Skip to content

Chicken soup for the soul


Zoey appeared in our lives one dreary January day while my boyfriend and I were watching tv. Scraggly and skinny, she peered through the living-room door with wild eyes. Our black lab, Zander, was delighted to have a new doggie pal around. Over the next few days, as we searched for her owner, we got to know Zoey. We learned she was afraid of loud noises. She shook in terror if we took her on a ride and often threw up in the car. She was skittish and hesitant to trust us. With no leads in our search to find her owners, we decided to keep her, and she joined our fur family of 3 cats and Zander. Zoey was about a year old and had not been spayed. Our first challenge was putting her through surgery and recovery while not losing the delicate trust we had gained in the few weeks since she’d come into our lives. It was a tricky battle. We live on two and a half acres in the country and do not have a fence. We had trained Zander to stay on the property, but Zoey knew no boundaries. She would run off daily and disappear for hours, returning home without her surgery cone. She licked and pulled her stitches, which added another element to the recovery because we had to care for the wound. I worried that Zoey thought the surgery was a punishment, and she would run off and not come back. But she stayed, and she healed while her trust in us grew. She was a medium-sized dog and a DNA test revealed she was a mix of German Shepherd, Collie, and Chow. Over the next few months, Zoey reached a healthy weight, and her coat began to shine in the sun. We took long walks with her to the river on the logging land at the end of our road. She wasn’t too fond of the water, but she happily chased sticks on the shore while Zander swam for them in the river. She became more relaxed and playful. But despite our attempts at training her to stay on our property, she still had a penchant for running off and disappearing for long periods of time. Sometimes, we could hear her barking in the distance. She believed it was her job to protect. And she took the job seriously. And she decided that her territory was very large- larger than I wanted it to be. But Zoey was willful and demanded her freedom. As I struggled with anger and pouted over why she didn’t want to spend all her time with us, I realized she was teaching me a lesson. Zoey insisted on being herself, with her own set of rules. My attempts to control her would always be in vain. I could continue to fume about her absences, or I could recognize the lesson she was showing me: the gift of loving and allowing.
Over time, I learned that Zoey was purposeful about where she went and who she visited. She developed an extremely close bond with my neighbor, Linda, and spent a lot of time there. Linda lived alone, had recently lost both her cats, and was struggling with myriad health problems. Zoey’s presence was a comfort to her. Linda and I began to spend more time together as well, often calling each other or visiting to exchange stories about the dog we both adored. Zoey was a lovable, faithful companion to Linda, and they enjoyed seven years of sweet friendship before Linda moved away.
I thought Linda’s departure would break Zoey’s heart. I went to Linda’s house to say goodbye as the movers packed her things. I swear I could see tears in Zoey’s eyes. But she quickly found another neighbor with whom to share her love and companionship. Zoey started disappearing for two to three days at a time, usually on the weekends. We also noticed she was gaining a lot of weight. One day while walking Zander, my boyfriend couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a man in the distance walking Zoey. He said to the man, “Hey! That’s my dog!”
The man replied, “I thought she was the neighborhood dog.” They laughed and walked down the road together as they talked about Zoey. The man, Ron, was a Vietnam Veteran who owned land behind our woods and lived there part-time, mostly on the weekends. He admitted that he’d been feeding Zoey table scraps because she looked so pitiful when she begged, which explained her recent weight gain. As my boyfriend walked with Ron and the dogs, he learned what a joy and companion Zoey was to this man. When my boyfriend told me about Zoey’s mysterious “other owner” I took it personally and felt betrayed. Why weren’t we enough? Weren’t we her family? But then I thought about how much Zoey had meant to these two neighbors and how interesting it was that Zoey sought them out. She knew where she was needed, and she shared her love openly. That was a beautiful gift. This was my second lesson from Zoey about love. Love is not conditional; love doesn’t mean expecting something in return. She gave her love freely to those she deemed needed it, and I could love Zoey with that same kind of freedom.
When Zoey was eleven, Ron’s wife passed away. Zoey began spending more and more time at his place, and over the past few years she has made Ron’s property her home base. Instead of being angry this time, I understand she is doing her job: sharing love and bringing comfort to someone in need. She still returns to visit, and we welcome her with open arms. We cherish the moments she chooses to spend with us. She and Zander both have arthritis now and can’t race around like they used to, but Zander is always happy to see her when she visits/ We have gotten to know Ron better, too, and learned more about Zoey.
The neighborhood rumor is that she originally belonged to a family that moved. When they left, Zoey refused to get in the car. Zoey has been a challenging dog for me. She didn’t fit my expectation that a dog should listen and obey. But her job has been to spread love and joy, and she has done that exceptionally well. Zoey taught me to love without imposing boundaries.
-Becca Hardwick

Leave a Comment