Maisie is having a particularly bad hair day. She is in desperate need of a haircut, something to which I hadn’t given much thought, mostly because I am thoroughly charmed by her shaggy, disheveled ears. Most mornings, she looks a bit like a washed-up starlet, lazily lifting her head without actually moving the rest of her body or getting up, the fur on her ears sticking out this way and that, the ends growing longer and more scraggly with each day. I didn’t really think it was too much of a problem, until I chanced upon her mug shot from the shelter when she was still up for adoption. She definitely looked a little more clean-cut then. It made me start to wonder if hanging around a bunch of night-owl, whisky-drinking musicians was rubbing off on her and if perhaps we should be paying a little more attention to her grooming.
I used to say that Henry, my Navajo Reservation retriever-coyote mutt, was self-cleaning. It seemed that no matter how muddy and dirty he would get on our hikes, it all eventually dried and flaked off. The most he ever seemed to need was a good brushing, though I do recall giving him a bath a few times — but only after he had gleefully rolled in fresh cow dung patties dotting the dirt roads after a cattle drive through my tiny Colorado town. The idea of taking an animal to the groomer is entirely foreign to me. That is something you do when you have a fussy dog, a prissy dog. And even though Maisie is little and sometimes functions quite well as a lap dog, she is anything but prissy or fussy.
Still, the day I start to notice that her long, scraggly ears are beginning to resemble dreadlocks, the fur clumping and matting, I consider out loud to my husband whether we shouldn’t bring her to the groomer. My husband is completely opposed to the idea. He likes her disheveled look. I go back and look at more pictures of her from her early days with us and decide, yes, she definitely needs a haircut and could also probably use a bath. (We have given her two baths, given her proclivity to roll delightedly in less-than-fragrant patches in the grass, but it is not something any of us — my husband, Maisie, or me — particularly enjoy. We at least get a laugh during the process. She just looks sullen and seriously pissed off.) I get a recommendation from one of my friends who is a fan of regular dog grooming and set up an appointment.
The morning of her appointment, my husband keeps teasing her, telling her in a sing-song voice that she’s going to the beauty parlor. He envisions her sitting under one of those old-school bonnet hair dryers, waiting patiently for her fur to dry, flipping through the latest edition of The Bark. When I snap on her leash and take her to the car, I’m sure she is convinced we are heading to the dog park. It feels like a cruel bit of bait and switch when we pull into the parking space in town and she realizes we are nowhere near the dog park.
This grooming appointment is a little out of my comfort zone but I am reassured that I am in the right place when I see a little print that says “Rescued is my favorite breed.” I talk to the groomer about what she needs done. When I leave, Maisie watches me from a perfect sit, the end of her leash now in the groomer’s hand. Her head is cocked to one side and she has a look of curiosity and mild consternation in her eyes. But I trust she is in good hands and tell her I will pick her up in a little while. As I walk out the door, I realize I have all sorts of expectations of how perfect she is going to look, her little ears neatened up to the right combination of spunky and cute and trim and neat, and how excited I am to see her all cleaned up, her white fur soft and fragrant, those disheveled ears tamed.
Reality, of course is always a little different from our expectations, but still, I’m a little surprised when I pick her up. She is clean, so very clean, and her fur is soft and silky and lovely, with just the hint of a sweet fragrance. And she seems not even remotely traumatized by the event. But her ears! Gone entirely is any hint of her wild woman shagginess. Her ears have been trimmed, trimmed, trimmed, and I am a little stunned. The groomer explains to me that she couldn’t really trim the long bits without trimming the rest of it down because of how odd it would look and I’m sure she is right. She really was kind of a mess when I brought her in. Maisie is still completely adorable and her ears are still deliciously soft, but she looks so different than she did when I dropped her off, like maybe what she would look like if there was a military for dogs. Of course, I manage to feel very guilty about this fact.
In the car on the way home, I keep reassuring her that her fur will grow back. I’m worried about my husband’s reaction, since he wanted to just leave her shaggy ears be, and when I bring her in, I apologize to him and again to her. She runs to him and he picks her up and tells her how soft she is and how good she smells and how pretty she looks. He tells me to stop apologizing to her because she doesn’t care what her ears look like and it’s all fine.
This vague feeling of disappointment, of expectations not matching reality, seems to just be a part of living, a part of being human. When we live in the future, with our expectations or possibly our fears, or when we live in the past with our regrets or with wistful longing for what once was, we’re missing all the amazing moments in the here and now. Maisie did not wake up the morning of her grooming appointment with all sorts of visions of how fabulous she was going to look afterwards. She just thought we were going to the dog park. I’m sure she was just a little curious as to why she was being dropped off at a strange place to be cleaned and brushed and primped and, yes, to have her messy ears tidied up. But once it was over and we were back home, she was just Maisie again, wanting to play, wanting to go for walks, wanting treats, and when those things didn’t happen, or after they were over, sleeping on her bed by the wood stove.
Now, when I look at Maisie’s crew-cut ears, I can see all the colors of her fur, the caramel and the ebony and the copper and the myriad shades of brown. I did not notice these colors when her fur was long and shaggy. The short fur is absurdly silky, something else I didn’t really notice. But mostly I notice how she does not care one whit about what her ears look like, that she is still my somewhat crazy, slightly wild, beautifully rambunctious, incredibly sweet little dog. Eventually her fur is going to get to the perfect length, with just the right amount of shaggy and tame to frame her face. But just as surely, her ears will eventually be unruly again, and most likely I will find myself wanting them to get at least a little cleaned up. In the end, though, the only thing that really matters is the understanding that everything is temporary, that absolutely nothing is permanent or static, and that our very best bet is just to stay present for what is. So I’m going to rub those clean-cut ears and luxuriate in their silkiness, at least until the time when I can celebrate the bedraggled mess they become and we can stay up until the wee hours like the rock stars we are.
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Dear readers, are you the type of pet owner who keeps regular appointments with the groomer, or are you like me, waiting until things get a little desperate? Do you hold out expectations for what your pet will look like after their appointment or could you care less about the grooming world? I always love to hear from you, so feel free to use the comment section below!
P.S. I should be clear, too, that the groomer did tell me it was perfectly fine to leave her shaggy ears as they were. Having her trim them was my decision entirely. So, here is what she looks like now, complete with surly expression: