We took a big step this month in the Gunn household, we finally got another dog. The kids had been asking for years to bring a dog into the family and this was anything but an impulse buy. Rae, the practical one in the house, identified all of the challenges to getting a dog to which I reluctantly agreed. But finally last Friday, we made the leap and added an 8 week old, black lab named “Miller” to the family. It has been a week and already I am seeing some unintended benefits or gifts that Miller will bring.
Rae and I bought a yellow lab puppy named “Hobbes” when we were married in 2000. Hobbes saw each of our children as they went through the toddler years and young childhood. He was a part of the fabric of everything we were and everything we did. As we grew our family, Hobbes continued to be a part of the team but our attention probably waned as we were so focused on our young kids. He sent the kids to school on the bus, catching a treat from the driver, and he welcomed the kids home everyday. He was such a piece of our story and our family character.
One day I took Hobbes to the vet for the last time. He had struggled with many ailments that I knew were not going to give him a quality of life he would enjoy. Rae was away for work and the kids were off to school. I took him in, gave a gentle, teary nod to the vet and he was euthanized. I took his remains home in a box in my car, carried him to the back of our property and buried him. I shoveled and cried like a 6 year old with a skinned knee for the afternoon and then welcomed the kids off the bus. Then it got even worse when I had to break the news to the kids who immediately saw he had not been waiting as the bus pulled up.
For this reason and due to our full schedules, I hadn’t pushed the idea of a new dog to the family. As the years passed, the girls became more and more eager to get another dog. Over the course of the past year, I had started to really miss a dog in the family as this had been the longest I had ever gone without having a family dog.
We stuck our toe in the water. We borrowed a friend’s dog at the request of our girls and they had a great weekend taking care of her. While it may not have been exactly the kind of dog that was the right fit for our family, I decided to raise the topic again with Rae. The one thing that stuck out in my mind was the joy in the eyes and hearts of the kids over the weekend. Most noticeably for me, Laura was over the moon.
Rae and I talked about the reasons we were against getting a dog. Looking back, they were details that we were able to find solutions for and it was fun to engage the kids in the upbringing. I think I was putting more emphasis on some of the inconveniences of having a family dog than the benefits kids and families may have from raising and owning a family pet. I remember every dog we had on the family farm growing up and I remember vivid details of playing ball in the yard, trips to the camp (and trips to the vet subsequently to remove porcupine needles).
I made an appointment and visited a reputable breeder of Labrador Retrievers. I watched as the older dogs played and kept an eye on me, protecting their litter. I had memories of my childhood and the excitement of a new puppy. I told Janice (breeder) the story of my daughter Laura and she mentioned how many Labs she has sent to homes of people who have family members with some form of disability. A dog clearly has therapeutic benefits and provides a source of companionship to some that they may not be able to find in typical peer relationships. I made my decision and told Janice I would be back in two days.
I had told the kids I needed to go to the city the next day for work and wanted them to come for the ride. On the big day, they woke early with minor complaints and I asked them to sit at the table. I had wrapped 4 individual gifts. A dog bowl, a leash, a collar and a bag of treats and I asked them to open them. The girls lost their minds and I think I will remember that morning forever. One of my girls quietly wiped away tears at the thought of getting the puppy.
It has been a week and to see Laura with the puppy really does warm the heart. She demonstrates motherly behaviors, she laughs hysterically, she cuddles him, feeds him and tries to take him to pee every 7 minutes. All the while, for the most part, he loves the attention she gives him. We have to teach her to be gentle and to let him walk around on the ground, but I think she will get it and I think she is at a great age to introduce a somewhat fragile animal (with a lot of supervision). She is so proud of him and she will want to show you if you happen to see her out in the community with him.
Laura has her challenges. She has her good days and bad days and this will continue. Her behavior can be frustrating at times, she struggles to communicate clearly what she needs and she has some physical mishaps due to her mobility. We are very much aware of some of the tough days that are in front of her as she moves through school. Laura has some amazing friends and people who look after her, but sadly life can be cruel and unfair sometimes.
Miller and Laura will also have some bumps in the road. He is going to chew a favorite shoe or toy. He will probably unintentionally knock her down as a growing, playful dog. Laura will be too rough with him as a pup and she will probably unintentionally slam the door on his tail many times over the course of his life in our house. Yet, Laura will arrive home after a tough day at school and it will be Miller who will be waiting for her. Tail wagging, stick in his mouth, he will be excited to welcome her home. He will respect, protect and love her without a shred of judgement. At the end of the day, Miller will fall asleep with his head on Laura’s lap. Laura will be the most important thing in Miller’s life. That will be Miller’s gift.