment. All I remember is being in the lounge and hearing Lukas Franck say to me, "Your dog's name is Elli. Call her."
My first attempt at calling her was not very successful. I was probably showing a lot of my nervousness--and she was very respectful of it. On the second attempt, she bounded over and stuck her face in my lap. She was a big, stocky dog with a loud pant. Eventually I would learn that she also had a loud bark. She had a tail that could beat down a mountain, and she used it all the time!
I was not accustomed to being around big dogs; and Elli was not a dainty little dog. She wasn't huge; but she was well-endowed. Lukas--well, Mr. Franck back then--said, "Stick your hand in her mouth." It wasn't an order, but it was no suggestion either. It was an expectation. So I did... He assured me that she wouldn't bite me--and he was right. I still don't like sticking my hand in my dogs' mouths; but it's something I can do comfortably. Ease doesn't mean enjoyment, and ease was what he was going for.
I was afraid that I would have to let Elli lick my face. Licking faces was what dogs did--and it was what I hated about them. But if I was going to have a dog, I would have to get used to it, learn their ways and accept it. So once back in my room, I settled on the floor with Elli and lowered my face to her level. "Go ahead, girl," I said. "Get it over with."
Elli never licked my face. She turned her head away graciously as if she thought that licking my face was the dumbest idea in the world! Instead, she flopped onto the floor for a belly rub. Now THAT I could learn to tolerate. This routine earned her the nickname Elli Belly, or Elli Bells.
As it turns out, none of my dogs have been face-lickers; and I've learned that it's all right for me to dictate the parameters of the relationship with them just as I must respect their requests for parameters. The best relationship between me and my dog is one in which we both feel respected. Elli did a lot to teach me the importance of that respect and how smoothly things go when it is present. She worked until she was almost ten years old and then lived a wonderful life as my parents' retired pet until she died at age 13.
I've seen at least two dog guide tributes up today, and I think that's cool. It helped draw my attention to Elli's anniversary, and I'm glad about that. I want to work dilligently on a tribute to Elli, and I don't mean a little one... I have written a small one that's up on my web site. But there are a lot of Elli stories that are untold and things that Elli's stories inspire me to tell. It's time for me to be writing; and so much of my writing just goes unwritten. That needs to stop!