I wrote this some years ago, but I read through it again today and thought I ought to post it. I liked it then, and I like it now.
What do you do when one of your children likes domestic animals more than you do? Or an eight-year old who wants a dog and you are not ready to buy her one?
My youngest daughter loves animals. When I rock her at night, she has to have her animal blanket with her. One time I covered her with her blanket, but she quickly looked at me and said, “Dad, the bears have to breathe.”
For a moment I was a bit fogged in. My hesitation caused her some anxiety. She repeated, “Dad, the bears have to breathe.” She then reached down and flipped her blanket over. I had failed to put the top side up. Of course, the bears couldn’t breathe. They were suffocating on the underneath side of the blanket.
Lately, though, she has been hounding me for a dog. She doesn’t want just any dog. She wants the kind of dog that is on the PBS show “Wishbone.” I asked her not long ago why she wants a dog. Her reply, “Because they play with you.” She even has a name already picked out for her dog, whenever she gets one. She wants to call it Dodger. Sometimes, as she looks at me with those big, beautiful blue eyes, I almost succumb to her wishes. Then, I wonder if she is really ready for the experience.
I have had several dogs in my life. Actually, they haven’t been mine alone. They belonged to our family. We had a golden lab and golden retriever stolen from us. My brothers and I were in the process of training them to be hunting dogs. Another dog, a Chihuahua, became my mother’s favorite and stayed close to her. Probably two of the most noteworthy I remember were Lady and Tippy.
Lady was truly a lady. Of cocker spaniel decent, Lady was pure black and lovable. When we moved from Idaho Falls to Menan to our new house, Lady had some room to run. Our house sat on the edge of some farm ground that led to a slough and then to Hunting’s, several acres of Russian Olives, Cottonwoods, brush, and Spring Creek.
But she didn’t last long in Menan. Our neighbors up by the railroad tracks had a huge dog. I don’t remember what kind it was, but to a six-year old, it was huge, monstrous. One evening, our neighbors were out walking with their dogs. Somehow, Lady became entangled with their monster dog. Within seconds, Lady lay in the road. We ran to her, gently picked her up, and brought her home where we carefully placed her in a box full of blankets and tried to soothe her pain.
The only thing Lady could do was look up at us with those pleading dark eyes. We shed many tears before the night was over. The next morning when we woke, Lady was gone. Dad said she had wandered off in the night and didn’t come back. My brothers and I looked everywhere for her.
We scrounged the neighborhood, even walked through Hunting’s to Spring Creek. No Lady. We figured she just wandered off, knowing the pain it would cause us to watch her die.
It wasn’t too many years ago that I realized that Lady probably died during the night, and my father took her somewhere and buried her. He has never fessed up to doing something like that, but it was natural that he would try to protect us from the pain of death. Lady had become a part of our family, and Dad didn’t want to hurt us.
Probably my most favorite dog we ever had was Tippy, a wonderful collie dog that loved to play with us. I don’t remember how Tippy came to our house or what happened to him. And I don’t want to. We thought of Tippy as our Lassie. He did not have the distinct markings of Lassie, but to us, he was the best.
Tippy went everywhere with us. One of our favorite things to do was to roam Hunting’s property, pretending we were soldiers in a grand army. Tippy followed us, wondering what in the world these boys were doing. He probably came along to protect us from ourselves. Often, he joined the frolicking and fun.
As Tippy grew older, he did not exhibit the vig and vem of old. He mostly stayed around the house and soaked in the sun. He still loved to be petted. When we came home from school, he was there to greet us. When we walked to the barn to do chores, Tippy followed us and then lay out of sight of Bossy, our cow. He knew Bossy became agitated when she saw him. So he stayed out her way.
Sometimes, when I am at my parents’ house in the summer, looking out across the garden, listening carefully to the past, I can still hear his bark. Sometimes, I turn to see if he is there beside me or following me down the beaten path to the barn. But he isn’t.
Maybe it is the death of these two dogs that keep me from buying one for my daughters. Like my father, I do not want them to feel anxiety, pain, or even death. But then again, maybe having a dog would help them understand some of the trials of life, maybe help them learn more about responsibility by taking care of an animal.
Maybe having a dog could be part of their contextual learning. Maybe having a dog would be good for them. And I need to remember: Children and dogs need to be on top. I wouldn’t want to suffocate them.