We found Emma in a circus tent filled with border collies and “lab mixes” at a pet adoption event 12 years ago. While dozens of dogs barked, smiled, wagged, and encouraged us to pick them, she was curled up into a spotted brown ball in some wood chips, very much not into the situation. When she looked up at us with eyes that were a mix of white, blue, and brown (we soon learned that catahoulas commonly have such eyes — called cracked glass), we were smitten. While Emma is very much still with us, she has what is assumed to be an incurable snot generation machine in her sinus that may or may not be cancer. Even in growing old she has to find her own unique path.
I grew up with dogs but I have never met one like Emma, and in our years together I have learned so many things.
1. Don’t be a jerk.
Emma can be a total jerk. While she is mostly indifferent to other dogs and gives some a wide berth, when she senses a dog might be wary of her, she’s a total bullying wench. One time she tried to steal a deer leg from another dog and he bit a hole in her side. This was expensive, painful, and she did not end up with the deer leg. She didn’t learn any lessons, but I firmly believe it is better to be friendly.
2. Make sure your friends know you love them.
Emma has a close-knit posse: me, Mack, and most of all RK. She also likes my brother, a few friends of ours, and anyone who has ever given her food. She doesn’t waste her time on strangers (other than to bark at them) or try to win over people that are not interested in her. When Emma is happy to see someone she lets them know it, with squeals and squeaks, full body twists and jumps, and shoe thievery (see below). From a dog that is relatively standoffish, it feels pretty special to be greeted with such affection. Hey friends! You’re the best!
3. Stick together.
Unlike Mack, who prefers to be at the front on any trail adventure, Emma wants everyone to stay together. Many, many times over the years when RK has been faster than me on the trail, Emma has waited, actually refused to move forward, until I am back in sight. I do not begrudge anyone for being stronger or faster than I am, but my gratitude for her patience has taught me that it is nice to ride with friends and not just wait for them at the junctions.
4. Do your own ride.
While it is great to stick together, it is rare to find a riding buddy that has the same ambition for speed and style. Unlike a lot of dogs that run as hard as they can to keep up, Emma has a strong inner governor. She prefers a mellow pace that allows her time to sniff bushes and eat random trail things and maybe lays on the gas when she knows the truck/tent/house is within easy range. She’s definitely not going to hurry just because I might want her to. Other than my friend Erika, who I have ridden hundreds of cumulative miles with, almost always chatting and within sight of each other, riding with people tends to mean that someone is faster up or down. It can be stressful being the one off the back, but friends don’t mind waiting for friends. So do your own ride for maximum fun.
5. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do.
If someone wants to give you a treat for doing something easy like sitting, no problem! But if you would rather chase the bunny or eat the corn dog or sleep with your tongue out, then go right ahead. Life is short.
Emma is not a snob about carbs, but she really, really loves bread. And pizza crust. You’re right, Emma – it’s delicious!
7. Trust your friends.
When Emma got a cholla pad stuck in her paw she stopped moving and waited patiently for us to find her. There was no need to make a scene, howl, bark, or be dramatic because even though a silent brown dog is hard to find in the desert, she knew we would.
8. Be stoic.
Most things aren’t worth complaining about. Baths, shots, nail-clipping are just things to be endured silently until they stop. Emma only makes a fuss when meals are late.
9. Keepsakes are cool but don’t get nostalgic.
If Emma really, really likes you, she steals your shoe (or sometimes clothing) and takes it to her bed or to the yard, and lays with it for a while. But it’s cool if you take it back because there are always more things to find and keep for a little while.
10. It is always better to go.
The look of excitement and joy on Emma’s face when she gets to GO is a priceless reminder that leaving the house, getting outside, and adventuring is always the best option. It’s a bit of a downer when the journey turns out to be a trip to the vet, but she never loses hope because sometimes she ends up at the river or camping in the middle of nowhere.