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Confessions of a Dysfunctional Dog Owner




I don’t have the most agreeable dog. She chooses who she likes and the people and animals that make the grade could probably be counted on one paw, um, I mean, hand. She doesn’t suffer idiots, phonies or overly exuberant people. Much like her owner.

I recently took a bit of flak from a dear friend of mine for my dog parental skills which may have led to my pooch’s lack of acceptance of the human race.

It was brought to my attention (rubbed in my face) that Maddy and I had a bit of a co-dependent relationship and that it was most likely my fault that she was less accepting (ill adjusted) of the outside world and very unlike a “normal” dog.

I gave the idea some thought. And then I started fuming.

Before I accept any criticism about how she was raised and her less than normal dog personality, let me share a few little known facts.

This little dog came into my life as a 10 week old gift to my daughter on her 16th birthday. Two years later, when my one and only left for college, all that was left at home was Maddy, me and Figgaro, the cat. Truth be told, Maddy wasn’t all too fond of me. Frankly, the feeling was mutual. In the 2 years that she lived with us she gave me little regard, belonging exclusively to my daughter. It was clear she liked it that way. It was in the grieving and loss of her mom, (my kid), to college life that bonded us….eventually.

I’m the first to admit that if you are not a member of my family, Maddy will likely not have much to do with you. It won’t matter how many treats you bring her, she has a mind of her own and is quite comfortable with her decisions. I’ll also admit that she is my perpetual shadow, my company, and my best friend. She would describe herself as my protector, my defender, my comfort and my ally. Both assessments would be correct.

This little dog was at my side when my 27 year marriage crumbled. My daughter bore witness to the pain, the betrayal and the tears. But it was Maddy that bore the brunt of the many sleepless nights of sadness and sobbing into the warm neck of this little scruffy dog. Maddy muffled my pain, licked my tears and brought me her bones to cheer me up. That was the beginning.

Newly divorced and living in an empty nest, I found myself alone in a big house, and searching for a purpose while trying to build yet another career. I was befuddled and floundering. Maddy made certain that I never ended the day without doggie hugs, kisses and the inevitable goofy dog antics that would always make me laugh. She was with me when I had to relearn how to live my life, sleep alone, and manage the solitude. She was with me when I sold the big house on the hill and traded it for a small condo in the city.

A few years later, this little 12 pound ball of puff saw me through the loss of my father. That was a terrible time for me. I isolated myself, grieved and stopped working for a few months. Maddy forced me out of the house (occasionally in my pajamas) three times a day to walk her, keeping me in touch with my neighbors and life in general. Once again, she tempered my tears, fears and anxiety. A burden I would think too large for such a tiny little dog, but one she bore with tremendous grace and giddy cheerfulness.

My wonderful daughter did what she was raised and meant to do, she forged a life of her own. I’m grateful that she has kept me a big part of it. She fell in love with a wonderful man who happened to live in Australia. A bit of a quandary seeing that she lived in Denver, Colorado. There were long trips in her future and a very real worry from this mom that she would eventually move a continent away. More tears. More fear. After a couple of years, her wonderful young man moved to her and a lasting love blossomed, not to mention a grateful mother relieved. My little dog helped to keep me grounded during that time of inexplicable dread.

Life served up another unwelcome surprise, as life does, and I found myself battling a major illness that eventually led to major surgery. Maddy was allowed in my hospital bed every day and, once again I found myself grateful for her company and comfort. We managed together to get me back on my feet (literally), all the while welcoming the kindness of our new friends and neighbors who helped to feed us and walk her.

For a few years after the divorce, my best friend was my ex-husband. That ended when he found himself a 31 year old Russian girlfriend and fell into a massive inheritance. It wasn’t long before I became old news. Hurtful times tempered by a sweet little dog.

Love found its way to me again. It would mandate that I move from the solace of my little home and return to California to embark on a new life. With my little dog in tow, I committed to this wonderful man and packed up our lives. I was excited, afraid, worried and confident. I have a sneaky feeling she was too.

Maddy will be 12 years old next month, and while we’ve endured our fair share of tribulations, we’ve also celebrated the best that life offers up. Fabulous new friends, a book deal, a writing and speaking career, traveling together, the welcoming of a son-in-law and his amazing family into our lives and, of course, our new love, my wonderful man, Steven. Our life together is pretty awesome.

Before anyone ridicules my dog for being abnormally dependent on me, they should know that there were many times that I was abnormally dependent on her. And while she is only 12 pounds, I know she would not hesitate for a moment to fight a lion for me. Loyalty and devotion like that is pretty hard to find.

She is my friend, in the truest sense of the word and I will stand by her as she has stood by me; relentlessly.

If you have some judgments about my dysfunctional dog, you best keep it to yourself. So she doesn’t walk up to every stranger and lick their hand. She failed doggie obedience school, will only allow people she approves of to pet her, and if you move in too close, too fast, she will deliver a snarl. So what? It’s her choice and I defend it.

I hope that you, too, are lucky enough to have a friend that will stand by you through life’s trials and tribulations with unwavering love and loyalty.

If you have, it’s a pretty safe bet that your friend is a dog. Consider it your job to be worthy of such adulation.

I try to live up to it every day.


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Rick Gualtieri - Hah no worries. My dog Willow (newfoundland/bordie collie mix) was declared “untrainable” by the obedience school we took her to. They actually gave us a pity pass just to get rid of her. 🙂

Tammy - Rick, you and Willow are TOO funny! Maddy also failed obedience school and we were not given a certificate of graduation (duh?!) but a certificate of ‘Excellent Effort’. Yeah. I feel you. She is known around the neighborhood as being Ms. Personality (said with a snarky tone) and I could care less. But when my parenting skills are questioned, well, you won’t find a happier dog in the universe. I’m thinking that’s really all that matters.

Vicki - Bravo Tammy! Our little furry children love us like no one can. My daughter refers to my little dog “Bentley” as my “life partner”. He makes me smile every day!

Tammy - Hi Vicki, so happy that Bentley has you, or … that you have Bentley. I have a dear friend who refers to his dog as his longest and most loving relationship. Duh! One day I hope to meet your fella. Can we say ‘play date’? SO GOOD to hear from you. Thanks for stopping and super thanks for the post!

Mary Kathryn Johnson - As long as Maddy isn’t drawing anyone’s blood, she’s fine the way she is. I bet you don’t need to look very far for the faults of those wonderful friends who think you are dysfunctional dog-mommy! Tell them to Windex their glass house once in a while! My Aussie is a bit touched, but like your Maddy, she has reason to be. My Seren (short for Serndipitous) lost her entire litter of eight puppies at birth. That would make me go ’round the bend too! She is my shadow, lest I leave her too. We are all fragile, even this so-called friend of yours.

Tammy - Mary Kathryn, absolutely LOVE the way you think. Yes! Let us bring up the whole “people who live in glass houses” … thought process. I imagine that it never occurs to some people that maybe, just maybe, these little animals need us every bit as much as we need them. It’s called a bona-fide relationship. We ARE all fragile and little Maddy has very often been the only port in the storm for me. You give your beautiful Seren a big hug from me. I will not speak of her loss as the thought of it makes me wince with regret for her. Happy to go ’round the ben with the both you anytime! Appreciate the read and thank you for the comment!

Malissa - Girlfriend I know how you feel about your true friend. I have had 4 poodles the first three are gone and what a heart ache to lose them. I have Olive she is a black toy poodle and she comes to work with me at the barber shop and she sits on everyone’s lap that will have her. So don’t want her and if they dont like it they can find somewhere else to go. Frankly if people have a problem with animals there is something wrong with them. She is very friendly and and love by many of my clients , some come just to see her I swear. I have had her from 18 weeks to now she will be 11 in August. I love her with my whole heart and don’t know what I would do without her. She has been with me through some hard times as well. I also have my moms dog and he is a delight as well he is poodle and laso. He was one of 99 dog mistreated . The only puppy they had. Koko is so sweet loves to cuddle and he was a comfort to me when mom died. He sure missed her too. Well I will always have a dog there just such a comfort. My cousin just lost his poodle Marlowe after having him 15 1/2 yrs god the heart ache and I had to hold back tears for them I met Marlowe sweet dog.
Man and women’s best friend for sure! 🙂 malissa

Malissa - Marlowe passed this morning. I forgot to add that.

Tammy - Malissa, we are sisters from another mother, to be sure. My grandpa would tell me to never trust a man that my dog didn’t like. Wise old bird, my grandpa. I’ve learned that animals are here to do those things that many people can’t. Mostly love unconditionally and always be sweet and accepting no matter what the circumstance. Too much to ask from humans, I guess. I, too, will always be owned by a dog. Losing them is horrific. Baring it is a heartache that lasts a lifetime. But I could never cheat myself out of the love they offer me for fear of the hurt. YES, man and woman’s best friends! Great to hear from you, Malissa. It’s always my pleasure!

Mel Glenn - What a wonderful story – we had a dog, too, Scamper, Andrew’s bar-mitzvah present. When he went to college, we got the dog. We had him for 16 years, a large beagle-shepherd, (figure that out.) I am more of a cat person, but respect that dogs can be more human than some humans. Nice story.

Tammy - Thanks, Mel. Yes, dogs can be more human than some humans. Often even more so! I am also owned by two rescue cats that go the names of Henry and Charlie. They are blessing as well and we ALL sleep in the same bed every night. Wow, a large beagle-shepherd, eh? Yowza I would have liked to have been in the room to see that happen (giggle). I call animals our ‘tender mercies’, a loving gift given to us to help us cope, love, understand and be loved. I don’t believe I am far from wrong. ALWAYS a pleasure, Mel. So very happy to have you here!

Tana Bevan - Tammy — I am definitely not a natural animal person. My daughter’s cat, Checkers, could attest as I chased him around the house with a spray bottle and actually thought I could keep him off my lap, out of my room, and away from my bed. Still, within a few years he had me wrapped around his paw and trained quite well.

When my daughter left to begin her adult life, Checkers stayed because I did not want to come home to an empty apartment. When Checkers’ time was drawing to a close, and he needed to be euthanized, my daughter returned. Together we held Checkers as his spirit left his body. We cried. We hugged. She home to her life where her darling cat awaited. I returned to an empty apartment.

Shortly thereafter the Aloe Vera Fairy came by with an aloe vera plant so there would be something living waiting when I opened the front door. (Other succulents and cacti soon followed.) Alas, even though cacti and succulents are very hearty, they were no match for me. After a painful tenure at my home, I set them free by passing them along to one who can offer them the chance of becoming lovely, healthy plants.

Einstein came in my life through the back door. I’d had “one of those weeks” when I heard a sad tale of a cat who’d lost his mistress and been further traumatized by being placed in a household with many cats and dogs. He needed a quiet sanctuary in which to heal before being put up for adoption. That I could offer. I was mourning the loss of Checkers, and fighting myself every step of the way. (After all “Checkers was just a cat.” Why would a quasi-sane and rational person feel the loss of, and cry over, “just a cat”?)

Checkers laid the groundwork for Einstein. Not only was I not able to put Einstein up for adoption, I also knew there was no way to keep him out of my lap, away from my room, or off my bed, if that’s where he chose to be.

I spent years arguing with those who would treat animals like people. I believe in kindness to animals, however, it is people who should be treated humanely. Alas, it is often the animals who behave with dignity, courage, loyalty, honor, love and are more deserving of humane treatment, while people behave inhumanely (“like animals”).

So, while I am not a natural animal person, through time I have come to understand that there is a bond between person and animal. It turns out love, in all its forms – including the love of a human to an animal and an animal to a human – is powerful, nurturing, and healing.

May you find love, kindness, friendship, and unconditional acceptance — in whatever form it comes into your life.

Carmen - WOW!!!! Amazing, Wonderful, Touching article. My hat if off to Maddy and her family. My family and I have also enjoyed the company of wonderful, faithful and loyal pets and neither our pets or us are dysfuntional and if we are….well what a big loss for those that have not experienced a loving pet!!

Mary Kathryn Johnson - We all welcome you kicking, screaming and squirting your water bottle into the wonderful world of love in all it’s forms. Glad Checkers and Einstein melted your heart open to receive them. Thanks for sharing your story of family.

Kellie - oh girl NEVER! My dog Abbey was my life and sadly had to put her down last week and it nearly destroyed me. I completely understand and those who don’t get it… well you know my response! 🙂

Tammy - Hi Kellie, I’m so very sorry for your loss. Words are never enough. All I can offer is that I, too have been where you are. The heartache is horrific but the chance to love and be loved by such a sweet and caring creature….well, that was priceless. I will always be owned by a dog, no matter how hard the goodbyes are. I know that I could never cheat myself out of the loving they offer for fear of the hurt. I am hopeful, for you, that in time, you will save a life and bring love to yours once again. Hugs to you, my friend. Thank you for sharing.

Tammy - Tana, what a beautifully honest story. Made my heart sing. I am so very happy for you that you allowed Checkers and Einstein into your life, your home, and your heart. Isn’t funny how love, in different forms, finds it’s way to us? I SO agree with you that it is the animals that behave with courage, love and dignity and the humans who behave senselessly barbaric. It is a tragic commentary for our species, that so many don’t honor what animals bring to our lives. I disagree, Ms. Bevan. You ARE a natural animal person after all. Thank you for your kind wishes for me. I embrace them and open my arms and send them right back to you! So very happy to have your here. Thank you for sharing your amazing story. I invite you to come back to the comments section and read what another reader, Mary Kathryn Johnson, said to you about your post.

Tana Bevan - When it comes to love, there is something magical about the unconditional version. Perhaps that is why we are drawn to young children and animals. They seem to embody amazing healing powers (almost instinctively) — be it with a hug, a kiss, a purr, a lot of exuberant tail wagging or face lapping — as they share their joy in our being, not asking for anything in return (except perhaps a hug, kiss, a bit of petting or belly rubbing).

Jenny - Furry feet family members are the best!!
PS I should add that I might also have some extended family members that feet are furry but I’m not going to look!!

Carole - Tammy,
Really enjoyed reading about Maddy! As a pet mom myself (2 dogs, 2 cats) I can confirm that pets are their own persons with their own personalities. Just like people, some animals are aloof, and some are gregarious. You and Maddy have been through rough times and are family to each other. My pets have also supported me through the rough times in my life, and have been “there” for me more than many of my family members. Thank you for sharing about Maddy, and hope you have several more years of love and companionship with her.

Tammy - Carole, it was wonderful reading your sharing! You hit the nail on the head with your statement that often times your animals supported you more than many of your family members. It is their gift to us. An amazing offering, don’t you think? I’m so glad you enjoyed the read about my best little friend. And, you’re right, animals absolutely DO have their own little personalities! Even as a wee pup, little Maddy was always opinionated, selective and a bit too stubborn for her own good. Gee, I wonder how feels (sarcasm)? So very happy to have you here and so appreciate the comment!

Tammy - Jenny, too funny. Hope you enjoyed the read. Appreciate hearing from you!

Tammy - Tana, magical it is! Your comment takes me to an old Carpenter’s song “Bless the beasts and the children, for in this world they have no voice, they have no choice.” Their love is absolute (one of my favorite words), but so is their honesty. I love that too!

Laura Lee Carter aka the Midlife Crisis Queen - What would we do without our pets, Tammy? I know my little midlife crisis pup Rasta makes it all worth while for me regularly…
Lovely writing, and I needed a good cry this morning anyway!
Love. Laura

Ginger Kay - I have a twelve pound protector, too, so I completely understand. Yes, Trixie is spoiled. She deserves it. She rescued my heart when it needed unconditional, wordless love. She also has cancer.

If people don’t like her, that is their misfortune.

Joan Cooper - Your splendid writing touched my heart. Some people miss so much in life. Pets are angels in costume, sent to comfort, entertain, and give us unconditional love.

Mine is a horse named Pal O Mine. If a speeding bullet was aimed at him, I would throw myself in front of him without hesitatin. I do not expect the same from him, but when I look into his amber eyes, I know he is part of a beautiful universe and my friend by chance.

Sometimes when I talk to him ( you cannot quite cuddle a horse) I see his skin quiver. I think he gets it at some level.

Your friend sounds like she missed a lot. But so many people relegate animals to a lower position, when in fact, they have some qualities that humans would be well to take note of.


Tammy - Laura Lee, I shudder to think what our lives would be like without our furry blessings. *wincing* Thank you for the kind writing review, but, what’s that you say … you cried? Oh, no! No crying! Apologies, the last thing I want to do is make my wonderful readers cry. *more wincing!* Thanks for the read, Laura Lee, and for the comment. Love right back at ya!

Tammy - Ginger, I love how you said that Trixie ‘rescued your heart when it needed wordless love’. Wordless love …. beautiful! I understand completely and am happy for us both that we have been adopted by such loving creatures. I wish your heart strength when she is overcome with her cancer. There are no words, only tears, sadness and a lifetime of the most wonderful memories of one of the best friends to ever grace your life. Thank you, Ginger, for stopping in and visiting. And thank you for the sharing.

Tammy - Hi Joan, we are on the same page. No surprise there. Pets are absolute angels sent here to soften the harshness of an often loveless world. They should be treated with the greatest esteem but sadly, we both know that is not the case. I know your love for Pal O Mine is no stronger than his for you. You both are part of a beautiful universe and thank God for that ‘chance’ you speak of. He is one very lucky horse, and you, one lucky girl. Yes, humans would benefit greatly to adopt the attributes of animals. If only it were the case, this world would be almost heaven. I call the animals of our earth our tender mercies. Those of us who recognize them for what they are receive their blessings every day. Thank you so much for sharing your story, I always appreciate hearing from you! A hug to you and Pal O Mine.

Tammy - Carmen, thanks so much! I can’t imagine living without the benefit of a furry friend to love and share my life with. I always adopt rescue animals and it makes me giggle when I’m told that I saved a life. Who saved who? I would call it even at best. Like all respectful animal owners, I receive far more than I get. You are SO right, those that haven’t experienced a loving pet have are the lesser for it! So happy to have you stop by, and appreciate the comment!

Tammy - Mary Kathryn, I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Jim Lunsford - Lovely!! They are our best friends. There is a canine loyalty and truth that transcends what many humans are capable of understanding or reciprocating. The below link is to an amazing piece of writing by Eugene O’Neill – The Last Will and Testament of Sliverdene Emblem O’Neill. Heart-wrenching at times, but a must read for anyone who has ever loved a dog.

Tammy - Jim, Oh, how I dearly loved that read! I read it again (thank you, my friend, for the link) and it made my heart soar and cry simultaneously. Not an easy feat. If only….if only people could be more like dogs. So happy to have you here in my corner of the world. Thanks for the reminder of Eugene O’Neill and for your sharing!

Suerae Stein - I love this post, Tammy. They really let your dog in the hospital? My little Wilbur has been a wonder to me as well. I am so grateful for his devotion and loyalty (although he would be loyal to anyone with a dog treat – you should see his excitement when the UPS man comes to the door – talk about abnormal)! Maddy has the most precious face and I’m sure she adores your love and devotion to her. I wish you many more years together!

Tammy - Hi Suerae, Yes, Skyridge Medial Hospital in Lone Tree, Colorado is a new and progressive hospital. It’s huge and you would see animals coming in and out. I was there for five days and she was with me every day, all day. They had nurse volunteers who would walk her twice a day. It made all the difference in my recovery. The second day I was walking the floor with my walker, all the attached equipment and my little dog. She loved it. I loved having her. It made me want to get up and try. God bless your Wilbur. They are the company when no one else is to be found, the love when so much is needed and the ear when no one is listening. Maddy worships the ground I walk on … most likely because I worship hers. Funny how that works. Thank you for you kind wish, and I return it back to you. Long may we share our lives together! So happy you stopped in, I always, always love hearing from you.

Rhondda Hartman - Wonderful Blog… Miss you!!

Tammy - Thanks, sweet Rhondda! Happy to meet your approval. And, yes, I miss you too! Enjoy the conference!

google - Howdy, I found your site by way of Yahoo and google even as searching for a linked make a difference, your website came in place, it seems great. We’ve added to favorites|combined with book marks.

Aca Baranton - This was a beautiful love story, between you and Maddy! I am sure Steven would be jealous at times 🙂 Wishing you a great new and exciting life ahead.

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