The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

April 17, 2010

About Stella

My dog is afraid of the wind.

Although Chicago is nicknamed the Windy City for its gasbag politicians, not the gusts that blow along the mighty lake, we still get our fair share of wind. And wind tends to move things… house for-sale signs, errant plastic bags, tree branches. I don’t know why, but the sight and sound of things swaying in the wind is terrifying to Stella. When it’s windy outside, our walks are short. When it’s really windy outside, she even stays away from open windows in our home. We had 30 mph gusts last week that drove her into the safety of our bathroom for the entire night.

John and I have often remarked that the "perfect" dog most likely doesn't exist. Dogs can't be ordered from catalogs to your specifications, even $1,000 cross-bred, purebred, flavor-of-the-month dogs. Like people, they each have their tics and issues, and also like people, while nurture can go a long way, it may never quite override nature. When I think of it this way, I feel grateful that Stella's particular issues are limited to skittishness, rather than aggression, separation anxiety, or fondness for indoor bathroom breaks.

I haven't written much here about Stella, and today I wanted to. She has been with us for almost two years now. She’ll be six next month. This dog has stolen our hearts to the same degree as dear Moose did, even though she’s very different from him in many ways. She loves pouncing on and playing with stuffed toys; he ignored them. She’s cuddly and snuggly and loves to lie on her back, four paws in the air; he was a bit more independent and dignified. Moose often whined piteously when we left him alone; in this way, Stella’s the more independent one; she has no issues with her “me-time.” Moose had a stronger prey drive and couldn’t be trusted at the dog beach or park if small dogs were there; Stella… well, see the photo above. Moose wasn’t afraid of anything and loved long walks. But Stella is afraid of many things, including, at times, her walks. (This presents a problem for city dwellers who have no backyard.)

She’s come a long way, though, our scaredy cat. For whatever reason, our move has been good for Stella. She seems to do better on her walks in our new neighborhood. In our old one, she’s often freeze up in fear at a certain corner or near a city trash can. She’d refuse to walk on, and we’d end up having taken a six-minute walk on a gorgeous summer afternoon. Granted, a traumatic thing had happened to her in that neighborhood. In December 2008, while she was wearing a new collar that we’d neglected to tighten enough, a large metal sign clanking in the wind spooked her. In one fluid moment she’d pulled out of the collar and was sprinting away from me down the sidewalk. Greyhounds are fast, obviously, and a terrified greyhound is a bullet. Two hours later, she was picked up in an alleyway by a dog-loving police officer, and our greyhound adoption group reunited us. She had crossed several busy intersections and was more than two miles from home.

This was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, and although I don’t know how much dogs actually remember, I’m sure it must’ve made some impression on her. Perhaps starting over in a new neighborhood has helped blur that impression a bit, but whatever it is, now we’re up to 20-minute walks on some days. And she’s actually stopping to sniff things. I know this sounds ridiculous—what kind of dog doesn’t sniff things?—but, well, a scared dog on a walk is just focused on getting the hell home.

Spring is here, full-force. Last week, we took Stella to the dog beach for the first time since November. She ran, strolled, sniffed, chased, and splashed. On weekdays after work, we’ve been taking leisurely walks, stopping to admire tulips and daffodils, to smell the dirt and chat with people. This morning we brought her bed outside on the deck, and she lolled in the sunshine while we read the newspaper and drank coffee. When the breeze moved the grill cover, she pricked up her ears and trembled a little, but soon she was back to snoozing in the sun.