Finding Ethel: Part 3, Lots of Laughs

IMG_20150602_1152151A service dog grows to become a companion unmatched in a person’s life. Ethel is quickly growing to be utterly invaluable in my chaotic day to day. Our relationship continues to shape into a bridge between us that I didn’t know I could cross. Communication is the key to any real partnership, every relationship book will scold. What I didn’t know was exactly how much little Miss Ethel could actually communicate to me.


I was quite unprepared the first time I heard Ethel talk to me. She stood and stretched and as she yawned, she yelled out a cross between groan and high pitched grumble. I turned around to stare at her, utterly amazed, to which she groaned loudly and flopped back to the ground. We had been together three weeks and I had no idea that not only did I have an incredible service dog, but she could also actually talk. Wasn’t a talking dog a dream I had as a kid?


Now, she talks to me all day long. Since Ethel is convinced I am unreservedly incapable of going to the bathroom by myself, every time Ethel has to rise from a nap she expressed her opinion to me. When she’s especially comfortable on her bed, she’ll let out a deep rumble of appreciation. When I’m boring her to death with working at my desk, she’ll let out harrumphs of tedium.


“Okay girlie, I’m almost done”

Uuurrmmm grrummmm

“We’ll eat soon. Why don’t we find your bone?”

*Yawn* Yeeeaaaaaaammurrr ggrmmmm

“Ok, sounds good.”


And I talk back to her, telling her that no you can’t eat the frog we just found (she had picked a frog up in her mouth, hastily spit him out and made jerky shakes of her head to get rid of the taste. I had screamed.) or asking for her opinion on the shirt I’m wearing or whether or not she thinks we should go see the new Melissa McCarthy movie (we did and it was awesome). And to everything I share, she has a groan, rumble, grumble, yawn or the Great Dane version of an eye roll (where she lays her head down while looking up at me and sighs) in reply. I knew the connection between animal and human is a love like no other, but I didn’t know that connection could grow by talking.


And through our conversations, I’ve gotten to know some of the quirks and -isms of Ethel that make her so unique. Have you ever seen an animal as big as a Great Dane have the hiccups? Yes God, I’ll go ahead and die laughing. I once went through Starbucks on our way home from St. Louis and ordered her a puppychino, which is just a cup of their whipped cream. It’s a delicious treat and Ethel had been working all day with me at the physical rehabilitation center. She practically sucked the cream down and then promptly ripped apart the cup to get the last bottom lick. Now, though, every time I go through a drive-thru, she tries to stick her head through the drive side window from behind me and will usually scare the unsuspecting high schooler working. I’ve had a few meals dropped from this:


“Hi, your total is 5.4twent-YAH! That’s a HUGE DOG!”IMG_20150617_183613


Ethel generally doesn’t have an opinion about any one person that we meet, she’ll treat them as indifferently as anyone else. She’ll sniff them, maybe stand to let them pet her or rub her back, then walk away and not want to interact with them again. And then there’s Dusty.


The first time she met Dusty, she and I had just been introduced and were “locked down” in the guest room for our first day together, which you can read about here. We had spent almost six hours getting to know each other when Dusty was allowed to return to the cabin and meet her. When he walked through the door, she jumped up on the couch and sat her butt on my lap to face the door. She gave a low growl, which I corrected, and resentfully let Dusty give me a kiss. By instruction, he ignored her for the first week while we trained and it was only after leaving the farm did they begin to interact.

And it didn’t go well.

Over a weekend we’d be going about our day like the typical married couple that we are. Dusty would lean over to give me a kiss or I’d lean on him on the couch and Ethel did not like this one bit. Every time Dusty and I would interact, Ethel would try to insert herself in front of my chair and block him. If he’d leave the room and then return, she’d stay lying on the floor by my chair but would give a low growl if he approached. And oh boy, if she ever thought Dusty was trying to make a move on me, I’d get a butt full of Ethel on my lap and Dusty would be dog-blocked.

Suffice to say, she can get a little jealous.

Both Kati and Meg assure me that this is a good sign of Ethel’s and my relationship. I continue to correct these growlings and Dusty comes home with treats in his pocket for their greeting. I tell Ethel all the time what a great guy Dusty is, but what can I do? Ethel’s made up her mind that I’m her person and no one else can claim me. How can I explain that I was the one to claim him years ago?


Photo credit: Braun Photography
Photo credit: Braun Photography

On an earlier post, I wrote about how Dusty and I met at camp and how we’d continue to write each other letters for years later. However, there’s only so much time that can pass before two people want to know where their friendship is headed. This is where we went:


He had wiped his wet hands on his pants. Again. He had flipped open his phone to check the time. Again. All around him the crowd was gathering at the terminal, awaiting the passengers to deload and meet them at the gate. He never saw any of them, but instead absentmindedly strummed a few chords on the guitar he’d been carrying around for the last few hours. “You sure she’s coming tonight, son?” the old man across the bench asked. He, like Dusty, had been here long before the rest of the crowd waiting for this plane to arrive. “I guess we’ll just see,” Dusty answered and flashed him a smile.


His fingers strummed along with the thoughts in his head as he put down the guitar and paced the terminal. My flight was late, coming from Boston where I’d been for a college visit He recalled the conversations he’d had with his roommates over the week I was gone; they’d been forced to listen to the song he was writing over and over again as he painfully worked through revisions. But it was finished.. and ready to finally ask me what he told me he’d wanted to ask years ago.


And then suddenly the conversations in the crowd grew into shouts of greeting as the other passengers from my flight met their loved ones. And suddenly, I saw him. My younger brother was supposed to be picking me up that night, what was Dusty doing here?


I saw him before he saw me and when he turned and caught my eye, his face broke out into a smile at my perplexed expression. I neared and he jogged to me. As he got closer, I could see what I thought was just shine on his face from the lights overhead was actually a sheen of sweat. His shirt had a faint hint of underarm sweat marks and I saw a bead roll down from his temple. “Hi!” he said brightly and before I could say anything in return, he enveloped me into a hug.


This was the first I had felt his arms around me as his girlfriend, the first touch we’d shared for over a year. The nights I had wondered what his chest would feel like pressed into mine flashed through my thoughts we lingered there, lost in this embrace. This first touch, this first time allowing ourselves to express our feelings towards each other in a physical way, was like had the same rush and delight that jumping into a pool on a hot summer day brings. It was purely delicious.


Photo credit: Braun Photography
Photo credit: Braun Photography

“I wanted to surprise you,” he murmured into my ear. His voice was husky and rich and I felt myself sigh even deeper into his shoulder. “Wait. One second,” he broke our hug and took my bags that I had forgotten I was still carrying. He turned around and I noticed that much of the crowd was still there, watching us. What was going on?


When Dusty turned back around, he had his guitar in his hands and before I could say anything, he strummed a few cords and in a soft, low voice, began to sing.


“Right about 26 months ago

Cute lifeguard atop her chateau

Bushy haired mower boy

Wind in his hair like a free cowboy

Couple of shots

A few starry thoughts

A fistfull of flour

Started something sour

A frozen pair of boxer shorts

Started a world of sorts

But it all comes down to this…desire…for a princess..


I felt myself tearing up. This song was about us. This song was us; the inside joke we shared of how I stole and froze a pair of his boxers as a prank and had the camp of 10 year olds sing happy birthday to him when I presented the iced yellow surfboard printed boxers to him over breakfast. The food fight with kitchen scraps we had where I took a mouthful of flour and promptly vomited on his shoes. The shots of Gatorade we’d take at night to rehydrate as we stayed up until morning laughing. He had written us a song .Our song.

“Sitting alone where I first found you

Sitting in the silence my thoughts they are few

Lying here on the green shag

I reach for the ashtray, take another drag”

I almost giggled into my tears. Dusty didn’t smoke but he had always loved the cowboy image and talked about wanting his own pair of boots and spurs. I imagine he was thinking of this cowboy version of himself in his song. The image of the aged green shag carpet in the camp guest house flashed through my mind and I saw us sprawled on the carpet talking into the night. The crowd had become a silent as an airport can be, people swaying back in forth in the arms of their own loved ones as they watched us. Two kids, about 7 years old, spun around in circles to his tempo. I felt tears begin to silently stream down my face.

“So much time has passed

Still my feelings they are steadfast

Now I must take my stand

… And reach for my fair lady’s hand”

And with that last lyric, he held the cord and stopped, his hand raised out to me. As the crowd waited with baited breath, I took his hand into both of my own and came into his arms to kiss him. My stomach cut into his guitar between us, but all I felt was the softness of his lips. My ears roared as my blood pounded as he moved his hand to my waist to hold me as tight as I always wanted him to hold me. For two years, every day at camp, every phone call, every letter, I wanted his arms around me and for him to feel every wave of how I loved him with a kiss. I melted and forgot about every other part of life as I told Dusty everything I felt and had always felt for him in this kiss, wanting to never let go. I told him how I was an idiot for not seeing how I felt about him sooner in that kiss. I told him how I loved that he wanted to go into the Army and that it scared me, but I wanted to join him for the journey through that kiss. I told him I chose him, I wanted nothing but him in that one, first kiss. I felt him move his hand to hold my cheek. The crowd cheered, but neither of us heard.10


I am Ethel’s person but we’ll come to an agreement someday where she’ll understand that Dusty is mine.

Luna Cave, St. Roberts, Missouri
Luna Cave, St. Roberts, Missouri


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  1. Just LOVE your blogs. It like a good show that only comes on every so often . But, it always continues from the last show. You can’t wait for the next one, but, you don’t want to rush them. Because you don’t want it to ever end!

  2. Julia:
    I love reading your story’s. It is so very nice to see pictures that you put in along with your story so very glad that you have Ethel. You are such an amazing person sorry I did not get a chance to meet you at the farm. Please keep writing your story I look so forward to read them.

  3. That was beautiful, Julia….I felt like I was in the croud at the airport, watching you and Dusty embrace and kiss….you have your own song and it will be yours, forever. And, Miss Ethel will embrace Dusty one day, too….she knows that you are a family….<3 <3 <3

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