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Dating and the Wisdom of a Dog

Libby in Malibu, 1999

Last night I had a marvelous dream. Charles Kuralt  was interviewing me for a Sunday Morning feature about my dog Libby. Now Libby has been dead four years, but she came back to life last night in my dreams. My sweet Weimaraner was licking my face and charming Mr. Kuralt who was asking me how rescuing Libby from the TN mountains eventually rescued me. And it’s true. I was restless and lost before Libby grounded me. Of course, you may be wondering right now how my story about my sweet dog has anything to do with venturing into the dating world as a newly single mom—but just hang in there. I’ll get to that connection in a minute.

In my dream, I am standing in a field with Mr. Kuralt in the early morning dawn as we watch Libby run majestically after balls. I tell him my story  about moving from New York City to edit a small magazine in Atlanta and how I had to leave the full-bred Weimaraner I adopted with my ex-boyfriend, back in the city. Against the wishes of family members who had witnessed me moving from town to town for newspaper jobs and graduate school—and who didn’t think I had the ability to care for an animal or the stamina to stay in one place long enough to care for another creature—I put in my application to adopt a rescue dog with the Southeastern Weimaraner Society. Within a week, I was introduced to Libby: a petite Weim who had been beaten and left in a snow bank in the Tennessee mountains—most likely by hunters disappointed in her lack of hunting skills and skittish manner. I walked into the rescue society, sat down on a chair, and within moments, a shy Libby tentatively walked over and put her head on my knee. With all of the hyper and happy Weimaraners jumping around in the back yard and some in the house, I looked at this wounded animal, who was so skinny you could see her ribs, and that was it. She had claimed my heart. A few weeks later, on Valentine’s Day, (the same holiday, coincidentally, that both my sons were later conceived) I adopted my first child in 1997.

Libby was extremely skittish and frightened of loud noises. I had to earn her trust and to work with several trainers just to get her to go to the park with me. She would walk down the street with her tail tucked under, ears back, legs crouched low, as if she was just waiting for another loud blast or skate boarder to send her running back home.

As you can imagine, the first year with her was quite challenging. Just when she seemed to be getting better, something would happen that would send her into a tailspin and she’d break free from her lead and run full speed—sometimes into the street towards on-coming traffic—with me screaming and running after her. And the things that really sent her off were usually just big men, wearing hats and boots, who naively walked over to pat her. She was incredibly beautiful and everyone wanted to meet her when we were out on a walk. Sadly, she was terrified of a certain type of man, which I began to think must remind her of of the hunters who had abused her. The type of man that scared her most were tall, big, boisterous, and usually wearing boots and hats. I began to stay clear of men like this too, just out of habit from our walks.

So, when I entered the dating world back in 1997, after my move from Manhattan, it became clear, early on, that certain men just wouldn’t do. As I mentioned, if a large boisterous man who clomped when he walked, even tried to approach my door, she would run in circles barking with her tail under until I finally put her into her crate to calm down. But it was always the same. The men who threw their keys down loudly or didn’t take their shoes off or who came into the house talking loudly and who didn’t make an effort to help calm her down: didn’t last very long. And the ones that would later make fun of her when she was put into her crate, who would agonize her and tease her by stomping loudly or banging on the crate while laughing, were the worst. I knew instantly they HAD TO GO.  Can you even imagine doing that to an abused animal? That’s the type of boy who would bully awkward or disabled children on the playground in elementary school. And you would be surprised by just how many men did that sort of thing to Libby while laughing and then later saying to me: “How in the world can you put up with such a crazy dog?”

I’d be thinking, “How can I put up with You?!”

I mean think about it. Sure, I had a special needs dog who had been abused and required much TLC, but she turned out to be the most loyal and kind friend I’ve ever known. (Read this article I published about how Libby literally saved my life.)

After a few months of watching her, that first year, it was clear that she had a six sense about men. Libby could smell kindness or cruelty in a person—which is a critical ability to have when you are venturing into the dating world. I wish more single moms had her keen sense. She was insanely smart. She wasn’t a Lab you could bribe with a dog biscuit. No, you had to BE a certain kind of person for Libby to love you.

I remember learning much about the character of family friends over the years by watching how they interacted with Libby.

For instance, on the day that I was throwing a party, a new friend won me over by laying down under my desk for almost an hour so that Libby would come over and lay down beside him. He kept rubbing her ears and calming her down as I rushed around the apartment putting things together for the party.

Another friend of a friend completely surprised me by his kindness. Every time he’d see Libby, he’d lie down on the floor near her and put a tennis ball under his chin. He’d smile and giggle as Libby would shake all over and inch closer and closer to him, as she so desperately wanted the tennis ball. After a few times of this, with her timidly taking the ball out from under his chin and running away, the two became fast friends.

It became a joke with me and my girlfriends: Want to know if you have a nice guy? Put him through the Libby Test. (Looking back, I can see how single moms, especially, could really have benefitted from this.) Since Libby is no longer here with us, here’s a condensed list of what I have learned from her.  To find a kind man, who has a chance of developing love for your children, as well as you, stay clear of men who:

  • are boisterous.
  • are aggressive.
  • wear baseball hats indoors.
  • interrupt you.
  • are impatient.
  • make fun of, or taunt, anyone who has been abused or is disabled.
  • hunt birds.
  • clomp loudly when they walk.
  • make sudden and unexpected moves.
  • yell or shout commands.
  • hit you (or children) when you (or they) misbehave and are already scared.
  • drink too much.
  • are very tall and/or very big. (hmmm…maybe there could be an exception here!)
  • break things or bump into furniture often.
  • have an anxious temperament.
  • whose legs bob up and down impatiently when they sit at a dinner table.
  • run their hands through their hair over and over again.
  • often clear their throats in a passive aggressive and loud way.
  • listen to rap or metal rock at loud volume.
  • wear large pinky rings that bang against table tops.
  • drive recklessly or approach turns quickly—causing anyone in the back to slam against a window.
  • have dramatic mood swings.
  • don’t play ball.
  • don’t give belly rubs or back scratches.
  • are always on the computer or iphone, so one hand isn’t free for those belly rubs or back scratches.
  • don’t cook or share home-cooked meals (especially those including bacon).
  • don’t bring home or play with toys.
  • don’t ever go on morning or early evening strolls.
  • don’t understand the value of long, slow car rides with the windows down.
  • don’t like to snuggle while watching movies.

What do you think? Was Libby on the right tract?

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