Friday, March 5, 2010

Lucky Dog

The Story of Hunter the Dog
How Hunter the Dog Came to Holland
How We Became Dog Owners

Like many parents, the Bionic Man and I were asked by our children, many times, "When can we get a dog?"

Endeavor asked us for the first time before she was even able to talk intelligibly.  She found a long yellow ribbon, tied a loop at one end, held the other end in her chubby hand, and dragged that loop behind her for weeks.  When asked (on the first day of the yellow ribbon's appearance) what it was, she barked.  Turns out, there was an imaginary dog on the end of that leash.  His name, Endeavor told us, was "Paw."  Imaginary Paw went everywhere--and I do mean everywhere--with Endeavor until her second birthday.  For her birthday, the Bionic Man and I presented Endeavor with a stuffed animal, a black lab puppy, which she promptly named Paw and took everywhere, forgetting the other Paw who existed only at the end of a yellow ribbon.

The Bionic Man and I foolishly hoped that this would fulfill Endeavor's need for dog ownership.

It did not.  Endeavor, eventually accompanied by Justone and Superkid, continued to ask for a dog.  Their pleas became more vocal when we moved to our current home.  "Everyone in the world has a dog but us!"  This was an exaggeration, of course, but it was true that all of our neighbors in the houses surrounding us had at least two dogs apiece.  So it probably felt like everyone in the world had a dog (or dogs), except for our children.

Occaisionally, the pleas of our children did not land upon deaf ears.  I would feel a smidge of pity, a twinge of solidarity with their cause, and I would think, "Well, why don't we get a dog?"  Not ever having owned a dog myself, I would begin researching the basics of dog ownership, and would quickly decide that dog ownership wasn't for me.

Superkid, never one to sit around waiting for the things she wants, took matters into her own hands at the age of three.  She became the family dog.  For months, Superkid would randomly shift into a puppy alter-ego with frighteningly realistic characteristics: barking, whining, panting, licking, roaming the house on all fours, even begging for table scraps.  I had to admire her imagination, perserverence, acting skills, and attention to detail, but it was a little much. Especially when Superkid the puppy appeared in restaurants, church, and the grocery store.  Think Disney's Shaggy Dog.

Eventually, the children demanded a timeline for dog ownership.  This was in the early days of my fourth pregnancy, when I was having a hard enough time feeding, washing, and exercising my own children, let alone a dog.  One day, I declared with exasperation, "I'm not even going to think about getting a dog until everyone in this house is toilet trained!"

In my children's minds, this declaration morphed to, "We're getting a dog as soon as everyone is toilet trained."

A few months after our fourth baby was born, Justone was handing me wet wipes as I changed Lily's diaper.  Looking at her lovingly, he said, "Lily's so smart, I bet she'll be toilet trained soon."  He grinned at his little sister.  "Then we can get a dog."

Sadly, Lily only lived for 400 days.  The day that Lily died, our little family sat huddled together on the couch, crying softly, sharing sweet memories.  Then Justone  sniffed, wiped his eyes, and asked, "Now that everyone in this house is toilet trained, can we get a dog?"

Endeavor looked up with a hopeful, tear-streaked face and exclaimed, "Yes!  You promised!  You said we could get a dog when everyone was toilet trained. Now we are!"

"I am soooo toilet trained, Mommy!"  Superkid chimed in excitedly.  "Can we go get our dog today?"

At that point, the children began a heated argument over what kind of dog we should get and whose bed he should get to sleep on.

Now, there might be someone (or many?) reading this who are horrified by the fact that my children seemed to be replacing their little sister with a dog just hours after Lily's death.  To you, allow me to gently state that you don't have any understanding about children and grief.  So don't pass judgment.

Looking back, I am thrilled by the faith and optimism that my children expressed at that point.  Yes, they were sad that their sister had died.  But we had worked very hard during Lily's life to explain the promise of resurrection to our children, to focus on the fact that no matter what happened, our family would be together again someday.  I like to think that remembering the dog was their way of recognizing--with the perfect faith of children--that even though we were in the midst of tragedy, good things could still happen.  Dreams could still come true.  Promises would still be kept.  Isn't that the ultimate expression of faith in a just and loving God?

It was tempting to go get a dog right away.  But we waited.  There were funeral arrangements, an upcoming Make-A-Wish trip for Superkid, the yard needed a fence, a cross-country summer roadtrip.......lots of things got in the way of dog ownership.  And I didn't complain.  The more research I did to prepare for the promised dog, the more worried I became about the heavy responsibilities of dog ownership.  The Bionic Man came home with a beta fish one night, hoping that would stall the children.  It was only a temporary fix.

By the end of the summer, the Bionic Man and I were feeling guilty about the fact that we had yet to make good on the dog promise.  "Let's get them a dog for Christmas," he told me.  "We can start looking now, and maybe by December we'll have found the right one."

I had already decided upon "odorless"/hypoallergenic breeds of dogs, and had lists of breeders for shelties and labradoodles.  I'd even called and begun the interview process with some of them.  When one breeder began discussing a home visit, I began to feel as if I was preparing to adopt a baby.  Oh boy.  Studying the potential costs, I began to realize that by the time we fenced the yard, paid for the dog, the dog's vet care, the breeder's fees, the dog care equipment, etc......we very well could be looking at expenses nearing that of the adoption of an actual child.

Suddenly, rescue dogs began to look very good.  I switched my search to online pet adoption sites.  Shelties....labradoodles....I kept an eye out, casually.  Looking for a dog with light, fluffy hair.  

By that time, we had reached the year mark of when we first agreed with the children that it was time for a dog.  The search was really on, now.  Then one day, the Bionic Man decided that the breed of dog we absolutely had to have was a German Pointer.  A chocolate brown, shorthaired, German Pointer.  And that was it.  

Now, I'm not saying I'm one to just do whatever the Bionic Man decides.  Nope. We have plenty of evidence to the contrary.  But this time.....well, there was no changing the man's mind.  A Pointer he wanted and a Pointer he must have.  Man's best friend, you know, and this particular man wanted a Pointer to be his best friend.  

The Bionic Man, now having discovered his One True Breed, became invested in our search for the family dog.  He also began perusing the online pet adoption sites.  ( was our favorite).  After all those months of my looking, the Bionic Man hopped onto for the very first time and discovered.....Hershey.  

A fuzzy picture showed a small puppy being held by someone with a very hairy arm.  A brief description claimed that "Hershey" was a Pointer/Lab mix, four months old.  "But that dog looks black and white to me," I said, squinting at the fuzzy picture.

"That dog isn't black and white!" the Bionic Man assured me, sounding slightly offended.  "He's definitely brown and white.  Because he's a Pointer.  Obviously, they wouldn't have given him a name like Hershey if he wasn't chocolate brown."

The Bionic Man called the rescue number listed to make arrangments for our family to meet Hershey....and they told him Hershey was gone.  The Bionic Man was very upset.  "I can't believe he's gone!"  he lamented.  "That was our dog!  He's perfect!  A chocolate brown German Pointer."

"And Lab.  It says he's a Lab, too," I pointed out snarkily.  "Not all German Pointer."

"You can see from the picture," the Bionic Man said stiffly, "Hershey is predominantly German Pointer.  And now, he's gone.  To someone else."

But Hershey wasn't gone.  At least, not for long.  Two days later, the same picture of "Hershey" appeared, bearing the sponsor name of another rescue organization.  Same puppy, cradled in a hairy arm, only this time he was being called "Snickers."

"Snickers!"  the Bionic Man exclaimed.  "What kind of a name is Snickers?  You name a little fluffy dog snickers, not a hunting dog!"  He muttered about this as he dialed the number for the rescue, finding out that yes, "Snickers" was available for adoption, and yes, we could meet "Snickers."

It took several days to arrange a time that was convenient for the foster family to let us visit Snickers.  We went on a Monday night, for Family Home Evening.  On the way, the Bionic Man and I carefully prepped the children.  We were just going to look at this dog.  He might not be the right dog for our family.  Even if we liked him a lot, he would need to be checked by a veterinarian to make sure he was healthy.  We needed to make sure that he was a good dog, etc., etc.  

All the way across town to the foster home, Superkid worried.  Superkid had learned to love several of our friends' little dogs, but she was not a fan of big dogs.  She kept asking us, "Will Snickers jump on me?"  When we talked about how we needed to make sure this particular dog was right for our family, Superkid would agree, telling us, "We need to make sure he is not the kind of dog who will jump on me."  

This was a concern for the Bionic Man and I, as well.  Naturally, you don't want a dog knocking down anyone.  But we were particularly concerned about having a rambunctious puppy around our little heart patient on blood thinners.  Over the years, I'd read a lot of positive reports about the benefits of pet ownership for heart patients.  In my mind, I was convinced that getting a dog would be good for Superkid in the long long as it didn't cause her any injury.  And how, exactly, were we supposed to predict that?

We arrived at the foster home, and were greeted by Snicker's foster family.  And then we met Snickers.  He was thrilled to have visitors.  He skidded across the hardwood floor on his little black and white behind (told you so, Bionic Man), and sniffed and licked all of us with pure doggy delight.  After petting him and asking his foster mom lots of questions, we took Snickers outside to play.  Snickers was ecstatic to be outside.  He ran laps around and around the children.  The Bionic Man stood close by Superkid, ready to scoop her up if Snickers seemed to be a threat.  Turning to talk to the foster mom, he was distracted for a moment.  Snickers came running full speed towards Superkid, who was calling to him with outstretched arms, stopped right at her feet, and dropped down onto his belly, happily allowing her to pat his back and scratch his ears.  He repeated the same behavior for the rest of the evening: running around the yard as fast as he could, jumping up to greet our other two children, but dropping onto his belly every single time he approached Superkid.

The adoption papers were there, ready for us to fill out and take Snickers home.  But the Bionic Man and I had promised ourselves that we would take time to think about it.  We were not going to go home with a dog.  We were not impulse adopters.  We were determined to be rational.

And we were rational, until we arrived home, dogless, and realized we'd left our dog back there!  Quite possibly the only dog in the world who could join our family had been within our reach.....and we'd just walked away.  The next morning, we tried to get in touch with the rescue organization.  We emailed.  We left phone messages.  They went unanswered.  It was as if the rescue organization had never existed.  

Not wanting to disappoint the children, the Bionic Man and I had kept it to ourselves that we were trying to adopt Snickers.  When they asked, we made vague statements such as, "We'll see," or "We're still thinking about it."  They had no idea that I was frantically sending out emails to the rescue pleading for a response.  I checked the website multiple times each day, hoping that as long as Snicker's picture stayed on the website, he was still available.  The Bionic Man and I worried as the days went by, wondering if perhaps we'd done something to be blacklisted by the rescue service, or if someone less hesitant had come along and taken Snickers home.  

Days went by.  Dejectedly, we began to look at pictures of other dogs.  Then, one day, we had an email from the rescue people.  They'd been out of town.  Snickers had temporarily gone to a shelter until his foster family came home.  (Hearing that our dog had spent the last week in a shelter when we wanted nothing more than to bring him home was like a knife in my heart.)  Of course we could have him, they told us.  When can we come get him?  We asked.  Several more days went by.....during which we wondered if this rescue organization was trying to find homes for dogs, or what?

The Bionic Man was convinced that our dog was so special, his foster family didn't want to give him up, and so they were putting us off in hopes we would give up.  We aren't dramatic, are we?

During this time of waiting, I had an epiphany.  After Lily's death, I struggled with my new reality of being the mother of older children.  Up to that point in my marriage, I had always had a babe in arms, so to speak.  Either I had a baby or knew I would have one again soon.  Finding myself without either baby or the promise of a baby was--to say the least--difficult.  I love babies.  I love taking care of babies.  I'm a good baby mother.  Being without a baby was like losing part of my identity.  It was painful for me, and painful for my husband, too, in a way.  Adoption seemed like the best way to fill the void we felt.  I began researching, looking at agencies.....the act of doing so seemed to ease the ache of empty arms.  I didn't do so in an effort to replace the daughter I'd lost, I did so to try to restore the role I'd lost: mother of a baby.

My epiphany came during the days that we waited for calls from the dog rescue.  I would never suggest that our dog adoption could compare to the miracle of adopting a human child.  But that little taste of waiting, wondering, and worrying about whether or not we were going to get the puppy we wanted was enough to teach me something.  My heart just wasn't ready to go through the ups and downs of baby adoption.  I was still grieving for my own baby, I was not ready yet to grieve any disappointments that might come during the long process of adoption.  I was able to set aside the dream of another baby, take a deep breath, and decide to learn to appreciate my new role as a mother of growing children.

Finally, the call came, on a Friday morning.  "Could you come get Snickers tomorrow?"  I spent the day at Petsmart, buying a puppy layette, hiding the puppy supplies from the children, calling vets, clearing a space in my laundry room to make way for a doggie bed.  And I announced to the family that if we ever got a dog, I thought we should name him Hunter.  Everyone agreed.

The next morning I signed the adoption papers, put the newly named Hunter into the back of my van, stopped to see a veterinarian (who assured me that Hunter was healthy) and drove home.  Hunter sat quietly in the back of the van, not making a peep until we were almost home.  As we turned onto our street, he began to bark happily, almost as if he knew the children were waiting.  Moments later, he bounded out of the van and into our home and our hearts....and he's been there, ever since.

Like I said, I've never owned a dog before.  I never considered myself much of a dog person.  But I'm just as silly as I can be over Hunter.  We're all crazy about him.  The children adore him more today than they did the first day he arrived, even though the shiny-new has worn into the old-familiar as Hunter has grown from puppy to dog.  He's smart, he's gentle, he's friendly, he's affectionate, he's loyal.  He's perfect for us, and we're perfect for him.

One night, as I watched Hunter curl up beside a sleepy Superkid in her bed, his paw strategically resting on her quilt, to keep it tucked around her wiggly toes, I thought about how Hunter came to us.  I remembered a little family, crying together as they missed their baby sister, and a little boy who asked with hope shining from his tear-streaked face, "Now can we get a dog?"  And I imagined the little angel sister, finding the right dog and making sure he came to us.  As dogs go, this one we have is just that special.  For us, Hunter is yet another reminder that joy can spring from sorrow, hope can be renewed, and miracles will never cease.

I wrote this over the course of several days.  During that time, Hunter chewed up the following:
a roll of paper towels
a stuffed squirrel
three miniature felted horses that go with Superkid's horsebarn set
a Christmas tree ornament which--ironically--was a squirrel
an almost empty yogurt cup
a dishrag
several random plastic cheapie toys

and this morning, I looked every where but couldn't find the 1/3 loaf of bread that was sitting on the counter last night, waiting to be made into sandwiches.
Coincidence?  I think not!  
Where did Hunter stash the plastic bag the bread was in, I would like to know?
And, perhaps I now have the answer for why Hunter had to go out twice during the night last night.  Hmmm.  

This post is a good reminder to myself of why I put up with the family dog.
Some miracles require more patience than others.

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