The author's dog, Casey. Photo: Heather Pollock
In ‘Starter Dog,’ Rona Maynard Relates How Casey the Rescue Mutt Changed her Life
In an excerpt from her new book, the Zoomer contributor is taken aback when the new pup immediately bonds with her husband / BY Antonia Whyatt / April 21st, 2023
In Starter Dog, Rona Maynard’s love for her rescue mutt, Casey, is so visceral, you find yourself wanting to pet the pillow as you read it. Initially resistant to the limits that dog ownership will place on her hard-earned freedom, Maynard discovers what she calls “joyful responsibility.” Through caring for Casey, she and her husband Paul Jones find a sense of purpose that doesn’t have all of the emotional anxiety that came with raising their son, Ben. What’s more, the unconditional love transforms them both, with Maynard’s friends remarking on how she has a youthful joy about her, and her husband’s doctor praising his improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The crux of Maynard’s book is her discovery, through her dog, of what it is to be human – a fundamental need to love and be loved. In this excerpt from the book, the long-time Zoomer contributor and former editor of Chatelaine describes how Casey cracked her heart open, and then promptly bonded with her husband.
The last time I touched a living creature with such devotional attention, I was powdering my newborn. He looked terrifyingly fragile, his outsize head a crushable blossom on a stalk of neck that would snap if I didn’t watch out. At 22, I knew nothing about babies and never dreamed of having one so young. I felt unequal to the challenge ahead. Most important thing I’d ever do, according to everyone over 30. Compared to a newborn, Casey looked indestructible.
The phone rang: my sister Joyce, from California. She’d just found the photos on Facebook. “I’ve never seen that expression on your face before. You look cracked open.” Joyce had known my face all her life, more than 60 years. She’d seen me withering, vengeful, conspiratorial and bored. Now and then, open to amusement with my kid sister. My expression was a marker of her standing in the world, so she monitored every nuance. That first day with Casey, I did look cracked open, and at least a decade younger.
As a teenager looking for love, I never guessed a dog would be the first coup de foudre of my life. With Paul I had asked, “Can I trust him?” With Ben, “Can I trust myself?” With Casey I held nothing back.
Many people can’t resist a newborn’s photo on Facebook. Even more can’t resist a new dog’s. My page lit up with good wishes. Lucky boy, lucky you, he’s a beauty. Where did all these people come from? A long-lost friend volunteered to dog-sit; near-strangers cheered us on with photos of their own dogs. Word was out: A rescue mutt has landed at Rona’s. Come one, come all.
I thought we were done with family-making. My photos told the truth: he was reconfiguring us as only a new family member can. Anyone could tell who Paul was to Casey—best pal and roughhousing partner. When Paul rubbed his belly, Casey’s eyes rolled back in his head, his jaw dropped open and his whole body writhed in ecstasy. “Aw, Casey! Aw, Casey! What a guy!”
I hadn’t heard that bellow since our son was a toddler, rolling and shrieking in his father’s arms. Now I had two guys again, only this time one had four legs to wave in the air. I felt a bit like a hanger-on at a sports bar, mystified by a play that has everyone cheering. Casey and Paul had already discovered who they were to each other—the guys. Casey and I had not.
When Paul stepped out for a coffee, Casey whimpered at the door and prostrated himself there with a sigh audible across the room. When I took the garbage out, he didn’t lift his head. In his world there was the Chosen One (Paul) and the Other One (me). Friends with dogs had told us this might happen. The Other One, they advised, should take charge of the food, the best way they’d found to narrow the affection gap. I had the power to set Casey dancing with joy, but only if I rattled his kibble can. Would I have no other role in his life? I found this mildly deflating, but I couldn’t be jealous. After almost 45 years, I didn’t think my husband could surprise me, but he had. All because of this fine dog we’d found.
Excerpted and adapted from Starter Dog: My Path to Joy, Belonging and Loving This World by Rona Maynard. © 2023 by Rona Maynard. All rights reserved. Published by ECW Press Ltd. www.ecwpress.com