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FetchaFriend –
Establishing Real Friendships

I believe that people come


in and out of our lives for
a reason. And as I move from
city to city to find that right
career path or neighborhood
for me, there’s the need to
make new friends at each
destination. It’s like the “new
kid in town” who’s shuffled around from school to school, always having
to reestablish life and friendships along the way.
Fortunately, my dogs are a constant in my life, and the more I move,
the more I realize that whoever becomes more than an acquaintance needs
to also be a dog lover.
In a relationship, there are your friends and your significant other’s
friends. If you meet a couple and you all just happen to click – it’s nothing
short of a miracle. Well, my husband and I came across one such couple
– or so I thought.

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We were living on Long Island at the time. I was expecting my first


child and this couple had a two-year-old boy. They invited us over for
dinner one night. The conversation became more exciting by the minute
with all the talk of newborns and toddlers. All the baby hoopla prevented
us from even broaching the subject of dogs. Yet I began to think, “Wow –
this could work. We’re going to have a great summer hanging out.”
Within the week, my new friend and her son came over for an
impromptu visit. This was incredible. I like it when someone takes the
initiative in wanting to form a friendship, and was thrilled that she wanted
to drop by and spend more time together. I saw her pull up front and went
out to help them both out of their car. This was all going so well – a new-
found friend. Then it fizzled quicker than you can pop the tab of a soda
can. She came inside and there were our dogs – eager to greet them both.
“My son is extremely allergic,” she said. I assured her that Greyhounds
were considered a hypoallergenic breed (although no dog is 100%).
But even so, I could see and sense her uneasiness. Her son, meanwhile,
squealed in delight over the dogs, having no idea he should be concerned
or fearful of sneezing, breaking out in hives, or any other repercussions.
(Nothing did happen to him, by the way.) I knew right then that this new
buddy-perfect friendship wouldn’t work. It faded just as fast as it started
and, after their impromptu visit, I never heard from her again, despite a
phone message I left afterward.
We did receive a baby gift, though – in the mail.
I thought this story made a nice opener for this chapter called
FetchaFriend – Establishing Real Friendships, because it shows how truly
elusive that “real” friendship can be (with humans, anyway). I often
wonder why our relationships with people aren’t as simple as our relation-
ships with dogs.
In Sharon Sakson’s book, Paws & Effect: The Healing Power of Dogs, she
writes, “Over the years… canines became more and more accustomed to

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man, even whelping and rearing their


litters within site of a man’s campfire.”
Part of the ease with which most
of us are drawn to a dog takes place
because of biology. We react to new-
borns and puppies – and mature dogs
for that matter – the same way. When
we gaze at them, our bodies release oxytocin, which provides us with the
nurturing emotion we need for bonding.
So the initial bond is based on biology. But can we decipher our friend-
ships with dogs through mere logic and reason? Can we even truly be “friends”
with a dog? I think true dog lovers know the answer, and for most of us this
chapter will really cement how we feel about our dogs versus our friends.

My dogs are a constant in my life, and the more I move, the more I realize that
whoever becomes more than an acquaintance needs to also be a dog lover.

Can We Love Our Pets Too Much?

Anne Craig, of FOX5 New York,


adopted a dog from The Humane
Society before she got married. She
told me, “Henry is the love of my
life. He is one of the sweetest pup-
pies, a Cavalier King Charles. I just
got married, but he is the love of
my life. It’s amazing!”

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Can we love our pets too much? Is it possible to love anything too
much? Isn’t love a good thing? How can you have too much of a good
thing? As far as I can tell, loving your pet has no negative side effects or
health hazards whatsoever.
When I first got my dog, Shiraz, I recall being amazed myself at how
much I could love a dog. It was a deep love that I had never experienced
before, and a type of love only dog lovers can understand. I could feel
this great sense of pure fondness in my heart. I had no idea I could love
something so much and so differently than I do my human companions.
Obviously, I’m not alone.
Access Hollywood’s Maria
Menounos displayed her pas-
sion as she showed me video
of her dogs on her Blackberry.
Maria said, “There’s my dog,
Noelle. She’s a quadriplegic
Poodle... that’s my rescue,
Athena, in my tennis court,
and that’s my rescue, Apollo, and he knows he’s on camera. I swear he
thinks he’s a superstar, so he behaves, and then they kiss in a minute.
They’re my chickies, my little love bugs!”
Listen to what Carla had to say when her dog affected even where she
could live: “I’ve been looking for an apartment and the lady said that I
could get one easier if I gave my dog away. I’d live in a tent on the street
before I gave my dog away. She’s my best friend. Look at her! You can’t say
no to those eyebrows.”
Louie’s story is just one of many we’ve heard throughout this book
in which men and women choose their dogs over a potential suitor – but
now even a potential friend? Sometimes it’s a clash between dog lovers and
non-dog lovers. Other times it’s a clash between schedules, values, or time-

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liness – a friendship ending that may have ended anyway, dog or no dog.
I wondered if Louie’s Great
Danes affected whom he became
friends with, and if they impacted
who would want to visit him at
his apartment with his “horses”
in the mix.
“They [friends] have to join the pack or there’s no way!” I observed.
“Absolutely,” he agreed. “It’s ‘must love dogs’ or no way.”
“It sounds like every day of your life is for the love of your dogs,” I
added.
“It really is; I live for these guys,” he concluded.

Perfection is a Moving Target

Imagine being in a relationship with a person the same way we are with
our dogs – a relationship in which you can say anything without it having
repercussions, right then or down the road. And this “partner” just senses
how we’re feeling.
A blogger’s comment about a study done by the Discovery Channel
called “The Perfect Pooch for You” says that we’re crazy about our canine
friends because of how important they always make us feel:

“While people tend to dislike neuroticism in other people, they


frequently like that quality in their dogs. As we come through the
door, our dog pummels us with overwhelming happiness! They’re
jumping all over us, and paint our faces in slobber with their
tongues. And as gross as the slobber may be, we love the attention
in knowing that someone is missing us when we’re gone, even if
it’s our dog.”

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How nice it would be if some of those same qualities existed in our


human relationships! Even as adults, we pressure ourselves to please
others, including our parents, friends, bosses, and even acquaintances.
In the recesses of our minds, we all know the adage too well: “If it’s not
perfect, it’s not good enough.”
I live instead with the perception that perfection is overrated. Our
house will probably always look a bit “lived in,” with a dash of dog hair
tossed in for good measure. Accepting “good” as a “good thing” is great.
That is why dogs can be so beneficial to our health, our spirit, our
sense of self-worth and, in particular, our relationships with others. Our
dogs allow us to truly be ourselves, which is why the bond goes so deep.
Life doesn’t have to be perfect for our dogs – being good is satisfaction
enough for them. Sometimes “good enough” really is – on both our parts.
Look how ecstatic we are, for instance, when they’ve achieved a “stay”
command, praising, “Good Boy! Good Girl!”
Our dogs teach us that the value of
being a “good friend” is not bound to per-
fectionism. Our dogs don’t care about our
imperfections, and our expecting them
to be the “perfect dog” is not only unre-
alistic, leading to disappointment, but
seems to miss the boat concerning what
a relationship is about. We both only care
whether the other is good, which is what
makes it “perfect.” Carrying this feeling
over into other aspects of our lives can be
valuable in many ways. What a load off
the shoulders.
And how can being “good” ever be bad?
Hey, even Martha Stewart says, “And, that’s a good thing.”

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I wonder if it’s possible to love anything too much. Isn’t love a good thing? How
can you have too much of a good thing?

A Perfect Match

All friendships are based on one solid foundation: a good match. Think
of how you chose your dog – or, in
some cases, how your dog chose you.
Whether at a store, online, a rescue
shelter, or a friend’s house where a
litter of puppies just begged to be
adored, chances are there was an
instant connection between you and
the dog you brought home. That
“perfect match” feeling is the seed from which our lifetime friendship with
a dog grows.
A friend, Denise, said she “wanted a dog she could have fun with.” It
just so happened those were the qualities she also wanted in her friends.
She was setting the stage for all the things she wanted in her life.
I often see people matched with just the right pooches – who comple-
ment them – when I’m out gathering material for a story or when host-
ing a Leashes and Lovers party. For instance, back to Frasier, who earlier
mentioned how his outgoing Border Collie prompts him to get outdoors
more and to meet others – this is something he may not be entirely at ease
with solo. Frasier adds, “She certainly doesn’t hinder…”

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I asked One Life to Live’s Bree Wil-


liamson why, since she’s tall, long-legged
and blonde, she was attracted to a Dachs-
hund. She said, “Opposites attract, I
guess. I love him. He’s got blue eyes like
me and he kind of picked me!”

Our dogs teach us that the value of being a “good friend” is not bound to per-
fectionism. Our dogs don’t care about our imperfections, and our expecting them
to be the “perfect dog” is not only unrealistic, leading to disappointment, but
seems to miss the boat concerning what a relationship is about. We both only care
whether the other is good, which is what makes it “perfect.”

Break Down Barriers

When I met Joshua, I had the chance to ask him how his dog, Bella, either
helped or hindered his friendships. “Do you feel like she’s bringing you
closer to other people?”
Joshua recounted, “I know all my neighbors now because my neigh-
bors all know Bella. They may not know me, but they know her.”
I smiled in recognition; how often my dogs have made instant friends
with strangers I might not have otherwise started a conversation with. We
see each other again and talk – knowing the dogs’ names, but not each
others’ – yet it doesn’t matter. We’ve now made a connection because of
our dogs.
Joe Hanna has lived the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle on the road as a drum-

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mer for such performers as Carrie Underwood, Bo Bice, Gavin DeGraw,


Brandi Carlile and Toby Lightman. So he and
his wife, Jenetia, adopted a Lab/Boxer/Pit
Bull mix named Jackson to keep her company
while he was away.
There was another reason, too: getting a
dog was a precursor to a baby. Even though
they have two cats, they believed having a dog
would be the best practice for learning how to become parents. As an only
child, Joe says he’s excited about this stage in their lives, even though the
responsibility of taking care of a dog was new territory.
Their biggest surprise in getting Jackson was one they didn’t imagine
– meeting many of their neighbors and forming atypical friendships. Joe
said, “Before we got Jackson, we barely knew anyone except maybe the
people next door to us, and now every day we’re meeting a new couple or
new person while walking him. Jenetia’s been missing horses so much –
she’s worked with them forever – and a lady a street over who has this big
Bull Mastiff wanted our dogs to play together. It just so happens she has
horses, too.”
I confirmed, “So you’ve become friends with others you never thought
you’d get to know?”
Joe eagerly responded, “Definitely! We got invited to a dinner party
last weekend and it was weird because we were the youngest [there] by at
least fifteen years, and it seemed we didn’t belong at first, but everyone
brought their dogs and they were allowed to run around in the horse pen
and everybody got along great. Then, I met another guy who had attended
the same music college I did, and we hit it off, too. A lot of connections
have happened because of Jackson already – now Jenetia may even have a
job working on a horse farm, too!”
So Jackson broke down barriers and facilitated on many fronts. Hope-

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fully, they’ve gotten enough practice taking care of Jackson, because Joe
and Jenetia now have a baby boy, too! As much as we try to teach dogs,
they are often the teachers themselves, teaching us about so many of the
aspects of our lives that matter most.
Most of us recognize the lessons our dogs have taught us about friend-
ship. I am reminded of these five lessons my dogs have taught me over the
years; no doubt yours have been helpful in much the same ways:

1. Compassion: I recently opened a fortune cookie and the fortune read,


“Dare to love completely.” I wonder why we humans need to be reminded
of such a thing when dogs clearly don’t. My dogs – your dogs – love us
absolutely, completely, and quite often from the first minute we meet.
Every time I return home, they are thrilled to see me – smiling, nudging,
scrambling between each other for contact and a pat from me. If only I
could be that enthused and passionate about the important moments in
my day and the people in my life – morning, noon and night.

2. Trust: Every morning my dogs trust me to feed them; every night they
do the same. There is never any wariness when I bring out a treat – no
hesitation. They hear the bag rustle and come running. They don’t know
their future, but have faith I’ll be there. They trust in me. It can be a
dangerous world out there and it pays to be reasonably cautious, but how
often are we unreasonably cautious? Every once in awhile we have to let
down our guard and trust someone. We can learn this by watching our
own dogs and the way they trust the world. We need to believe more that
people are good and well-intentioned.

3. Patience: Dogs will wait all day for a pat, a scratch, a hug, a meal. They
will sit, dawdle, and maybe even pace patiently, biding their time. As fun
and frolicking as they can be, even the most excitable dog also knows the

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joys of peace and patience, of quiet tranquility before or after the real fun
begins. Do we?

4. Forget about it: Dogs love to play, but when they choose an item
that isn’t appropriate for them and we have to take it away, they don’t
fret when it disappears – rather they just move on to something else, or
sometimes they even just go and relax. Once in a while, letting go of a
friendship that’s no longer healthy, or one that wasn’t formed with the
best intentions, may be the best thing for everyone involved. As the adage
goes, “People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” Dogs
treasure the relationship no matter the length of time.

5. Spontaneity: Ever have your dog give you that “Not tonight, I’ve got
a headache” look when you grab for the leash for a late night or early
morning walk, or a walk at any time for that matter? No? Me neither.
That’s because dogs are always ready – for anything, anytime. What
would life be like if we could drop everything and simply be up for life
– anything, anytime?

Dare to love completely...Dogs treasure the relationship no matter the length


of time.

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