by Nancy Alder
Summer evenings at my house are Dakota’s time. Dakota is the four year old collie mix who has magically changed our lives.
My husband and I met 19 years ago and at the time we each came with a dog. Add to that my cat and we were a family of five. When our children were born the dogs and cat slowly had begun the move towards senior-ness and were less joyous members of our clan. They required more attention in the care department and less need for play. Yet when they all died within a year of each other at 14 years old we were devastated and swore we would never get another pet. The loss was to great, the hole in our hearts too large.
A year went by and one day a yoga student of mine told me about her Labrador Retriever having puppies. Did I want one? Did I want to bring my kids to play with one? We were not quite ready for our own dog, but just like that the seed of needing furry love had been planted.
My husband and I shared glasses of wine and poured over pictures of puppies on adoption websites. We loved Ginger with her sweet terrier whiskers but she was already taken. We looked at America, a white lab mix who reminded us of one of our dogs that died. And then Dakota in Tennessee found us and within weeks she was coming home to our house.
Our four month old furry family member was finally arriving on a transport from Tennessee. We had a kennel and a leash and only a few pictures to know what she looked like. On the way to the pick up location both my son and I started crying. It was one of those sweet bunches of tears when you are so happy and feel full of love. We knew this dog was going to change our lives. All the families waiting for dogs were crying and acknowledging that their lives would be becoming complete when our dogs arrived.
We walked up to the truck and saw her in the kennel looking right at us. “Dakota’s family?” the wonderful driver said, and suddenly we had this four month old love in our arms forever.
Dogs have a pack mentality and long to find their kin. They eat together, snuggle up for warmth and learn social behaviors from the other dogs in their family. While not wild, Dakota quickly settled the four of us into a pack. I was at the top, the alpha, and each of the children and my husband had a role in the hierarchy. During puppy training we learned the cues she was giving us to clarify who was in charge: she followed me around (betas following alphas) and established dominance over the kids by putting soft paws on their arms. We were instantly a pack.
In the summer, most evenings end with the four of us hilariously laughing together as we try to catch her to bring her inside She has in her mouth a sandbox toy, or a tennis ball or a trowel. She is running around like those dogs trained in obstacle courses: leaping over barriers, going through tunnels and whipping around the yard at amazing speed. We are all chasing her, just as was her plan all along, and instantly the pack is together for a moment in joy. She is in her happy place: her entire pack is outside on a summer night playing with her.
Sitting in the front yard with her, on the first 80 degree so far this year, I am already looking forward to her silly antics in the summer nights to come. How she makes us run, how she brings us together and how not a day has gone by since we got her that she did not make us laugh.
We rescued Dakota from an uncertain life. We gave her a home and love and food. But she has given us a togetherness and happiness that is truly unmeasurable. She has opened our screen door on summer evenings and asked us out in the yard. She has reminded us of the beauty of our love for each other and her.
We did not invite her into our pack, she welcomed us into hers.
About Nancy Alder
YOGI + MOTHER
Nancy Alder is a mom to elves, a yoga teacher and writer in Connecticut. She is a New York editor for Mantra Magazine and writes about the alchemy of yoga, mysticism and motherhood at her site Flying Yogini. She is co-creatrix of the eight limb // life a course in finding your yoga off the mat and everywhere. When not teaching or writing about yoga she explores the enchanted woods with her elves and counts the days until the next snowfall.