G.E.D.

The dog who makes her home with us has, in the words of my kids, “been through a lot.” The tale of her journey is strewn with hopes raised and dashed, attempts made and abandoned – and yet through it all is the inescapable truth that we were all made for each other.

“Savvy” is the dog’s intentionally ironic name, shortened from Savannah, which proved far too dignified for such a gangly, awkward, needy creature. She came into my life by accident, a good deed done for a distant acquaintance who needed a break from this hyper, undisciplined mutt. My son and I felt ready to consider a successor to our beloved, lethargic beagle who’d died the prior summer, and we hoped Savvy would fit the bill. Part whippet, part Australian shepherd, part rat terrier, part (apparently) Tasmanian Devil… what could go wrong? After a trial weekend, I was ready to return her, until my son said plaintively, “Mom, she’s been through a shelter and two different homes in the past few months. If we don’t keep her, who will?” You try saying no to that.

So, Savvy became ours, and when life took a turn and I found myself newly married a year and a half later, Savvy made the big move with us. She, my son and I joined a household already in progress, one that had never known dogs or young boys but instead was ruled by two cats and two girls. In the seven years since, we’ve become (minus one cat) what my husband calls a “mash up,” rather than a blended family – many strong personalities that don’t blend, but who’ve all pooled our best qualities to make something truly better than the sum of our parts. And there may be no more compelling symbol of the oddities, the quirks, and yes, the unconditional love that defines this home, than our Savvy.

Imagine you’re the Fed Ex guy greeted by a ferociously barking, snarling, long-legged dynamo wearing a doll’s frilly pink tutu around her neck? Or on more celebratory occasions, molting feathers from a multi-colored boa? The younger daughter embraced the beauty within this awkward canine child, and for a time lovingly decorated her with these homemade “ruffles.” No doubt Savvy now feels a little under-dressed without them. (Note to Fed Ex guy: Welcome to our home. Speak of this to no one.)

I was thinking lately how many of our family rituals revolve around Savvy. Take the first New Year’s Eve when we were all together. Inspired by the Times Square ball drop, or the erstwhile Possum Drop in Brasstown, we decided to hold our very own Doggie Drop. Savvy was the star of the show, pleased as punch in her dog crate bedecked with Christmas lights, held barely aloft by the winch on my husband’s truck and slowly lowered to the count of 10 as midnight struck. Then one by one the kids took a turn on the homespun thrill ride, each shrieking with glee. Did I mention my son was playing Auld Lang Syne on his new accordion? Or that up to that point (and some many months beyond), he and his newly acquired stepsisters had yet to speak directly to one another, even though they’d shared the same house for more than six months by then? Celebrating Savvy had the power to unite us all in a way that the bonds of matrimony hadn’t yet.

But nothing better illustrates Savvy’s influence on this fledgling family than the story of her GED. A few summers ago, for some reason, I decided I’d had enough of her dearth of discipline and utter disregard for household rules. I realized she had me very well trained – she’d become so annoying in her incessant demands that I responded quickly and without thinking, just to keep her quiet. Dog training was the answer, I declared. Younger daughter agreed to come with me to the first class, but quickly regretted that decision. As if it weren’t bad enough that Savvy was the worst behaved student of the six in the class (we had to be segregated in a corner of the room to try to calm Savvy down), before we could leave the pet store where the class was held, Savvy lost control of her bladder and necessitated a “cleanup on aisle 12.”

Younger daughter wisely chose to skip the next week’s class. A shame really, since Savvy demonstrated some superior listening skills in class… possibly an attempt to make up for losing both bladder and bowel control on the way in to class that day. By the time class number three rolled around, I just couldn’t put the two of us through it any more. I called and withdrew Savvy from the class. I’m not sure whose sigh of relief was deeper – Savvy’s, mine, or the class instructor’s.

When I told the family, all agreed it was the right decision. But, what to do about our plans to have a grand graduation celebration for Savvy, to mark her completion of the six-week class and rejoice over her promised certificate? Perhaps, I said, our doggie school dropout could get her GED instead.

In the blink of an eye, everyone scattered to their rooms, emerging in some of the eclectic costumes we keep on hand for just such spur of the moment celebrations – a HAZMAT suit for my husband, a pilgrim costume for me, a chef’s jacket for daughter number 1, Darth Vader for son, a combination monk’s robe and bumblebee headgear for daughter number 2… and of course, a hot dog for Savvy. We prepared Savvy’s favorite meal – meatballs – and presented her with a homemade GED (Good Enough Dog) certificate. No doggie drop this time, but there was Pomp and Circumstance on the accordion, and a brief commencement address from yours truly.

Savvy’s lesson for us, I said on that auspicious day, was that sometimes “good enough” really is good enough. What truly matters is being surrounded by the people you love, overlooking mistakes, donning the occasional ruffle or feather boa for no apparent reason, and knowing you are home.

Karen Vernon has enjoyed a three-decade career in not-for-profit governance and leadership, human resources and corporate communications, all the while dreaming of writing a wildly successful novel and embarking on a world tour (with entourage). Away from work, she’s ringmaster for a three-ring circus that includes three teen/young adult children, two dogs, a cat, and a somewhat younger and much more fit husband, who, really, she is just trying to keep up with. Contact her at bmtkaren@gmail.com.

Written by Karen Vernon