My dog is my zen master

This is the first of a series of pieces I’m calling: Lessons from Nova

Sometimes I see bumper stickers on other people’s cars. They’re shaped like a bone and say something like “who rescued who?”


We don’t ask that question in my house. We know exactly who rescued whom (and just in case you’re not sure: we rescued the dog).

I remember the first time I saw Nova. I was perusing the profiles of adoptable dogs at our local humane shelter. On Nova’s profile – her name was Nora –  it said that she had been returned to the shelter by other families twice. Because she was so high energy – she kept jumping in the water with one family and had major energy control issues with another. I could read between the lines: crazy dog.

I remember thinking, “that dog looks like trouble,” and moving on.

I found the perfect dog for us. A seven-year-old collie whose owner had moved to an assisted living facility and had to give her up. That would be our dog. We drove to the dog shelter to meet her.


When we got there, we were told that someone else had already adopted her.

Of course they had. It was a perfect dog.

Since we’d already made the drive, we figured we’d meet the dogs in person, and see if we found the friend we were looking for.

We got to ‘Nora,’ she was sitting quietly licking the fencing on her cage and looking up at us calmly while all the other dogs barked and jumped in their pens. Her eyes looked at us in the sweet and longing way I’ve come to know. It was as though she were saying, “I know I’ve been bad, but I could be a good dog if I had a chance.”

Daniel reached between the bars of her crate and scratched her floppy black ears. Nora stayed still, but her long black tail started beating the side of her cage enthusiastically. She licked the bars.

He said, “She seems nice.”

I remembered the description, “I don’t think we want that one. She’s trouble.”

“She doesn’t look any worse than the other dogs.” He was right. In the room full of large, barking dogs jumping at us as we walked by, this 50 pound border collie/Alaskan husky mix seemed chill and docile.

We asked the staff if we could see her, and the took her out to the dog run to meet us. She came up to us and immediately did “shake.” She knew how to play fetch. She was rolled over on her belly so we could rub it. She was affectionate. She was playful. She didn’t bark at all, but there was a lot of licking.

Maybe the description was wrong. Could anyone really expect a one-year old dog to be crated all day and then be calm at the end of the day? And, what puppy doesn’t love the water?

We asked about adopting her: “Great news! Nova is on special this week, it will only be $50 to adopt her.” She was spayed, microchipped and up to date on all her shots.

“Okay,” we said, “we’ll take her.”


This is the beginning of our story with Nova. It’s been nine years, and I wonder, knowing all that has happened with this dog. If I had known how true the description was – that she would eat the upholstery off our couch, that she could climb fences, escape from her locked crate like a Houdini dog, and that when the description of he said, “Cats — no” what they meant was “Cats = turn your dog into a lunatic” – would I still have brought this dog into my home and life?

Part of me believes that life sends us messengers to teach us the lessons we need for a certain moment or season in our life. If we are open and receptive, we’ll get the lesson the first time. If not, life will send another, often louder, messenger. If you don’t listen, the voice of life will just get louder and louder until you get the idea.

And part of me thinks Nova is a crazy dog. And since she is my crazy dog, I’m going to give her the best life that is possible for her.

For now, I want to take my Lessons from Nova as they have come, and the first one is useful.

  1. Sometimes, we need to change the words we use to describe things.
  2. The first thing we did was change Nova’s name from Nora to Nova. She didn’t seem to know her name, and life as “Nora” didn’t seem to be going very well for her, so with her fresh start we gave her a name that literally means “new.” Nova also reminds me of a star – you know a super high energy star that is exploding. That’s Nova.
  3. By changing what we call something, we can often let go of the baggage we bring to it.

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