The Reluctant Dog Owner
“Mommy can we please have a dog? I promise we’ll take care of it!”
Every Christmas, the plea for a dog was made. I was going to have to find another way to ask what they wanted.
“Oh honey, your brother is still small. It might not be safe to get a dog right now.”
“Ok.” Head hung, she walked away and was soon on to other things.
Through the younger years of childhood, we successfully diverted the annual dog question. “Not this year, we’re going to take a special trip!” “How about a ping-pong table instead?” “We aren’t home enough to have a pet—it wouldn’t be fair.” “Mommy and Daddy already bought you a gift. You’re going to love it!” Squeals of excitement and distraction. Dog day averted once again.
Be Open to the Unexpected
That’s why it came as a shock to all of us one year when the annual plea was made and I said “maybe.”
WHAT?! Who said that? My husband looked at me as if I had lost my mind. I had and didn’t know why. Seriously, I had no idea why I said “maybe” but now I was in trouble. Three pairs of eyes staring at me with a mix of sheer joy and astonishment. And then the questions. “When can we get it!?” “Can it be a puppy?” “Can I name it?”
“Uh honey, can I speak to you privately?” My husband ushered me out to garage. “What are you doing!?”
“I don’t know but I have a plan.” During the questioning and walk to the garage, I had devised a strategy. We would just go and look. I had to maintain credibility but was certain I could find a way out.
I phoned my friend Rene. Rene had recently assumed the leadership role at a rural animal shelter. “Hey Rene”! Had to be careful here…didn’t want to give her the wrong impression. “You probably don’t have any suitable dogs and I’m not really a dog person but you know…the kids keep asking. I might consider it if you had something in the range of a 2-year old, house-broken, non-shedding, hypo-allergenic, 15-20 pound, special breed, child-friendly dog.” I felt pretty smug and slightly guilty. When Rene said “no” I would just go back and tell the children they didn’t have any dogs this year that would be right for us.
“You know”, said Rene, we don’t get a lot of dogs here with that profile but we have a few that would be perfect for your kids. Bummer. Again, my integrity was at stake. “Can you and your family stop by the shelter tomorrow night?” Moving too fast Rene.
“Sure” I say.
On the hour drive to the shelter, the excitement increased. The adults weren’t saying much and the kids didn’t stop talking. We arrived at a small, colorful little building and were met by Rene and her friendly team. Secretly hoped it would be dark and smelly but no such luck.
Rene handed us a family questionnaire. Huh. Weren’t we here to look at dogs? We completed the survey with questions like, “Do you want your dog to excitedly greet you and follow you when you arrive at home, greet you and then return to his/her spot or not greet you at all?”
Life’s Greatest Joys Are Not Usually Planned
After our family questionnaire was completed and scored, we were given a color that represented our family temperament. Dogs with the same color were brought out for us to “interview.” We were deemed to be “compatible” with two color groups. Interesting. Maybe we could use this system when we interviewed people for jobs at my company.
Among the canine candidates was Miles the Beagle. My husband had beagles growing up, albeit outdoors. He was cute and I thought “maybe.” Then he hiked his leg on the drywall. Rene saw the horror on my face.
You see, I am an indoor person. I view the outdoors pretty much as the space between two indoor places. “Now don’t let that bother you”, says Rene. Our reception area ‘reads’ as an outdoor space to him because of all the dogs. He probably wouldn’t do that once he was settled in your home.” Just the mere chance was more than I could handle. We passed on Miles. Another few interviewees and I was thinking we were home free. Even the kids were a little put off by Miles’ behavior.
And then Bonita was ushered in. Fifty pounds, shedding, black hair, not sure of her age, rescued from the roadside. Not at all my ideal dog profile. Handed to our son to walk, she stayed right beside him. Stopped when he stopped, walked when he walked, looked up at us all adoringly. She was apparently bi-lingual and responded to commands in English and Spanish. Danger zone. I had to do something.
“Thank you all so much for introducing us to the shelter. We’ll think about it. We need to get back home. The kids have homework.”
My plan was working. We left without a dog. The kids talked all the way home about the candidates. Even my husband liked Bonita. A few days passed and the busyness of the Christmas season ensued. I thought it would just fade away. And then the phone call from Rene.
“Tammi, we’re going to be at an adoption event near your home this weekend. I just wanted to let you know we are bringing Bonita. You see, she is special to us and we want to make sure she is adopted into a good home. I just wanted to tell you.” FULL STOP.
“What!? You mean you are going to let someone else adopt her? What time will you be there?”
First thing that Saturday morning, we drove to the pet supply store where the adoption event was to be held. Families were already rallying around Bonita and her handler. “Excuse me, excuse me… our family already interviewed Bonita and we want to adopt her.” Strange looks from bystanders.
“Yes, Rene said you might stop by.” Well played Rene, well played.
Lessons from Nita
Eight years later, Nita remains a cherished part of our family. One cannot imagine a more precious, sweet, loving, obedient dog. The joy and affection she freely gives has changed and enriched us. “That’s a special dog”, said my stepfather recently. “You’re going to miss her when she’s gone.” Gulp.
I took a good long, look at Nita this week. She is graying like the rest of us and slowing down. It caused me to reflect on what she has taught our family.
- The plans we have for ourselves are not always the plans that are best for us
- The simplest things in God’s creation, even an abandoned dog, speak volumes about love
- Putting “I” second and someone else first matures us in astounding ways
- Unconditional love is easy to receive and hard to give, but try anyway
- We all need to be rescued
How appropriate that Nita came to us at Christmas. On Christmas Day many years ago, God knew we needed to be rescued and sent his son. His purpose was to unconditionally love and rescue every person of every nation. He came as an infant born into the humblest of settings, offering hope and salvation. And that love and hope is available to all of us on this Christmas.
Open your heart this Christmas to others less fortunate. Open your heart and allow God to change it. Open your heart and become all that you were meant to be. The lessons from Nita are for all of us.