I've been thinking a lot lately about love. About having it, about losing it, but mostly, about what it means.
If you frequent Toronto's Liberty Village, King West, or Trinity Bellwoods Park neighbourhoods, it's likely you may have seen me. I'm the woman who wheels her 78 lb. British bulldog around in a wagon. On our wagon rides, Hogatha and I are hard to miss.
People's reactions to us are varied. Some are shocked, some are perplexed, some are annoyed, and many are amused. But for those who stop to talk, the most frequent question I receive about our wagon rides is (understandably) why? Why are you wheeling a massive bulldog around in a plastic wagon?
The answer, although a longer explanation can be provided, is simple: I do it for love.
Our love story is unconventional but thoroughly modern. After moving to Washington, DC for graduate school, leaving behind friends, family and coming out of a four-year relationship, I decided to get a dog. And not unlike a lot of modern day romances, I found my companion online.
Like so many of the stories we hear about Internet profiles, Hogatha, at first glance, was not exactly what I was looking for. She was almost a year old (I wanted a puppy), she came with some bad habits (snoring, farting, sleeping on the bed), and she was a dark brindle in colour (I preferred fawn).
Yet, when we met, none of it mattered. One look in her soulful, brown eyes and I was hooked.
That was over 10 years ago, and Hog and I have been together ever since. She's been with me through multiple heartbreaks, multiple apartments, and multiple jobs. She's won over the hearts of my family, friends, friends' babies, and students.
Last year, after noticing the difficulty Hog had walking, I took her to the vet to find out she had severe arthritis in three out of four legs. In order to control the pain, Hogatha was put on a regimen of nine different medications every day, a shot every two weeks and laser treatment every four weeks to ease the stiffness in her joints. Though her health was in serious decline, she remained alert, and curious about the world around her (a bulldog-ish trait). I wanted to find a way to give this dog, this loyal companion whom I love dearly, a way to interact with the world even though she was no longer able to walk more than a few feet.
After a series of failed attempts (makeshift wheelchair, wooden wagon, adapted sleigh), a colleague mentioned she had a large plastic wagon (with seats that adjusted into a flatbed), that her daughter outgrew which I could try. And this simple act of generosity has allowed me to give and share love.
You might be asking what love has to do with all of this? With wagon rides and an ailing bulldog?
It's pretty obvious that my love for Hogatha was the catalyst behind my search to give her back something she loves, but during our walks/rides, I've noticed something more unusual, something special as it pertains to love: the love that I have for Hog in wheeling her around, and the love Hog has for being part of the world again, manifests multifold.
Indeed, most people just laugh when they see Hog in her wagon. But a lot of people smile brightly or yell words of encouragement from their cars. Couples out for coffee point Hog and I out to each other and then, in a moment of glee, squeeze hands a little more tightly. Parents with small children stop us, explaining how their son/daughter is recently "really into dogs" and Hog sits patiently in her wagon while the youngster clumsily pets her. Our rides are interrupted by other pet lovers who want to know our story and share theirs, and by senior citizens who seem lonely and want a few minutes to chat.
So we roll on, stopping frequently to spread the love.
That is what my old bulldog has taught me about love; that love is contagious. She has not only taught me that we will do wacky, strange, and potentially embarrassing things for those we love, but also that one act of love (while it may be silly) spreads love around in unexpected and amazing ways.
Last week the vet told us that Hogatha's medication wouldn't control her pain for too much longer, and that with newfound sensitivity in her abdomen, there is a possibility of bladder cancer. I know she is living on borrowed time. I know the day is near when I will have to take (or roll) her into the vet's one last time and say goodbye and I am heartbroken.
Yet this heartbreak is offset (if only a little) by each ride in which I love Hog, in which she loves the world, and in which everyone seems a little more light-hearted, a little more full of love in having seen her.
If you see us rolling around town, please, come by, say hello, and spread a little love.