The Setting on the Dryer

On Monday we took our dog to the vet dentist for a full day of anesthesia and tube-down-the-throat teeth cleaning. It was hard to leave her there terrified. She’d been left at the pound twice before we adopted her.

I remember that day so well: September 11, 2004. That’s why we named her Libby, short for Liberty. She stared at us through the mesh of her cage at the shelter, while the employee opened the gate and put a leash on her so we could go for a walk to see how we fit together. My daughter Mollie controlled the leash and I pushed open the heavy glass outside door.

Contrary to our expectations that the dog would bolt and try to run, the three of us sauntered in perfect rhythm to the fenced dog playground. Libby walked very politely beside us and stared plaintively and longingly into our eyes as she carefully pranced along. She showed herself to be an intelligent and elegant young lady indeed. We fell in love and took her home.

Our dog is a mixed breed; no one can figure out what the mix is but she is beautiful. She has long gazelle-like legs and a lovely black coat. She can jump like a hurdler with no need to get a head start. She virtually flies up the stairs while I’m still on the lower rungs plodding along. And she’s hopelessly spoiled. Delicately she strokes my arm as she faintly whines for some attention. My husband and I don’t mind complying; our children are grown and our grandchildren far away.

I said all that to tell you this: Libby is what used to be called neurotic by the psycho-shrinks. She shakes uncontrollably when we take her to an unfamiliar place in the car, desperately whining and insistently pawing our arms (she’s right-footed), seeking reassurance. When someone comes to visit, she hysterically defends us by barking fiercely until we tell her that we are all safe, including and especially her.

Libby doesn’t warm to strangers, only her family. But she knows her family. One of the grown children can be gone for six months and come home and she is ecstatic. In fact, every day when we get back she jumps up lightly and wraps her delicate arms around us in a faux hug, kissing and kissing.

Libby hates cats and will act vicious when one is around. (The paper work at the shelter said she was relinquished the second time because she wouldn’t share her home with a cat.) We love her anyway and think she is the smartest, most awesome dog ever, even as she ages and her leaping feats are less impressive.

Here in Alaska many people are crazy about their dogs. For example, the Iditarod starts this weekend and those canine athletes get royal treatment. But even your odd average dog is usually valued here. Though lots of people have purebreds, easily identifiable by breed, some have “mutts” like us. We have our own unique breed, without divulged lineage or papers.

I often tell my patients:  Normal is simply a setting on the dryer. They laugh but I really mean it. We seem to be obsessed with categorizing normal these days. Granted, medical and mental health professionals often need a label for billing and explanatory purposes. But I can’t know a person from a label, even far less than I can taste Campbell’s soup by reading the outside, or relate to an individual by seeing one photo and a couple sentences from their MYSPACE profile. Get real!

Think of an elementary classroom, twenty-some children of approximately the same age. A curriculum provides a general structure to follow, but it would be impossible to categorize all the intricacies of individual abilities and learning styles inherent in each student. And academic ability is but one aspect of the totality of body/mind/spirit that is each person. A good teacher knows that.

God doesn’t mass-produce his masterpieces. He crafts each of us before we were born uniquely to reflect back to Him quintessential facets of  His Nature. We truly are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. As such, everybody’s setting for NORMAL is different and changes day to day as each one learns and becomes.

I love my dog Libby with all her quirks. Yes she has her wounds and her temperamental eccentricities and her leftover behaviors from hurts of the past. She will undoubtedly never like cats. And so far no vet has been able to explain or suggest treatment for her uncontrollable shaking. But she is wonderful and matchless to us. There’s simply never been and never will be another Libby.

6 March 2009