The Broken Leash

What my dog taught me about control (or lack thereof)

The other morning I woke early—before the sun was up—and my mind, as it usually does, immediately turned on. I opened my eyes and looked to my left, and there was my dog Oliver, chin resting on the edge of the mattress, tail wagging, giving me his “come play with me” expression.

“Okay, okay,” I whispered to him, and I patted his head as I rolled out of the bed.

If you know anything about me, you know I’m a dog person. Not just a “oh that dog is cute” type of person, but the “ohmygoshIloveyousomuchcomekissmyface” type of dog person.

Perhaps it’s because I was allergic to them when I was little, so I could never have my own dog. Pet dander made me sneeze, but I didn’t care; I’d rather be sniffly all day long and have a dog than be without one. My parents thought otherwise and bought me a hermit crab for a pet. I named him Joseph. He didn’t cuddle.

So when I finally grew out of my asthma, the first thing I did was get a dog. I hadn’t even finished college yet, but I didn’t care. I hid that puppy in my apartment, took him to my art classes, and snuck him into my friends’ dorm rooms. Because going through the trouble of sneaking around a dog in on-campus housing that didn’t allow animals was better than having no dog at all. I loved that first dog like he was my child, and when he passed away a few years ago, it crushed me.

Now, though, I have Oliver. And Oliver is me in dog form. He’s anxious, cuddly, insecure, goofy, smart, unpredictable, and has an energy tank that never seems to run out. He needs constant loving and attention but also wants you to leave him alone when he’s tired. He’s extremely wary of strangers, but once he knows you, he loves you with every ounce of his being. He never lets me out of his sight, and I love him for loving me so hard.

So that morning as the sun began to rise over Folly Beach, I clipped on his leash and we were off, screen door slapping behind us. The sky was grey and a light rain was beginning to fall. The weather, coupled with the fact that it was so early, meant hardly anyone was on the beach.

Oliver was pulling on the leash, trying to get to the ocean as fast as he could. He turned around to look at me, and I thought, Just this once, let him feel the freedom. I looked down at Oliver and said, “Wanna run?”

I unclipped his leash. I waited for him to dash off. Instead, though, he just stood there looking up at me.

“What are you waiting for?” I said. “Go! Run! Now’s your chance!”

He answered me with a nervous turn of his head, followed by a whimper.

So I did what every crazy dog-loving lady would do: I took off running and jumping into the waves (fully clothed), and then Oliver followed excitedly. We spent the next 30 minutes running in and out of the waves, coming back on the beach, shaking off the water, and then doing it all over again. It was the happiest I had ever seen that dog.

Soon, though, the sky cleared and people began walking onto the beach. I picked up Oliver’s leash and clipped it on him, and we began to walk toward the beach access. As we walked, I watched all of the people eagerly setting up their umbrellas and tents, ready to stake their spots for the day. Oh! And there was a cute dog, running around on the beach! In fact … he looked similar to Oliver.

Wait. That was Oliver.

I looked down at the leash, which I had been pulling absentmindedly while looking around. How did he … And then I saw it. The metal clasp on the leash had broken, and Oliver was running around like a freed man.

“Oliver!” I called. He turned around, looked at me, and then ran toward me. Except, right when he was about to approach me, he did a 180 and dashed off again.

Uh oh.

I ran after him. That made him run faster. I stopped and clapped. He turned, looked at me, and put his front legs down on the ground and his hind quarters up in the air, ready to pounce.

We went on like this for the next 15 minutes or so until finally, I tricked him by holding a stick, and he got close enough for me to grab him. My panic subsided.

I laughed to myself as we walked home (with a broken leash tied in a knot to his collar). When I first took the leash off of Oliver, I was pushing him to run. In fact, I was frustrated because he wasn’t embracing the situation. But then later, when he got off his leash on his own accord, I panicked. It was essentially the exact same situation, but I viewed it in two completely different ways because one felt in my control, and the other was not.

That’s when it dawned on me: I was never actually in control. Oliver could have run down that beach at any point that morning. Or the rain could have begun to pour, and we would have been stuck in a storm. Or the Folly Beach police could have ridden by in one of their tractors and given me a ticket for letting Oliver off his leash. Nothing was actually in my control.

Control is an illusion. As much as my Type A perfectionist self likes to feel in control, the reality is that I’m not. I can do everything in my power to make a client happy, but I do not have the control to literally change their brain. I can set up a website with all of the key SEO terms and metadescriptions, but I do not have the control to make people visit the site. I can write the most compelling copy, but I do not have the control to make the person buy the product.

In this sense, marketing is an industry based largely on faith. We can set up all of the situations, pull all of the levers, and nine times out of 10, we can predict the results. But sometimes, the results will surprise even us at TealHaus. Sure, that can be frustrating, but I can guarantee you this: If the results are not what we want, we’ll pivot—we’ll do what we can to get you there, even if that means jumping straight into the ocean with our clothes on. Because though we’re not in control, we also don’t give up.

Just promise us you’ll come back when we call. Not everyone loves a happy-go-lucky escapee.

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