Puppy Love

From the time she could speak, my daughter, Holden, wanted a dog. I was absolutely, positively, dead set against the idea. My husband, a 20-year cat owner, backed me up 1,000 percent. We were not, under any circumstances, getting a dog.

Undaunted by our stance, Holden steadfastly pursued her desire. At first, she was subtle. She checked out books about dogs. She befriended dogs on neighborhood walks. She collected dozens of stuffed dogs, carefully selecting one each morning to carry throughout the day and sleep with at night.

When these tactics didn’t work, she became more overt, begging for a dog every birthday and Christmas. Santa held her off, bringing her mechanical, go-go walking pets two years in a row. When it became apparent Santa wasn’t going to leave a real dog under the tree, she grew even more determined, spending entire weekends pretending to be a dog, refusing to answer questions with anything other than a bark.

Finally, the summer before second grade, I relented. I don’t remember exactly why I gave in. It probably had to do with the fact that I was going through a big change at work, and thought a furry critter might relieve stress. It may have also been related to my realization that, at 51 and 36, it wasn’t likely my husband and I were going to have the second child we always thought we’d have.

We decided to adopt a rescue dog. After months of filling out applications, providing references, enduring home inspections, and meeting numerous potential dogs, we were selected as the family for Sophie, an adorable tan and grey 2-year-old Shih Tzu.

Holden couldn’t believe her dream of having a real dog as her constant companion was finally coming true. We all had visions of Sophie and Holden being inseparable, playing in our backyard, frolicking around the lake near our house, curling up for afternoon naps, and growing up together.

Soon, it was evident living with Sophie would be nothing like we envisioned. Instead of greeting Holden after school, Sophie hid under the bed. When Holden gently tried to pick her up, Sophie crouched with fear. She ignored the toys Holden brought out for her.

It was heartbreaking to watch my daughter experience rejection daily from the dog we’d made her wait so long to get.

One afternoon, after Sophie rebuffed another attempt to snuggle, I saw tears spring to Holden’s eyes.

“Sophie doesn’t act the way you expected, does she?” I asked.

Holden shook her head, softly muttering, “No, she isn’t anything like I thought she would be.”

I braced myself for the questions I thought would come next:  Could we give Sophie away? What if we returned her to the shelter? Or, traded her for another dog?

I was just about to launch into a speech about how we’d made a commitment when Holden interrupted.

“Mama,” she said quietly, resolutely lifting her chin. “We need to love Sophie for who she is, not who we wanted her to be.”

This time, my eyes began to get misty. Holden’s heart was still open. 

This abandoned little dog had taught our 7-year-old (and us) a valuable lesson about acceptance – one that many go a lifetime without learning.

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