Oreo playing with his tennis ball before I tossed it over the fence.. October 2014.

Dog owners go to great lengths to make their pups happy. Good dog owners, anyway. I’ve witnessed this over the years.

Oreo says "You'll do it for me, won't you?"
Oreo says “You’ll do it for me, won’t you?”

One particular person stands out in my memory as a perfect example. A former coworker of mine, Lyndsey, owned a dog that had three legs. It got in an accident as a puppy, so it grew up walking on a prosthetic. I met the dog late in its life, when Lyndsey would bring it to the outfitter where we worked. The dog’s health was failing, so she wanted to keep an eye on it. The boss let her. Dogs were allowed in the store anyway.

Lyndsey’s three-legged pet would lay on the carpeted floor, occasionally rising to greet visitors, who were often in awe of the dog’s fake leg. On breaks, Lyndsey would take the elderly canine companion for a walk in the local park and heat up its homemade meal — concoctions of vegetables, rice and meat that smelled delicious. Lyndsey was a vegetarian, but she cooked meat for her furry friend.

That dog lived a good life, and it was due to the care given by Lyndsey and her husband. They brought it on outdoor adventures in their canoe and kept it active despite its missing leg.

The number of dogs that are abused and abandoned in this world is startling and profoundly sad. In the United States alone, about 3.9 million dogs (and nearly as many cats) enter animal shelters every year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Yet there are some great pet owners out there. I see it every day.

Oreo playing with his tennis ball before I tossed it over the fence.. October 2014.
Oreo playing with his tennis ball before I tossed it over the fence.. October 2014.

I know several people whose dogs are more extensions of themselves than actual pets. I rarely see them without their dogs. They’ll go out of their way to shop and eat at places where their dog can join them. (Unfortunately, their choices are quite limited.)

So why is it that some people go to such lengths to make their dog happy? Love, I think, explains most of it. But there’s also a dog’s uncanny ability to make their owner feel guilty. One look from those puppy eyes and you feel outright crummy about ending that game of fetch early.

That brings me to what got me thinking about this topic in the first place. It was a rather embarrassing event, one that left me with a few scrapes and bruises — all in the name of love for my pup, Oreo.

We were playing in the backyard, throwing around Oreo’s slobbery tennis ball, when I misjudged the ball’s bounce potential, chucked it too hard, and it bounced over the fence into the neighbor’s backyard.

For a few moments, Oreo just stood there, staring at the fence. Then he looked at me. And if his face didn’t spell out his disappointment, he began to whine, imploring me to rectify the situation.

I searched the yard for another tennis ball, but came up empty handed. The only option was to sneak into the neighbor’s yard to retrieve beloved ball.

Sneak I did, frantically searching the neighbor’s bushes for the lost toy. Then I saw it — in the next yard, which was lined by a low-lying picket fence. Desperate to get the ball, I ran forward and jumped over the fence — or nearly. My foot caught on a picket and I “ate it.” (Urban dictionary definition of “eat it”: to completely fall on your face.)

Sprawled on the neighbor’s lawn, I realized I was being the opposite of stealthy. But I was finally in reach of my prize: the slobber-soaked tennis ball.

Looking around sheepishly, I saw a couple standing on the sidewalk nearby. Had they seen me? I stood up shakily, brushed grass off my scraped legs, snatched up the ball and fled.

Back in my own yard, I tossed Oreo the ball and went inside to search for what was left of my pride … or borrow some from my cats, Bo and Arrow. They have enough for the three of us.

Oreo wears his custom-made jacket by Dogn'i
Oreo wears his custom-made jacket by Dogn’i

The moral of this story is, if you make a fool of yourself for the sake of your pet, you’re probably on the right track. I’ve yet to live up to the wonderful example set by my former co-worker Lyndsey, but I find myself often thinking about my dog’s happiness and how I can improve it, whether its by recovering a prized toy; purchasing him custom-made fleece jackets in the winter to keep him warm and comfortable; or by letting him sit in the front passenger seat of my car instead of the back so he doesn’t get motion sickness. (It works, according to PetMD.)

The tricky part is balancing your desire to make your pets happy with doing what’s actually good and healthy for them. The two don’t always match up. But that discussion is for another time.

What ridiculous thing have you done for your dog lately in the name of love?

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...