And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

About a year ago, we adopted our dog, Ursula LeGuin Giorgio. She came to us when we were hurting; our two beagles were put to sleep a few weeks earlier, both on the same day, side by side, with Michael, Olivia and I standing by, our hands on each dog. Blossom was fifteen and very ill with advanced kidney disease. Donnie was thirteen and had cancer, which spread faster than any of us expected. I didn’t want to get another dog. All of our hearts were broken, twice over.

And then one of our humane societies sent me a picture of a dog they called Mama. They thought she was around three years old. She came from Louisiana, driven up here by another shelter in a truck with three other dogs. She was called Mama because she clearly recently had puppies. The humane society said she was a “hound/terrier mix”, but we could see she’s a pitbull. And as soon as I saw that face, I was smitten. We went in to see her, and we wouldn’t leave without her. When she walked out the door of the shelter, she was no longer Mama. She was Ursula LeGuin Giorgio, named after one of the strongest women writers I know.

Soon after we got her home, it became clear that Ursula wasn’t the quiet dog in the shelter because she was calm and confident. She was quiet because she was terrified. For this first year, we have struggled with her through fears of the refrigerator’s ice maker, the microwave, things sizzling on the stove, the television, the fireplace, the piano, the Christmas tree, the vacuum. We can’t take her for walks around the block because she’s afraid of the traffic, the buses, the flags flapping in the wind, a door slamming. She prefers concrete to grass, which leads me to believe she was a kennel dog.

And yet…she wasn’t afraid of us. 45 pounds of dog on your lap is a challenge. She curls up by whoever happens to be there. During the day, she is typically by my desk chair, laying her concrete head from time to time on my lap, letting me know she’s there. She doesn’t know how to play – we’re working on that. We throw a ball and she gives us a look that says, “So what?” But she does know how to ask for what she needs: close human contact and a safe place to be. We give her that.

When we lost the beagles, I said I didn’t want another dog. Then, when we met Mama, I said I didn’t want a project dog. Well, somehow, here we are.

So the moment of happiness. Over the weekend, Michael was in the hospital (no, that’s not the moment!) with a bowel obstruction. This meant that the late night (figure two in the morning) walk before bed was up to me. Sunday, it snowed all day. When I took Ursy out, the parking lot next to us, which she prefers, was transformed into a snowy moonlit field. It sparkled. It was quiet. We could have been out in the country instead of in the middle of a sleeping city.

Ursula did her business. I took care of her business. And then, she looked up at me…and suddenly threw herself down on her belly, front legs extended, tail in the air, like a dog about to pounce. “What?” I said. That was all she needed.

She began to prance, to bounce, to play in the snow. She leaped, she rolled, she ran in circles as far as she could get as I let the extra-long leash out to its full length and ran with her. This dog did fast-paced yoga in the snow, a zippy downward facing dog, then an upward facing dog, her nose to the moon, a silent “Arooo!” clearly coming from her throat. Boing, boing, boing.

My god, Ursula PLAYED. She became a DOG.

I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in months.  I hope I didn’t wake my neighbors. If I did, I hope we entertained them with this cavorting crazy dog.

And then we came inside. She looked at me and grinned and if she could have talked, she would have said, “How was THAT?”

I answered out loud, “WHAT was that?”

This morning, Michael found Ursula sleeping on the loveseat in our bedroom. Curled in her tail was our little gray cat, Muse.

Oh, welcome home, Ursula LeGuin Giorgio. It took about a week short of a year, but I think we’re finally getting somewhere, puppy.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Ursula and Olivia, on Ursula’s first day home. Edgar Allen Paw is behind them.
Ursula and Michael, when he came home from the hospital.
The concrete head that appears daily from under my desk.
Chill Ursula!

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