A Remarkable Change

Lessons from a convert
By Michael Griffo, November 2008

I have lived a pet-free life. I’ve never had a dog, a cat, not even a goldfish. I grew up with friends who had dogs and considered them siblings. I’ve been forced to live with roommates who had pets they treated like children. I thought they were all insane. Until I met Stamford.


One day, my friend Jim called me, excited and out-of-breath, saying he just found a stray dog on the train tracks in Stamford, Connecticut. A red, long-haired Dachshund that he was going to name Stamford. How original. I mumbled congratulations; mentioned that a dog cramps one’s lifestyle; and promised, half-heartedly, to meet Stamford some time really, really soon.


When I could stall no longer, I met Jim’s stray. Something weird happened. Maybe it was the sight of this little creature piddle-paddling towards me, his tiny feet frantic to reach their destination. Maybe it was the way his tongue fell, lopsided, out of his mouth and bounced up and down. Or maybe it was the way he held his head with dignity, eyes alert and happy, long schnozz pointed slightly upward. I’m not sure. All I know is that when—as if sensing my caution—Stamford stopped a few inches from me, there was a pause.


No, I didn’t instantly become president of the ASPCA, but I felt myself strangely attracted to the little guy. I bent down to greet my new hairy, rectangular friend and found myself smiling, my heart growing not unlike the Grinch’s when he discovers the Whos’ secrets, and I knew my days as dog-curmudgeon were over. What I didn’t know was that such an insignificant meeting would change my life forever.


For the next several years, I was Stamford’s  “go to” dogsitter. The more time I spent with Stamford, the more I found this animal touched a part of my soul I never knew existed. The whole thing about man’s best friend, dog spelled backwards, unconditional love: understood. Dogspeak, the high-octave and slightly annoying tone of voice humans adopt when speaking with a dog: mastered. But there were other, more remarkable changes.


I started to see the world through Stamford’s eyes. Flowers had to be sniffed, children had to be greeted, grass had to be rolled in. His world was spontaneous and engaged, and mine had lost those wonderful qualities. He took the tautly wrapped package that was my life, shook it up and did what dogs do so well—he made me willingly think of someone other than myself.


I had to rush home during lunch to give Stamford his mid-day walk, I had to run home after work to feed him, I had to sit and rub his belly, I had to carry him when he just didn’t feel like walking any longer, I had to let him take a nap in my lap because that was his favorite place to nap. Quite soon these hads turned into wants, because there was always joy and laughter in Stamford’s presence. And sometimes a bit of adventure.


One night during a week-long dogsit, I returned from getting Chinese take-out and noticed a protrusion coming out of Stamford’s belly. Thinking it was a life-threatening stomach rupture, I panicked. A new, very intense feeling, but one that I didn’t run from. Instead, I wrapped Stamford in a towel, hailed a cab and took him to St. Vincent’s Hospital. Unfortunately, St. Vincent’s is a hospital for people.


While sobbing on the hospital steps after being unceremoniously tossed out of the waiting room, I noticed that Stamford’s protrusion was gone. St. Vincent had performed a miracle! Jim later explained that the protrusion was an erection and Stamford had been courting the living room pillows. Dogs, they just wanna have fun.


But I had crossed the line. The fear I felt when I thought Stamford was in pain was real. I wasn’t annoyed that I had to take care of some animal, I wasn’t aggravated that my peaceful evening was interrupted, I simply wanted to help my friend.


Stamford’s no longer with us, but I think of him every day, and I’m grateful that our paths intertwined. Even though I’ve never called a dog my pet, I’ve been forever changed by one. I’m kinder and more tranquil, though I still embrace my silly, mischievousness nature, and I find that I zoom in on a person’s emotions and react accordingly. I long for the day that my lifestyle will change and I’ll be able to have a dog of my own, but until then. I have the joyful memories of my time with Stamford. And joy, remembered or real, is comfort enough.


© 2007 Michael Griffo