A few months after Kyle and I brought Gatsby home to Atlanta we decided to take him up to Lake Allatoona for the day (about 43 minutes North of Atlanta). We thought it would be a fun way to bond with him: our friends Ben and Tobi (Gatsby's foster family) had taken him to the lake before we adopted him and said he enjoyed himself, though he was a little scared of the water (he had never seen a lake before). We found a quiet, shallow spot on the water to set up and tried to coax Gatsby to put his paws in. For the first 30 minutes or so, he wasn't having it: he stubbornly sat down on the shore and refused to move, no matter how much reassuring Kyle and I gave him that it was safe. Finally, we got him to go out a few inches into the shallow water, but he was still too terrified to actually swim so we let him he sit on the shore, as we waded around, trying to cool off from the hot, humid Southern Summer.
I'm not sure what possessed us, but we decided to take Gatsby off his leash, just to let him explore a little but still keeping an eye on him as we splashed around.
Within seconds he was gone: tearing off through the woods like Speedy freaking Gonzalez.
"GATSBY! COME HERE!" I screamed as Kyle tore off after him.
"GATSBY! GATSBY COME! GATSBY!" Kyle yelled as he fell further and further behind, Gatsby disappearing into the woods. Suddenly it hit me: he doesn't know us.....he's not listening to us because he doesn't realize he can trust us.....there's been too much change in his life and he doesn't realize we're safe.....and he probably doesn't know his name yet.
After ten minutes of yelling, running and worrying, Kyle emerged from the woods holding Gatsby by his collar and looking panicked and disheveled.
"Holy shit babe," he said, "he was basically gone. We almost lost him."
From that day on, we've kept Gatsby close: never letting him get too far from our sight and telling people "he's a runner" when they ask why we keep him on a leash at parks that don't have fences or near particularly wooded areas.
We've worked with Gatsby a lot since that day: we've shown him unconditional love and affection, taught him that no matter where we go, we will always come back to him and because of that we've earned his trust. Even after we moved him across the country we've worked on bonding with him and his new surroundings. We've shown him that no matter where we go, he is always home when he's with us.
Gatsby went to a dog beach for the first time over the weekend. It was just as glorious as it sounds: miles of sand, salt water, frolicking pups and yes I want to live there FOR.EV.ER. because let's face it: dog beaches are everything good and happy in this world. Our friends let their dogs off leash, then looked over at us to do the same.
"He's a runner," I said, "I'm not sure if he will come back to me if I let him go."
Somehow they convinced me to give it a try and within seconds Gatsby was gone again. Only this time, he bounded fearlessly into the waves, chasing after the other dogs, smiling and splashing around like dog beaches were somewhere he went on the reg, and making us look like those kind of dog parents that over-react to everything.
Then, suddenly he took off across the beach, chasing after a smaller dog and I panicked.
"GATBSY COME!" I yelled nervously, "Kyle! He's running! GATSBY! COME!"
As I yelled his name, I watched Gatsby turn around and run back to me, his tongue flopping out of his mouth and a smile on his face. He ran right into my arms, then took off again, staying closer by and coming right back when we called him if he went too far.
"Are you sure you're not overreacting?" Our friends asked.
"I can't even believe this is the same dog who ran away from us," I said. "He's literally a different dog right now."
And he is a different dog. And one year later I'm a different person because of him.
Gatsby has taught me that love is transformative. It has the power to tame a wild beast, to repair a broken heart and give new life among tragedy. He's taught me that love isn't something that comes easy, but grows over time with patience and hard work. He's taught me a new appreciation for the word "home". Without him, the last year would have been a lot harder and a lot less rewarding. Without him, I wouldn't feel "home" now. I'm grateful to him for being the constant in my life amidst all the change we've experienced in the last few months and for trusting us as we've uprooted and moved him away from everything he's ever known. I love him for embracing his new life at the beach and always coming back to me, no matter how far he runs.
Happy "Gotcha Day", Gatsby. You make learning fun.