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Dr. Dog, Marriage Maven

I was in no hurry to disrupt our lives with a dog, but Casey proved to be just what we needed to repair our marriage

By Rona Maynard

It's not that I didn't love my husband, just that I hadn't been liking him much. And I could tell from his distracted expression that he felt the same way about me.

Not a day passed without muttered complaints about trifles (the volume of his Arsenal soccer game, the way I perched the lid on the mayonnaise jar). Paul could still make me laugh like nobody else, but how long had it been since we held hands across the dining room table?

A dog leaning out of a car window. Next Avenue
Casey on a road trip  |  Credit: Rona Maynard

We'd survived worse in the past four decades. At 22, I tried to leave but couldn't stay gone. Our problem wasn't incompatibility but the struggle to raise a toddler with no plans or money. We started over, thinking we had cracked the riddle of our marriage — as if any couple ever does.

Paul and I had started over quite a few times when the end of two demanding careers pitched us into the formlessness of working at home.

Just when you couldn't be happier to have chosen your mate, the next life transition knocks you out of your groove. Standing up to a parent, mourning that parent. Buying, then selling the home of your dreams. Sending a child into the world.

Paul and I had started over quite a few times when the end of two demanding careers pitched us into the formlessness of working at home, without any colleagues to stir things up. No wonder we annoyed each other.

A Plan is Proposed

One night at dinner, I announced my plan: "Let's go back to counseling." I could already see us in Annette's basement office where we sat like school kids as the teacher posed her questions. My favorite, why we fell in love, got the two of us laughing.

By directing our attention to what we cherished in each other instead of what pushed our buttons, Annette returned us to ourselves. She once told us, "It's a miracle that you found each other."

I thought Paul would say, "Book us in." He didn't.

A few dinners later, he proposed his own plan. He took my hand across the table and said, "Let's get a dog."

We needed a coach to bring us together, not a burden to pull us apart.

A dog. At our stage. Decades had passed since our son was around to play fetch. On top of the obvious drawbacks to this plan — shedding, vet bills, the trips we couldn't take with a dog — there would be fights over whose turn it was to walk the beast. We needed a coach to bring us together, not a burden to pull us apart.

"You won't do a minute more than your share," Paul said. "It'll be fun." I grew up in a household that couldn't see the point of fun. My sister and I learned early that fun would distract us from our purpose, aspiring and achieving. Despite years of therapy from people with diplomas on their walls, I still believed fun didn't solve any problems.

But Paul really wanted this dog; his face shone at the thought. How badly did I want another round with Annette? Nowhere near enough to disappoint my husband. I swallowed hard and said yes to his plan.


A Happy-Go-Lucky Beagle Mix

I was in no hurry to disrupt our home with a dog — not that there were many dogs who ticked all our boxes. Living in an eighth-floor condo, we couldn't train a puppy. Every dog on offer at the rescue sites needed either a backyard or experienced owners who could handle complications (health conditions, a history of abuse).

We finally found a happy-go-lucky beagle mix with a torn right ear. He had received his basic training in a men's prison, home to one of many programs that pair castoff dogs with castoff humans who prepare them for adoption. Well loved by a prisoner who didn't get to keep him, he came to us ready to pass on the gift.

Casey's love made my husband more lovable to me.

We named him Casey. His first act in our place was to pee on a taffeta chair. Surprisingly, I didn't mind. I had nagged Paul about pen marks on the furniture, but I felt for Casey. His claws tap-tapped on the floorboards as he sniffed every corner of his new home.

Then he got on with choosing his favorite human: Paul. I'm not one to roll around on the couch with a dog who can't get enough belly-rubbing, but Paul kept at it until Casey's eyes rolled back in his head and all four legs quivered with excitement. "Aw, Casey! Aw, Casey!" bellowed my husband.

En route to Casey's foster home, he had been cursing inattentive drivers. The free spirit on the couch was another Paul. All because he loved Casey, who loved him back without reservation.

Casey's love made my husband more lovable to me. Our miracle became real again. And I couldn't help but love the mutt who made it happen.

Dogs give unconditional love, says every dog person I know. True, but they're overlooking something: the love dogs release in their humans. As Casey settled in with us, we softened toward each other.

Paul and I were reprising an old argument — who gets dibs on our small galley kitchen if I want lunch and he's ready for breakfast — when Casey sauntered up to the counter, waiting for cheese to fall. Drool puddled on the floor and nearly sent me flying. I yelled; Casey flinched. "Sorry, Casey," I said, laughing. What do dogs know or care about apologies?

Casey's Point of View

Paul and I know that "sorry" means admitting you are wrong. We are both so intent on being right that we have always resisted "sorry." Inspired by the drool incident, I looked at our kitchen standoffs from my husband's point of view. Perhaps his first meal of the day might take precedence over my second. I began to ask about his lunch plans before starting my omelet. Annette could have steered me to the same realization, but without any laughs along the way. Casey was fun. And I didn't do a minute more walking than my share.

Casey snoozed in the back seat, lifting his head when he heard his name. His presence knocked the rough edges off the day.

When we consulted Annette, we were too preoccupied with working and paying down the mortgage to bring a dog into our family. By the time Casey arrived, we were ready to shake up our routines and could afford vet bills when he scarfed down something rotten. Neither of us relished walks in foul weather, but taking care of Casey encouraged us to take better care of each other. His unjudging happiness makes us happier — as individuals and as a couple.

As I predicted, we've had to modify our travel habits. Between the cost of boarding and our own reluctance to leave Casey for weeks at a stretch, we don't tool around Europe much anymore. But all three of us are keen road trippers. On one adventure, we moseyed from our home in Toronto to L.A. by way of El Paso. We were crossing West Texas — mile upon mile of barbed wire and oil derricks —when it struck me that marriage is a cross-country road trip, with a lot of nothing between beauty spots.

Casey snoozed in the back seat, lifting his head when he heard his name. His presence knocked the rough edges off the day.  He could think of nowhere better to be than exactly where he was, in the constant company of his humans. I reached for Paul's hand. This was the life.

Rona Maynard
Rona Maynard Rona Maynard is the author of Starter Dog: My Path to Joy, Belonging and Loving This World and a former editor-in-chief of Chatelaine, Canada's premier magazine for women. Read More
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