My second dog loves me more than my first dog.
Before we go further, let me explain. This doesn't mean my first dog doesn't love me. Or he's incapable of love. Or that he doesn't love me with all his doggy heart.
I know both my dogs love me.
But my second dog -- the one we rescued from an over-crowded kill shelter in Mississippi -- loves me deeper because me knows how drastically we changed his life.
You see, my husband and I got our first dog from a breeder. We knew what we wanted: Golden Retriever, puppy, male. While he was a discount puppy (thanks to the repeated staph infections on his nose), he was purebred and had papers to prove it.
But our second dog could be anything.
And we wanted a rescue dog. The HSUS estimates shelters care for 6-8 million dogs and cats every year. So many dogs hurting for a good home.
It was the perfect chance to save one of the 2.7 million healthy dogs put to death every year. Perfect opportunity to find the perfect dog.
Riley was waiting for us at PetsMart one Saturday morning. A handsome tuxedo-ed pup, he had a chubby belly. (He'd be so embarrassed to know I'm telling you that.) He had the markings of a border collie, but the fur of a Labrador.
He fell over and exposed his belly upon meeting us. My husband fell in love.
It wasn't until three hard months later that I fell in love, too.
“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.” ― Mark Twain
We filled out an application. One long week later we took him home. From the start, he had his own ideas about life and obedience. I scolded him for not listening. His ears scraped back against his skull. His nose pointed to the ceiling.
I don't have to listen to you. You aren't my people, he said.
Three weeks after getting him, I thought about giving him back to the shelter. I couldn't do this. The dog didn't care. He was super smart, but like a rebellious teen, our affection meant nothing to him. Unlike our other dog who acted sorry, he refused to care when you'd discipline him.
He didn't like to be touched.
You were allowed only to pet the top of his head: don't you dare touch my paws. Or my nose. Or my toes. Or my tail. Or my velvety ears. This ain't cool.
His pot belly had melted off thanks to twice a day walks. Our golden loved him. I wanted desperately to love him. With his adorable tux and white goatee, he was always ready to save the world.
But he wasn't having it. He had barriers around his heart. You could feel how closed off he was. Only five months old, but he felt like an older, jaded dog.
I felt horrible even thinking about giving him back. If I did that, all his assumptions about the world would be right. Humans were awful creatures not worthy of a dog's trust. If I gave him back, he'd be right and it'd make him even more hardened.
Also, I didn't want to give up yet.
It's not right to simply throw your hands up at a difficult problem and refuse to defeat it head-on. Just because he wasn't open and outgoing like our golden, didn't mean he wasn't a good dog.
He just needed more help. How could I give up on him now?
So we went on walks. And more walks. He slept curled up like a black donut dog in his crate.
He avoided the cat who had went screaming haywire when we brought him home. We pet him in little caresses on his ears, his toes, his nose, down his spine. Slowly he accepted our hands. And I tried to melt his barricades with love and patience.
Looking back, I don't know what changed. Or when. Suddenly he realized we weren't leaving him. He was our dog and that wasn't changing.
He became a different dog.
He came when called -- in a full-out sprint just for the affection reward. Beat his tail in his crate when we came home. Cuddled with our golden.
One of his new favorite things was giving me whiskery kisses on my nose. He loved his belly rubbed. Soon he allowed his ears to be rubbed and realized the amazingness he'd been missing out on.
Yow knew he loved us deeper than our golden. It was like we had been through the valley of darkness together and breached the other side.
He knew how different his life could have been if we hadn't walked into that PetsMart.
He knew we rescued him. Other dog owners who rescued dogs say their dogs know, too. In return, he showed his love in many ways, like dutifully protecting his house.
Riley is self-appointed Head of Security. Hank the Cowdog ain't got nothing on him. Our house's perimeter is regularly checked on. Every day, he is stationed next to the tall windows overlooking the street. No one is allowed within a strict hundred foot radius without being warned.
“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring--it was peace.” ― Milan Kundera
My golden loves me and I love him. But it's an easy love for both of us. Half of traffic can't help falling in love with him when he sticks his head out the car window. And he loves them right back.
Riley loves me deeper.
But my shelter pup, the one who came to me with a pot belly and chip on his shoulder, is the one who licks my tears, my wounds, and snuggles into my sleeping bag when camping.
He's the one who splits the distance between me and my husband to better keep an eye on both of us. He's the one who adventures into dark crawl space with me. The one who wakes me in the morning with a cold nose and who faithfully watches windows for possible intruders.
He's the one who covers my face in kisses when I'm home at lunch. The one who won't hesitate to tell off a dog or person who is encroaching on his momma. He's the dog who wanders off the hiking path, but anticipates our speed and intercepts us further down the path.
He's the one who would attack a bear or coyote if it trespassed on our property.
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” ― Josh Billings
I don't need to pluck petals off a flower, reciting, "he loves me, he loves me not" to know he loves me. And it's a deeper love because I rescued him and he taught me something about melting hardened barricades.