Do you know what makes up for every hour I’m away from my pack? It’s coming home to one of Sara’s hugs. I start thinking about that hug on Sunday night as soon as I leave the racetrack in whatever city I’ve been staying in for the past four nights. Last weekend, I worked in Pomona, CA. Next weekend I’m going to Phoenix, AZ and the cycle continues twenty-four times each year. Sunday nights are the end of my workweek, and each one feels like a mini-Christmas Eve. I even have trouble sleeping the night before I fly home because I’m so excited about seeing my freaks.
Sara has always been the quiet one, so quiet it’s easy to forget she’s in the same room. She stays close to the pack, but always at the periphery. Sara doesn’t cuddle like Ade or Floyd. She doesn’t seek afternoon or evening rubdowns like Meadow. Sometimes, Sara has a mean streak and bares her teeth if anyone invades her personal space. But, she has her reasons. Her first six months on this earth were brutal. Just like humans who survive traumatic incidents, she suffers from PTSD. And just like with people, it’s not a condition that simply goes away. It heals and fades, but it can’t be erased because it makes such deep marks.
My Monday morning flight home is always excruciating. It doesn’t matter if it’s a short hop or a cross-country slog because every minute ticks past like an hour. During those flights, I listen to podcasts or audio books, play solitaire, force my mind on anything except for my dogs because thinking about them only makes time move slower. But, once the plane descends, once we break through the clouds and Nashville spreads out below me in all its musical glory, I start getting butterflies.
I drive home 80 mph, weaving in and out of traffic with the focus of a racecar driver. As soon as I pull into our gravel driveway, I look for the dogs’ outlines through the picture window. They’ve been watching, waiting. The evidence of their lengthy stakeout is obvious, an abundance of nose art smudged across the window’s lower half. I open the car door and hear their barks, not the warning kind but the excited kind. I walk across the deck, swing open the kitchen door, and stand back.
Floyd, Meadow, and Adriana leap at me, and for a full minute I let them mob me. Adriana licks my shoes, clothes, hands, anything her tongue can reach. Floyd pushes against my shin, wagging his tail so hard his whole body moves like he’s doing a samba. Meadow performs what I can only describe as canine cartwheels back and forth across the deck. Sara is the only dog who doesn’t attack me.
Sara stands at the edge of the madness, tail shyly wagging, eyes glistening and trained on me. She’s waiting for her brother and sisters to get their fill. When the excitement starts to fade, I kneel next to her. She stands on her hind legs, stretches her front paws over my shoulders, and nuzzles my chin with her own. She’s almost eleven and starting to gray around her muzzle, but that’s the only physical sign that she’s entering her senior years. She still walks four miles with us every morning.
I push my face into her soft black fur and breath in her scent. I inhale that earthy, musty dog smell until it encloses me. That smell means home. Sara whimpers, a soft, happy whimper. I could whisper how much I love her, but she already knows. And I know that when I’m wrapped in Sara’s hug, she never wants to let go.
Coming soon: Part 3 of our Costa Rican Adventures aka Mangrove Day