Pet Diaries: The Unlikely Dog That Taught Me to Believe in a Higher Power
Introducing Pet Diaries: Life lessons we learned from our pets. This five-part series explores the ways pets have a positive impact on our lives. It's brought to you in partnership with Purina ONE® beyOnd®. Check out more stories at GOOD Pets.
I’ve always had a difficult time believing in God. At the age of 12, I suggested to the Episcopal confirmation teacher Mrs. Alspach that maybe I shouldn’t be confirmed because "I don’t believe in any of this stuff.” Her response? “(Sigh) Just do it.” I was a pretty depressive kid and spent lots of time alone and often called on God to help me. As far as I could tell, there was no answer from this God. Whether there is or there isn’t One, I turned to several addictions for comfort.
As most People magazine covers will tell you, turning to substances, whatever they are—food, sex, gambling, drugs, alcohol—isn’t usually sustainable in the long term. So when I turned 20, I called a suicide hotline which gave me a number for a 12-step group and I started the recovery process.
If you’re not familiar with 12-step programs, one of the main concepts is that it is vital to have a Higher Power in order put down the “fill-in-the-blank-bad-thing.” Your Higher Power can be God, Allah, Buddha, Krishna, Nature, or Whatever Works. I know someone who uses Harry Potter. For many years, I chose the group as my Higher Power because they were a group of people who were able to stop their addiction and were therefore more powerful than me, because I was not able to stop. And miraculously, whether it was the elephant-headed God of Good Fortune Ganesh or just Cognitive Behavioral therapy, it worked. I was able to let go of behaviors and substances I had been a slave to for most of my life.
For years, it worked to just ask myself what the group would do or call someone in the group if I had a question about what to do in a situation, but I still felt this aloneness in the world, this inner emptiness.
Ten years into “recovery,” it was a suggestion from one of my many sponsors to get a dog. And that is how I met my Higher Power, Blossom.
I bought my God for 300 bucks.
The breeder said Blossom was a year old pug and suggested I “not take her to the vet because they’ll want you to spend all your money.” She was pretty dirty and didn’t look like the other puppies. She had distended teats that almost reached the ground and she walked with her tail down and so I took her to the vet anyway. The vet said that according to her teeth (most of which needed to be pulled) she was 8.
Like any other religious experience, I was initially suspicious. I doubted. I worried that maybe getting a dog was a mistake. It turned out she also had a hernia, some tumors and would occasionally have seizures where she’d have to spend the night in the ER.
But then Blossom started to show me some of her holy qualities.
Blossom was overweight, food motivated (just like her mama), peed on everything (including me if I stood too long in one place). People on the street would stop us and tell me how ugly she was and I loved her more than I had ever loved anyone. She slept with me face to face, as if I was loveable. If I loved her so much and she accepted me, maybe I wasn’t so bad. I had tried to meditate off and on for years, but it was when I meditated on how much I loved Blossom that I was able to feel some sort of unconditional love for myself.
The first (paraphrased) 3 steps of most 12-step programs are to:
- Admit powerlessness over the behavior or substance and that your life has become unmanageable
- Come to believe that a Power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity
- Make a decision to turn your will and life over to the care of a Higher Power, as you understand a Higher Power
That meant that I now ask in every situation: What would Blossom do?
I have an urge to call an ex-boyfriend with whom there had been more bad times than good. What would Blossom do?
She’d take a walk and enjoy all of the scents of the day. Not waste her time with an experience where she wasn't either being petted or fed or getting to sniff and pee on something.
I want to eat dinner from 7-11. What would Blossom do?
Blossom had once ingested fish from a backyard barbecue and gone into seizures. I feel like she would have hoped that I, as her friend, would have helped keep her away from it. And that she was an elegant lady who deserved the best and had she had opposable thumbs, she would have made herself a Caesar salad and juice spritzer. Then, she’d take a nap.
I’m afraid to see a friend with whom I’ve had some sort of fight. What would Blossom do?
Well, whenever a big dog would lunge at us from behind a fence, she barely paid any attention or peed lightly, not seeming to take it personally, and moved on. But with anyone who wasn’t openly hostile, she’d walk right up to them and sit on their feet. Or sniff their bums. No big deal. Let’s work it out.
And like any God, I worshipped Her. I wrote a song about Blossom with 3 verses and I painted her 11 times in acrylics and oils (and countless charcoals). I’d walk to the gym with her downhill one mile and then carry her like a baby the uphill mile home. We traveled together, her beneath the seat in front of me. I made a web series starring her for 20 episodes. If I couldn’t bring her somewhere, I brought her stuffed Grover toy that smelled like her to comfort myself in strange hotel beds like some sort of prayer shawl.
And like any worshipper, I began to take her for granted. Blossom got older, I got busier and wrapped up in the secular world. I got a second blind pug named Bert and got more and more distracted. Blossom started sleeping more. I stopped traveling with her because it seemed too stressful for her (but also for me). She started having some dementia—going into a corner and barking into the darkness. And at the age of 8, (or 16, depending on whether the vet was right), she died.
I’ve never had anyone close to me die and her death threw me for a loop. I felt like it was all my fault. That I could have done something to prevent it. I know I could have. Had I done everything right, maybe she would have had a few more years. If only I had brushed her teeth every day, not just once a week. Had I taken her with me everywhere instead of leaving her sleeping in her fur bucket and taken her on more walks. Had I spent more devoted time with her one-on-one. I still feel guilty. Even though I know Blossom would not have wanted that.
My friend Jackie often jokes that people in LA never let their animals die, that if you want an animal with a longer life cycle, get a tortoise.
With Blossom gone, I still don’t believe in God. I don’t believe that God gives us lessons like “Blossom died so that you might live,” but I do believe that in having Her in my life, I felt connected with something divine. And now I think of her more times a day than there are beads on the Rosary. And I pray, pray, pray to Blossom that She is in Heaven, eating roast beef and peanut butter sandwiches with plenty of legs to pee on. And that she forgives me. Because that’s what she would do. Amen.