“A Dog Story,” column for June 21, 2016

Sometimes the best gift is something you never wanted.

When my oldest child was 12, he came home from school one day with a “proposal.” The boy was sharp, but “proposal” was a big word. It got my attention.

“What’s up?” I said.

His buddy Brian was moving to Italy, he said, where Brian’s dad, an officer in the military, had been reassigned. For a moment, I held my breath. Did Brian want to live with us?

Luckily it wasn’t about Brian. It was about Brian’s dog.

“He’s a great dog, Mom,” said the boy, “a Sheltie, like Lassie, but smaller. If he goes to Italy, he’ll have to be quarantined for a really long time. Brian said he’d rather give him to us than do that to him.”

Dogs mean different things to different people. Growing up, I never had a dog of my own. They were always around, fighting over scraps we threw out in the yard, or scratching their fleas under the porch. But they never belonged to me. They came and went, often falling victim to truckers, who probably never meant to harm them, but didn’t bother to stop.

It’s a wonderful thing having a pet to love. But having a “pet of the week” can make you wary. I told the boy I didn’t need another creature to feed and care for and clean up after.

“I promise I’ll feed him and walk him,” he said. “I’ll even clean up his poop.”

I rolled my eyes.

“C’mon, Mom. It’ll be fun. You can learn a lot from a dog.”

I laughed and the boy knew he had me. That’s how we ended up with Tuffy. The name came with the dog, along with the fur and the fleas and, yes, the poop.

Promises aside, responsibility for the dog ended up in my dishpan hands. I was the mom. Moms are responsible. We feed. We take care of things. We clean up the poop. It’s what we do.

We also love. That’s the part of the “mom job” that makes other parts doable. With Tuff, my head said, “don’t let him in!” But my heart didn’t listen. It never does. I fell flat-out in love with that dog.

Why? Who knows how love works? Here are a few reasons:

First, I loved how he loved my children. I assure you they were not always lovable. But he loved them anyway, just as I did, come what may, no matter what. Like me, he would’ve died to protect them.

Second, I loved how my kids loved him. Like a brother, but better. They never fought or argued with him, never blamed him if they got in trouble. They each thought he was their dog alone. I let them think it, but they were wrong. He was mine.

Third, I loved how he loved me. When I walked into a room, Tuff would get up to greet me, even when his joints ached with age. If I did things he hated _ forgot to buy dog food or yelled at him for chasing a neighbor’s cat or sent him out to do his business in the rain _ he’d lick my hand like I was not the worst, but the best human on earth. Usually, he slept with one of my kids. But on nights when, for some reason, I felt especially alone, I’d wake to find Tuff curled up, sleeping on my feet.

Dogs seldom outlive their masters. Tuff was no exception. But I’m glad to say that, unlike other dogs in my life, he did not get hit by a truck. Instead, he developed a brain tumor.

The vet wept as she put him to sleep. I held him in my arms and sang “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and watched that fine light in his eyes fade away.

He was a good friend. I was blessed to have him in my life. I hope he’d say the same of me.

I told you that story to tell you this:

1. Gifts can look like burdens, but what you think you don’t want might be what you need.

2. When loss locks your heart, love is the key that will open it.

3. Finally, children are prophets. They tell us what we need to hear, whether we want to hear it or not.

The boy was right. You can learn a lot from a dog.

Comments

  1. Nicole Kirk says:

    Beautiful and so true!! I’m dreading the day I’ll have to put my dog of 14 years down. She’s starting to show her age here lately and I find it interesting to have come across this column today being that yesterday she had a few moments that her legs went out on her.

  2. Adrienne Thomas says:

    Thank you for your beautiful words, my husband and I have two dog kids now. Kids all moved out last January and they are in our care. The boxer is our son’s dog but has adopted us as his parents. You are right about the need to take care of things, once a parent always a parent. ?

  3. Chester Bobo says:

    After reading this column, I thanked God (again) for your not retiring. I am not a dog owner, but several have captured my heart. Especially after reading “The Art of Racing in the Rain”, I have been more aware of the kinship of dogs and humans, emotionally and spiritually.
    Thanks again for being there and doing what you do for us.

  4. Sheila says:

    I am sitting here with a 13 year-old boston terrier who has dementia and a yorkie puppy that we got from animal control. And of course the tears are streaming down my face. Sharon your articles are the best.

  5. Debbie K says:

    Loved your column, as usual. Great memories of dogs that I have had over the years & there have been quite a few. I am feeling concerned, however, about a lady named Shashi, who always made a comment on your columns. I mean, weekly! I hope she is okay & if she read this column, I hope she makes a comment. This stopped in the middle of May. Not crazy, just concerned. God bless you, Sharon!

  6. natalie prenatt says:

    Thank you so much for speaking out what we feel in our hearts, but can’t articulate, always matters of the heart. Losing a pet is definatley one of the harder things we must endure. But the love that they bring us, the love we give them, and the love that brings our family together because of their presence is worth the sorrow of saying goodbye….I think…

  7. Jan Sturm says:

    I had a precious miniature poodle, Heidi, for 12 years. She was my third child, and I loved her dearly. She was very laid back, not the jumpy, yappy girl that so many associate with poodles. She died in 1982, and I can still cry when I think about her. A very special dog is a great gift.

  8. Davey Myers says:

    Oh Sharon, you made me cry again!!! When Valerie was a little girl she accused me of loving Tiffy best. And, you know what? Sometimes that was true. It’s pretty hard not to love someone or something that gives that kind of unconditional love. I still miss that sweet puppy. Just as I miss Panda. We now have Sasha and Toby. Twice blessed! I do have a parrot I would love to give you :>)

  9. Sheri Titcombe says:

    I just love your columns Sharon. It seems like you always have the right words for me when I need to “read” “hear” them. We had to put our beloved cat TUFFY down in 2004, then my daughter’s rabbit (which I told her NOT TO BUY), came home from college and lo and behold I heard MOM what am I going to do with Gus Gus? No pet store would take a full grown rabbit and she couldn’t let him run free….so MOM got the rabbit and when he became sick, the vet put him out of his misery and the tears just fell down my face—uncontrollable tears…

  10. Sheila Torres says:

    Our dog is family. We have a Boxer named Sophie. She’s 7 years old and has been with us since she was six weeks. They have the most amazing way of knowing when you need them; the head is in your lap giving comfort and expecting nothing in return. Five minutes or five hours – just as excited to see you return to them. I find dogs to be absolutely amazing creatures giving us their unconditional love on a daily basis ❤️

  11. shauna ice says:

    omg you spoke to me on this…i got my sassy o about eight yrs ago…at three in the morning..a friend had found her surrounded by large dogs in a pen and rescued her…asked me if i wanted her i jumped at it..she was a scruffy yorkie with some itching issues…but boy i knew we were meant ro be together..we drove home an hr away her sticking her head out the window and then licking my hand..she has been my travel companion my late night tv friend and my most comfort…when my mom passed she clinged to me like nobody else.,,in the last couple of months we have found out she has heart issues and is on medicine i love my girl

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