Thursday, April 5, 2012

Story of a Dog

I have, of course, explained Ophelia before. (The word explained is appropriate here, as you know if you've ever met my dog.) But as it is the beginning of April, and I celebrate Ophelia's birthday on April Fool's Day, I thought it might be a good time to dedicate a post to my canine best friend.

Also because she is FIVE now, and I can't quite wrap my mind around that.

I found Ophie during the summer of 2007, which was my last year to work at New Life Ranch, a summer camp in Colcord, Oklahoma. This was the summer before my senior year in college, and my friends and I had already signed a lease to rent a house with a back yard. I was hoping to adopt a dog anyway, though I had rather a different idea of what I wanted.

My doggy daydreams looked something like this:

Elegant. Fierce. Intelligent. Beautiful. I wanted a dog who would be the perfect wolfish companion I had visualized through my entire childhood reading dog-centric books.

This dream dog would be stunning. A dog I could go anywhere with, who would obey a mere look from my eyes and who would shadow me with the perfect balance of grace and personality.

I did not expect this:

Of course, this is an adult Ophie, an Ophie that commonly bears a striking resemblance to Hyperbole and a Half's Simple Dog. (If you've never read the Simple Dog post, do it now. And I mean NOW.)

She didn't come to me looking like this. She came to me sodden and flea-bitten, wormy and filthy and utterly pitiful.

I was the Canteen Manager that summer (distributing sugary snacks to already overly-hyperactive children) and was spending my morning doing some menial paperwork in the office when one of the counselors burst inside, agitated and quite beside herself.

"There's a dog following my cabin around!" she said. "Can you come help?"

Why, of course I could! I followed after her, trying to master my excitement. It was a German Shepherd puppy, I just knew it. The Heavens had intervened, and were about to provide me with my canine soulmate--a gorgeous creature, better than any dog I had ever imagined.

I was only half right. She wasn't remotely gorgeous. She was about the size of a Jack Russel Terrier, and she looked as though she'd been swimming in the creek--which I quickly learned was exactly what she had been doing. She had floundered her way across the wide, murky creek from lands unknown; probably the farmland across from the ranch's property, from which dumped, mistreated and abandon dogs frequently wandered into camp. But this soggy little pup was desperate for some attention, and when I picked her up to stop her following after the bemused cabin of girls, something unexpected happened.

She picked me.

I however, did not yet pick her.

A kindly member of the equine staff, noting that the puppy was rather taken with me, removed her from camp to have her de-wormed and given her shots. She then delivered the animal back to me, inquiring whether I planned to keep her. I still didn't know. This creature was nothing like my dream dog; I didn't even know what she was. But I also didn't know how I could turn her away.

The rest is, of course, history. I did not turn her away. I christened her Ophelia Jane Shirley, and hid her from the camp's executive director for the remainder of the summer, sneaking around with my secret and feeling wonderfully like the protagonist in Shiloh. At the end of camp I brought her with me to Shawnee, and she's been my constant companion ever since.

The answer to what kind of dog she is remains, "Hell if I know," though we have often suspected she has possum and coyote in her blood, as well as the vet's guess, Catahoula Leopard dog. I am personally inclined to think she's from outer space, especially now that I'm addicted to Doctor Who. And though Ophelia is nothing like the dog I thought I wanted--she is rarely elegant, fierce only when it's inappropriate to be so, possibly belongs in special ed, and too cross-eyed to ever be considered beautiful--she is perfect for me. She is absolutely the dog I needed, even if she's not the one I thought I wanted. And I hope that these ludicrous, hilarious, exasperating, wonderful five years are followed by many more, during which my eternal toddler continues to follow Peter Pan's example... and never grows up.

Small Ophie, laying with my brother in a hammock. She would destroy it in a panicked frenzy if we tried this now.

Giving a shifty look.

The "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good" face.

Eating a Christmas bone.

Happy and cross-eyed.

What about you? Have you ever fallen unexpectedly in love with an animal you didn't think you wanted?


  1. This is lovely! And, oh my god - she does look like Simple Dog! I never realized!

    I had a cat named Asia pick me at the Animal Shelter. She'd been a stray and so, though you could tell she'd someday be beautiful, a lot of her fur was missing and she looked nothing like THE CAT. But as soon as she picked me, I was smitten. However, Matt and I are NOT allowed to have pets in our complex, so I had to stay away from the Shelter for a couple of week, lest I do something drastic. She went to a really good home.

  2. Absolutely perfect description of meeting and then adopting Ophie. I love that she is so bizarre and that she is indeed exactly what you needed. I can't believe she's 5. Happy Birthday, Ophelia!

  3. I fell in love with my wife's cat. Never thought that would happen. I don't like cats. Well, I do now, but I didn't when we got married (and we were engaged for nine months... I had PLENTY of time to get used to the idea).

  4. Nicole: I'm so sad you didn't get to keep Asia! But glad you met her. :) Also, I think it's kind of crazy how much Ophie looks like Simple Dog... I so wish I could meet the real thing.

    Ash: Thanks, bestie. Crazy how time flies, eh?

    Giles: That's too cute. I'm sure your wife loves that you fell for her cat... I know any future husband of mine has his work cut out in terms of learning to love animals. Still, good for you! :)