My dad and I share a love of animals that exceeds both the physical confinements of a standard suburban house and also overlooks the restrictions of allergy sufferers within that confined space. Given that my dad’s heart could fill Noah's Ark, he would occasionally sneak other pets into our house even though my mom was extremely allergic to every animal – including our one "official" terrier-poodle-collie mix dog, whom she tolerated. Within 10 years' time we also secretly had 4 parakeets, 3 cats, 2 more adult dogs and 8 puppies all before I turned 15. One of those puppies was a one-month old Great Dane named Prince, a grey-spotted Dane with a floppy ear that couldn’t be trained.
As my dad’s co-conspirator, it was my responsibility to care for all of the secret pets and keep them hidden from my mom – and sometimes from my brothers -- for as long as possible. How could I not welcome this sort of challenge? We were helped by the fact that our house was a converted rectory with sound proofed office spaces that we transformed into playrooms and storage areas. My mom barely went into this part of the house – when she needed something my brothers and I were quick to retrieve those items.
I was 11 when dad brought Prince home and hid him in the utilities room of our basement. Occasionally, my brothers and mom would swear they heard a large dog barking in the distance, and my dad and I would suggest it was probably the new black lab our next door neighbor got. “They’re probably out for a walk,” I’d offer. Every day while my brothers had tennis practice, I would take Prince out for a walk around the neighborhood using a leash that was more of a chain. Prince was a calm, mostly obedient puppy. I enjoyed our time outside together mostly because I loved the raised eyebrows we received from concerned neighbors, noting “the beast” at the end of the chain around my wrist as we paraded by several times, doing our laps around two tiny blocks. On these walks I felt in control, responsible, mature.
However one day on our routine walk Prince taught me a valuable life lesson. We turned the corner from Brian Drive to Sarasota as we usually did except this time without warning he started to run. I don’t mean trot, I mean full on RUN. He bolted so fast that the leash tightened around my wrist providing no slack, and I found there was no way to get out of the situation. Naturally I started trying to slow him down, yelling at him to stop, resisting, pulling back and trying to dig my heels in but Prince was a very strong puppy. It was clear he was bent on running and I couldn’t see the reason that triggered him, but he was not going to be stopped. I went from feeling in command to feeling utterly out of control.
Halfway up the block, with none of my resistance having any effect on him, it occurred to me that I had to make a decision:
I chose to run.
I just took off like my life depended on it. As I started to run, I gradually pulled myself up his chain like a tug of war, eventually gaining enough to put a little slack around my wrist and ease the pain. I kept pulling myself up as I ran, eventually getting to the point where I could put both of my hands on his collar. We were now running side by side with my hands at his neck. The high of this achievement made me wonder how far I could push this experience. “Oh my god, I think I can ride this dog home!” came right into my head. I started committing to this idea and was preparing to jump onto him, when he stopped and sat down, as suddenly as he had broken into the run in the first place.
I was stunned, deliriously tired and confused and hopelessly out of breath. I wished I knew why the hell he started running anyway. And he sat there stoically looking forward in the distance at some object that had caught his attention. Eventually I caught enough breath to say, “I bet you think that was funny?” He continued to ignore me, drool dripping out of his floppy jowls and still staring intently out into the distance. He stood up, and without warning started running again. This time I committed to the run from the start and we ran all the way home.
Looking back, I realize much of my life – work and personal – follows this pattern. I can never get too comfortable with my routine because seemingly out of nowhere, some new force reshapes my reality and it requires me to make a choice: adapt quickly, or resist the change. If I resist, I risk being dragged forward into the inevitable. But if I choose to run, I also cannot half-ass it because I run the risk of being outpaced. I have learned that if I choose to run, I must run like hell.