In a Dog’s Eye

It’s official. The Rochat house has gone to the dogs.

It’s been coming for a while, of course. For seven years, we’ve been host to Duchess the Wonder Dog, the smartest scaredy-cat on Earth. And as some of you may remember, we recently became the short-term landlords for Big Blake, my sister-in-law’s Lab mix with the build of a linebacker and the grace of an African elephant.

Well. short-term became long-term. It seems some of Big Blake’s neighbors didn’t care for his rendition of the “All Alone In The House Again Blues.” So back he came to us, clicking into the pack for the foreseeable future.

All of this, of course, has been very amusing to Missy.

Granted, many things are amusing to Missy, my wife’s developmentally disabled aunt, whether it’s a cool-looking car or a bit of teasing while brushing her hair. She’s not immune to resistance and rebellion – far from it, sometimes – but the number of things that can light her slightly-crooked smile is astounding.

And with dogs, her habits are long-ingrained. A short push and a “No!” if they go near her food. A gentle pat or even a short hug if they’re lying still. And of course, a quick check of her balance on entering the door – Blake can be something of a one-dog cavalry charge.

But what’s been fascinating to me is watching how the dogs treat Missy in return.

Duchess, the careful, perceptive rescue dog, noticed something was different about Missy from the start. Because of her past, our Wonder Dog tends to be most relaxed around children and most fearful around adult men, with women getting a split decision. Somehow, Duchess decided that Missy fit in the “children” category – not someone to go to if you needed to be let out, but not someone to hide in panic from, either.

She saw the differences and made accommodations.

Blake … well, is Blake, a big heart who will never be mistaken for Einstein. To him, Missy is one more person. He’ll beg from her, fruitlessly. He’ll ask her for a run, to no response. But he’ll also plop by her for some love, or bark as loudly at her departure or arrival as he would for me or Heather.

He saw no differences and welcomed her wholeheartedly.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the best people and experiences in Missy’s life have been a mix of both.

Missy bowls. She bowls well. But she also bowls with bumpers on the gutters, an accommodation to her physical issues that keeps the day fun, not frustrating.

Missy dances, simply but with enthusiasm. And at her annual “prom” in Lafayette, she gets to be one of hundreds of disabled adults, just one more person keeping the rhythm with joy.

It’s a tricky balance, to help a person compensate while retaining their dignity. But it’s also a vital middle ground to strike.

And not just for the disabled.

Being underrated or overwhelmed can be frustrating for anybody. It takes a lot of perception and compassion to thread the needle between micromanagement (“Here, let me do everything for you”) and myopia (“Everyone is able to do everything I want”).

But it’s when we reach that balance that we really see each other as people. Not victims. Not mix-and-match Weebles. But other people worthy of respect.

Not a bad thing to learn from a couple of pups.

Maybe an old dog can teach us all some new tricks.



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