One canine’s mission to spread joy throughout the land

Eppy & her Fan Club, 4/4/15. Photograph by Michelle Thall

So much all at once. Sometimes it feels like it’s too much to bear. Especially all alone. The lack of physical intimacy has become unbearable. Not a hug, or a touch of the hand, or a squeeze of the arm, or even an accidental brush up against someone while standing in the grocery line. And even worse, no wet dog noses sniffing my palm, no puppy kisses, and no petting dog butts.

I cannot take it anymore. I must, must, must get a dog. I’ve been avoiding it for three and a half years, and I can’t hold out any longer.

Is it true that I’ve been “avoiding” adopting another dog?

Yes and no. I love dogs. I am a self-proclaimed dog freak. No doubt about it. When I see a dog, I tend to scream real loud, “DOG, DOG, DOG!!!” I count them while driving from one place to the next, I scour the streets for them as I take my daily walk,…I even change directions based on dog-density, and I befriend people with dogs. I grew up with a dog in the house and finally adopted a dog of my own in 2001. Just mine, all mine, Little Miss Eppy-Dog turned out to be the love of my life. She saw me through boyfriends and break-ups, bad jobs and multiple midlife crises, friends and foes, and moves from Chicago to Columbus to Seattle. I made up songs about her and sang as we walked — ridiculous, silly, funny, happy songs. We even taught them to her friends… kids, moms, dads and doggy beaus.

She wooed children like she was born to the task, won over kids from other countries who’d never known a dog in their lives, and broke down the defenses of hard-working people who just wanted to park their car, go home and eat dinner. They’d see her standing there in that stubborn pit-like stance as they slammed the car door and looked at me like “What? What did I do?” “Oh, sorry! You’re fine” I’d say, “she just wants you to pet her.” With 75 pounds on her side, dragging her away was not an option.

Kids would knock on my door and ask “Can Eppy come out to play?” “You do know we’re a tag team, right?” I’d ask. “It’s OK. You can play too!” Everyone loved Eppy. She left you no choice. I nicknamed her “Joy-Spreader” because she instilled joy in every moment of life. Wherever she went, joy wafted in the air behind her.

A tough act to follow. Very tough.

Yet I still wouldn’t say I’ve avoided adopting another dog. But three and a half years later I am still dog-less. At first, it was just too soon, then a few months later I moved home to Chicago and landed at my mom’s; a dog wasn’t possible. When I moved into a place of my own I hardly had enough money to pay the rent. A year later I still don’t; I’m in the middle of starting my own business, Coronavirus has upended my roll-out, the economy is imploding, and I can’t even pet other peoples’ pups… people are too afraid. Even though dogs are thought not to be carriers, most people don’t risk it; they cross the street. The pups are confused — why don’t the people want to pet me anymore? It’s all gut-wrenching.

Yesterday I walked to the dog park hoping to at least see dogs. A couple huddled close together against the cold wind while their two dogs romped around and chased a ball. We spoke at a distance and I told them I’d applied to adopt a dog. They happily cheered me on, “dogs are the best, especially now!”

“I can’t really afford to get a dog,” I said. “Then again, I can’t afford not to!” The man winced and laughed — a few moments earlier we’d commiserated about pandemic chaos, not knowing when or even if life will ever feel normal again, and the sense there’s a mental health tsunami brewing just beneath the surface.

I don’t think the word “avoided” is appropriate in the same sentence with the word “dog.” The truth is I have denied myself a dog. I have denied myself the thing I want most in life.

Most? Really?

Well, I used to say the thing I wanted most in life was a man, a love, a partner, a soulmate… When I returned to Chicago I said I wanted a man before a dog. Somehow I ruminated myself into thinking that if I got a dog I’d spend all my time loving on the dog and I wouldn’t do the work to find the man. Looking back, I can see that was a whole lot of mental masturbation. The right man will love me and the dog.

My other top “most” has kept me busy the last two years … an unrelenting drive to become myself, to create a livelihood that makes me feel joyful and allows me to spread that joy throughout the land. But, here’s the rub… “that” most came from Eppy too. Maybe it makes more sense to say she trained me….

One day last fall I was driving home, feeling oh so fabulously happy — no particular reason — just because! Life became so much happier once I decided to stop trying to do what everyone else thinks is right. That train of thought made me think of Eppy, so I was talking to her, which I must admit, happens a lot. “Thank you for showing me how to find my joy, Ep,” I said, “I don’t know how you did it girl, but you sure did it!” The voice in my head corrected me instantaneously… “Wait! I DO know how you did it!… You lived your joy. You didn’t TELL me how to find my joy, you SHOWED ME!”

From eight weeks old until the day I set her free at 15 and a half years old, I watched her live a journey of seeking and spreading joy. The day I set her soul free, I lied next to her on her blanket in the vet’s office, saying goodbye, and I swear she spoke to me. She wanted to make sure I knew that her mission and mine were one and the same. I had to get up, wipe the tears and snot from my face, find a pen and some paper scraps in my purse, and write the words she put in my head…

“Now it’s time for me to take over Eppy’s mission here on earth… to spread joy throughout the land. She will continue to do her soul work from the heavens of the universe — no longer encumbered by her aged, earthly body, and I, not yet quite as aged, will take up her cause (and mine, rightfully), here on earth. I love you my love, my Eppy-Dog! Shackles off, for both of us!”

Back in the car, I pulled into a parking lot to finish my conversation with Eppy. “I get it now, girl” It was suddenly clear... “I can maintain your legacy by owning the things that give me joy, by living a joy-filled life, honoring its importance and letting my life speak for itself, just as you did yours.” Eppy helped me see that by actively discovering my joy, I can encourage others to find and embrace their own! I scavenged again for paper and pen and scribbled down this new epiphany. When I wrote the word “encourage,” I spelled it “EN-courage,” as Eppy said the meaning was clearer that way… “infuse others with courage.”

Eppy is short for Epiphany. The day I adopted her I only had puppies running around my ankles because my girlfriend had asked me to help her adopt a dog. I had woken up that morning to the epiphany that it was kind of ridiculous that I was helping a friend adopt a dog when it was me who should be doing the adopting! It was also me who went home that day with a dog on her lap under the steering wheel; it took my girlfriend another few months to find her dog-love.

Dog-Joy, Photograph by Michelle Thall

Last week I finally saw my current ridiculousness— my mission is to spread joy throughout the land — I can’t do that without having joy in my heart. For me, a joyous heart begins with D-O-G. So everything has come full circle. I cannot deny myself a dog any longer. I cannot deny a homeless dog a home any longer. Last night I got an email asking if I still wanted to “foster-to-adopt” Linus, the #1 dog I had applied for on-line. My heart skipped three beats! Foster-to-adopt is being offered because the shelter, like most organizations, has had to change up their procedures, as people cannot wander through a maze of cages and physically meet a series of dogs anymore. The foster-to-adopt option gives me time to see if Linus and I are a match.

I’ll admit, as I finish writing this article… I’m a little nervous — it’s a big step — but I’m more excited than nervous. I know Linus will help me find joy, all dogs have a way of doing that for me. I’m ready to feel that fullness again, to hear the sound of puppy paws padding through the apartment, to feel wet puppy kisses raining on my face. And yes, I will talk to Linus, but that doesn’t mean I will stop talking to Eppy. I will never stop talking to Eppy because I know Eppy will never stop talking to me.

Creator, Teacher & Learner on a journey to become myself — whole, well & happy — and help others do the same. Join the tribe @ TheWholeWellnessProject.com

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