The Best Holiday Ever

Getting a puppy was not in the plan. My husband and I already had a dog (Fargo) and a cat (Lucas). The plan was for my parents to pick out a dog, and I just went along to help since they were seeing the same breeder from whom we had purchased Fargo.

Is there anything better than a litter of puppies? Goofy little furballs gamboling about, until they fall asleep right where they are? My parents fell in love with Sasha, and made arrangements with the breeder.

But there was a little guy, off by himself. He was smaller than his littermates, and didn’t engage in play exactly the same way. He was perfectly healthy and normal, but just a little . . . different. I heard myself saying, “If no one has spoken for this one, I would be interested.”

My husband had been asking for a second dog for months, and I always said it was more than I could handle. He was at work all day, and traveled for work sometimes. I could not walk Fargo, and he was still a high energy Labrador Retriever. Now I had fallen in love with another Lab. I rationalized it by saying it was a surprise for my husband.

A few weeks later, when my husband came home from work, I met him at the door with the puppy in my arms. Thinking it was my parents’ dog, he started to ask why she was at our house. I held the puppy out to him and said, “This is your new puppy.” Fourteen years later, I can still get out of trouble by reminding him, “I got you a puppy.”

Grif was our special boy. When my husband would bring him upstairs at night, I would exclaim, “Puppy!” from bed and Grif would galumph right over. And when we lost Fargo, and then Lucas, Grif poured on extra love. If I cried, Grif would bring me his toys.

I don’t think Grif ever met a person he didn’t love, and he always assumed they would love him back. He liked to offer his toys to visitors, usually while snorting and wiggling. He wagged his tail with his entire body. Grif didn’t give kisses the way Fargo did, but he loved to snuffle and snort, preferably in your armpit or ear.

Grif was more of a chaser than retriever. He waited for us to kick or throw a ball, and then he would race to it and chew on it, occasionally looking up to wonder why we hadn’t followed to repeat the game. And he wasn’t necessarily the brightest dog. When I sent him into the backyard to chase deer away from the fence, he always ran to the same corner of the yard regardless of where the deer were actually standing. While Fargo knew his toys and the rooms of the house by name, Grif was more focused on where “Daddy” was, and his favorite phrase was: “Daddy’s home.”

Labs are notoriously food focused, and Grif was no exception. His eyes bugged out with joy when he was given a little vanilla ice cream. We are just the kind of crazy dog people who will order a cup of foam from a coffee shop and give it to the dog. He loved french fries and, inexplicably, green beans. One night, on a whim, I sprinkled a little parmesan cheese on his nose, and it was like doggy Christmas had come.

When I was stuck in bed, Grif was my buddy. If I was asleep, he curled up behind my knees. If I was sitting up in bed, he wedged himself in my lap and served as a computer desk. But when my husband was home, Grif curled up on that side of the bed and slept on my husband’s pillow. There is no love like doggo love.

Which brings me to the best holiday ever. You might think I am referring to Thanksgiving, which was yesterday here in the US, and we did have a lovely time with our family. But I am talking about Wolfenoot.

Have you heard of Wolfenoot? Here is the amazing origin story:

The love and light of this child’s imagination went viral. Thousands of people have gotten on board, and Jax Goss turned the attention into a way to raise money for Wolf Park. There will even be a story book, illustrated by a thirteen year old artist, which will tell the story of The Great Wolf.

People all over the world are celebrating wolves (and canines) today, simply because a seven year old imagined that we should. For that reason alone, this is a happy thing to do. I was all in as soon as I heard about it, because we need more imagination and creativity and love and light in this dark world.

And because earlier this year, Grif died.

Shortly before my husband had his stroke in 2015, Grif tore one of his ACLs. We thought we could avoid surgery, until he tore the other one about six months later. After two separate surgeries, and severe activity restrictions during recovery, Grif and my husband did rehab together. My husband was in vision and vestibular therapy, and he and Grif would take slow walks down the street, doing their exercises together.

We had gone from a family of one disabled homebound person plus healthy human and dog, to two disabled homebound people and a disabled dog. The three of us spent a lot of time together. Grif was most content when we were watching tv, giving him lots of pats and scruffles. He couldn’t run or play or climb stairs, but he was still our Grif.

By this past summer, three years of pain and limitations had taken their toll. Grif was having more trouble walking, and then standing on his own. My husband knew the end was coming, but continued to insist it was weeks or months away because he could not imagine life without Grif. After a few days in which we had to pull Grif up to a standing position multiple times a day, I told my husband that we could not ask anything more of Grif. He had taken care of us for so long, and it was time to let him go.

For the first time in twenty years, we have no pets in the house. We will get another dog, but we have to figure out the timing and logistics. It’s very different to contemplate training a puppy when we are both disabled. For now, the house feels empty. There is less dog hair about, true, but it doesn’t really feel like home. Not the way it did before.

Wolfenoot was invented when we needed it most. Today, I will slow-roast some lamb. We will pretend the leftover pie we brought home from Thanksgiving is in the shape of the moon. And we will remember our beloved and sorely missed Grif. If he was watching over us now, he would not want us to be sad. He would bring us his toys, and snort and wiggle to make us laugh. Grif was the best doggo. Howly Wolfenoot, everyone.

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20 Responses to The Best Holiday Ever

  1. Bettine says:

    💜💜💜 🐾🐾🐾💜💜💜

  2. Denise says:

    Enjoy this wonderful celebration!
    Genius child. 🙂
    I too miss Grif.

  3. This is such a beautiful piece, Jennie. I love dogs too and have had three who’ve kept me company during 17 1/2 years of ME/CFS, one dog after the other (Winnie, Rusty, and now Scout). I was reading along in your piece and doing okay until I got to this: “After a few days in which we had to pull Grif up to a standing position multiple times a day, I told my husband that we could not ask anything more of Grif. He had taken care of us for so long, and it was time to let him go.” That put me over the edge and I started weeping out of love for Grif (although we never met) and out of love for every dog I’ve had the joy of living with. Thank you so much for brightening my day, even through my tears.

    Toni

    P.S. I listen to the Alexander McCall Smith series set in Edinburgh and one of the characters has a dog named Cyril. Like Grif, Cyril is always treated to foam at the espresso place his owner frequents.

    • Jennie Spotila says:

      I didn’t want to make you cry, Toni. I didn’t plan to say that we couldn’t ask more of Grif, but I knew it was true as I said it. Just like when I decided to bring Grif home, and when I handed him to my husband. Sometimes, I don’t know the truth of something until I hear myself say it, and then I KNOW. Just like I know we’ll have another dog soon.

  4. Joy Murray says:

    Thanks for this lovely story. I can’t take care of a dog, but I love the Wolfnoot and hearing how dogs bring out the best in people.

  5. Nancy Blake says:

    Dog energy. Wolf energy. What a wonderful inspiring story. And a holiday that makes sense!

  6. Lynn Preis says:

    Jennie,

    Thank you for this beautiful post. We lost our beloved Ginger on September 27th, and I miss her every day.

    Howly Wolfenoot.

  7. Janelle says:

    Hugs, Jennie. There’s nothing like a furry friend.

    Janelle

  8. Holly says:

    I wish I lived nearby and could leave a little surprise on your doorstep to celebrate Wolfenoot! May today bring you joy. Thank you for sharing your memories of Grif so we could get to know him as well.

  9. LJ says:

    I miss Grif too..and Sasha….my eyes are starting to tear.😢They are both a special part of our family! I know our dogs watch over us when they they go to heaven ( we know all dogs go there and there are lots of Spotila dogs hanging out together) you need a dog… Maybe a trained shelter dog so you avoid puppy training! I feel sad. 😧

  10. Amy says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. My beloved companion dog passed away in September 2017 and it was as if the bottom dropped out of my world. I had adopted him at 7 and he was very mellow and loved nothing more than to curl up by my head on my pillows. After losing him I was devastated and within 8 weeks found myself with an 11 week old puppy. I’m on my own and for the first six months, I cried with exhaustion every day. He’s now almost 15 months and I still cry sometimes worrying that I’m not able to give him the exercise he needs, and his adolescence is quite challenging. If I didn’t have his companionship, though, I know there would be days I’d wonder about whether this life is worth living. The best thing I’ve done is to work with a trainer who’s helping me and supporting me and also reassuring me. I hope the right dog finds you and your husband when you’re ready.

    • Jennie Spotila says:

      Agree agree agree agree!!!! You express exactly how we feel too! Grif was always a snuggle bug, and was so lovely even when I couldn’t exercise him enough in his early years.

      I really identified with how you cried every day when you got your puppy. When we got Fargo, we tried to train him on our own. He was a dominant male, and we had no clue how to teach him what we needed him to learn. I couldn’t control him and sobbed most days that first year. Then we found a trainer, and it transformed our lives. We learned how to communicate cross-species! As soon as Grif was old enough, we went back to the same trainer. Obedience and crate training are indispensable for energetic dogs living with disabled humans, at least in our experience.

      Give your puppy pats from me!

  11. kathy d. says:

    How sad about Grif! I don’t have a dog and I couldn’t take care of one. Just the thought of morning walks in the city, especially in bad weather, send me shivering. I couldn’t do it and I don’t have a yard.

    I enjoyed my neighbor’s fantastic, smart, fun dachshund for nearly 15 years. She entertained me and wanted constant attention, but she also outsmarted me sometimes.

    I think about having a dog, but I couldn’t care for one. I pet the dogs in my building and some I meet on my block.

    I hope you get a new dog when you are ready. Perhaps a dog that’s not a puppy and is trained would be a good choice.

    Dogs are great companions and wonderful to be with. I hope you can find a dog soon and if needed, a trainer.

    Kathy

  12. Laurie P says:

    Your puppy is adorable. I’m so happy for you!

    The last dogs I had were Siberian Huskies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUgolvh9yRs

    Lots of great wolf energy and I love the wolf-like howling! I’m too sick for pets now and have also become allergic to them. I’m part of the allergic subset of people with ME.

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