During the year-end US holidays, I enthusiastically use the excuse to enjoy some of my favorite foods. Cooking with or for loved ones delights me. The delicately soft leaves and woodsy scent of sage make me happy when I can be here now to enjoy the present moment. It’s also more challenging to be fully present in the midst of intricate future planning, additional deadlines, and pricey annual renewals draining drier the usual expenses of money, time, and attention. And that’s when this very human dog lover can make a big enough mistake to dent the relationship with her dog.

My crash occurred at the corner of sweet potato pie and counter surfing foster dog. You may be familiar with this story starring your own dog, so you already know how it goes. If you are also a recovering control freak, you really know how it goes.drooling dog

There’s something to be loved about every dog, no matter the breed or personality, but dogs I prefer to live with all day every day are of a certain type. One of my foster dogs is of an entirely different type. Despite not having the resources to add another dog with serious behavior issues, I took her in because she would soon be homeless and everyone else said no. (She is hardly the first dog I’ve taken in under these circumstances, but she is the last.) Boy, have I learned a lot from her!

This medium sized, lanky dog has shown how vicious she can be to my smaller dogs when food is or has been nearby. She is not allowed in the kitchen except to pass to and from the backyard and I frequently check on the status of the dogs outside the kitchen fence when I cook. (Yes, my kitchen has a metal dog fence installed across the wide opening. So chic.)

She was sleeping peacefully while the steamy sweet potatoes were peeled. She merely cocked an ear at the whirring blades processing the ginger snaps. It was the heady scent of extra spices blending with warm, sweet milk that brought her to the open gate, slyly reaching one paw across the kitchen tile. I motioned for her to back away and she complied. What a lovely girl. We’ll get along just fine like this.

The pie cooled in its glass plate in a known unreachable location on the far back of the stove top as she stared longingly at it. No other dog was remotely interested. I sent her out of the kitchen and she settled in her spot. What a darling. Everything was under control.

I went to my office to catch up on email while surrounded by the other dogs snuggled into blankets on dog beds. The foster girl is also not allowed in my small office at the same time as I am there with other dogs. She was still in her living room spot, sweet girl.

I had been waiting over a week for an email to show me that I hadn’t been abandoned with all the consequences of caring for this foster dog but without much support. No such assurance had been sent. Anger sparked and flamed because that fire feels better than the chill of dismissal. Then I began to create fears for the future of this dog and the future of my dogs living with her much longer. I was swinging at ghosts in a fear-drenched world that didn’t even exist.

That’s when I heard the scraping sound.

I raced to the kitchen to find that the lanky foster dog had somehow managed to reach and destroy part of the pie. I was so angry I yelled at her. I sent her out and yelled at her some more. I bashed myself for stupidly weighing myself down with more burdens than I can handle so others can be relieved of them. And on and on. Fear. Anger. Anger. Fear. I was somewhere, but I sure wasn’t there. In the real moment. With the real living being in the present, here.

This is what happened in the real present that I totally missed. Determined and clever foster girl managed to stand on the tips of her back toes on the slickly rounded edge of the Kuranda dog bed in the kitchen, somehow without making it slide back across the smooth tile, and stretch every available millimeter of her body — diagonally — to reach the edge of the pie with her longest nail. With that one nail, she had flipped little pieces of filling across to the counter where she scored a total of one small bite of pie. Now that’s resourcefulness. She may be my type, after all.

Had I been truly there, I would have thought her shenanigan as hilarious as I do now and would have fought not to laugh. Instead, I was somewhere else and hurt both of us. I made the story in my head her fault, even though it has nothing to do with the actual, living, breathing, very sensitive dog. A dog who is just gonna be a dog. A dog who has incredible balance and can’t resist sweet potato pie.

Today I took out the leftover pie to have with coffee. She left plenty more pie than I need to be eating. She was on her favorite bed in another room. I cut out a piece of filling and held it behind my back. I called her to the fence and asked for a sit, which she swiftly gave. When I handed her the sweet potato filling, her tulip ears sprang up to the sky as high as they can go. She glued her butt to the floor and searched my face. I cut out another piece and handed it over.

She’s right. The pie is irresistibly delicious.

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