Wise for her size

This time my daughter set the example for me

My daughter is what you'd call a “dog person.”

She draws pictures of dogs, writes stories about them, she used to pretend to be a dog, and when she was in first grade she even started a recess group called the Puppy Club.

I have no idea what Puppy Club was, other than she really, really loved dogs.

So when we decided to foster a dog recently, I thought for sure it would end in tears and great anguish when it came time for said pup to move along to its permanent home. And it did end that way. Only it wasn't my 9-year-old who exhibited such histrionics. It was the big, tough Dad on Board.

When my daughter was born we had two German Shepherds in our home. She used to sit on them, dress them in princess crowns and beads and play with them all day. Up to that point they were her siblings and friends. However, time passed, and as dogs are unfortunately wont to do, they died.

We spent the next four years without a pet. We became that free-wheeling family that went on day trips and vacations without a second thought. We didn't have to come home to take care of the dogs, and we eventually grew used to this lifestyle.

All along, however, my wife, daughter and I would always talk about the day when we'd have our next dog. So when a friend of ours started fostering dogs from the Manchester Animal Shelter, I knew it was just a matter of time before we'd have our own project pet.

The dog's name was Giddy. She was mostly Jack Russell Terrier with a little Dachshund thrown in. When we knew Giddy would be coming home with us, we had a long talk with my daughter about responsibility and commitment, fairness and consistency. Plus I insisted the dog's name be changed to Geddy – after my favorite bass player from the band Rush. Everyone was in agreement. Even about the Rush thing, which to me was the most important part.

I had no doubt my daughter meant well, but I also thought that the excitement of bringing home a puppy – even if it was for a fairly short time – had her, well, giddy with anticipation.

The day came when this one-year-old, white/spotted Jackshund came home. She was very timid, and especially scared of men. I kept my distance at first, letting her get used to her new surroundings. My daughter meanwhile began a routine that both surprised and impressed me.

If the dog had to go out, she'd get the leash and take her down to the woods to do her business. If the dog did well in her training, my daughter would be the one to shower her with praise and maybe even a bacon-flavored treat. If it was after dark and the air behind our house was thick with mosquitoes big enough to carry them both off into the wilds of Sandown, she'd make sure the dog had a chance to answer nature's call one last time before bed.

Over time, Giddy/Geddy made herself completely at home. She fell into a routine – as did my daughter. Unfortunately, I did too. So when we got the call that a family was interested in adopting the dog, we knew the time had come to say goodbye.

We felt we had done our job – we worked on her socialization and behavior, and we prepared her for her new family. I was nervous about how my daughter would take the news, but she was fairly matter-of-fact about it. She loved the dog, but she completely understood the concept of fostering. I wasn't so smart, evidently.

When the day came to give Giddy/Geddy one last rub on her belly before she headed off to her permanent home, I took my daughter out for a ride while my wife delivered the pup to her new owners. I fell into a bit of a funk, missing my hyper little friend. Then one day as I drove my daughter to the daily rec program, she said something from the back seat.

“Daddy, I want to talk to you about something but I don't want to upset you,” she said. “I want you to know that Giddy has gone to a great family who will love her forever and you shouldn't be sad.”

I hadn't said anything to her about not wanting to give the dog up, so I was a bit surprised that she picked up on it. Maybe it was the subtle gnashing of teeth/wailing/self flagellation/hairshirt/head-desking that tipped her off.

In the end, it was the youngest one in the house that set the example for her dad. She took the whole experience very seriously – and this is a kid who takes very little seriously. And I guess if there's one lesson to take from all this, it's this: My personal mourning period will probably be quite short, because 10-to-1 I'll be vacuuming up dog hair in our living room by Christmas.

Bill Burke is a writer who lives in southern N.H. with his wife, daughter and tens-of-thousands of hairy little reminders that a dog once lived with them.

Categories: Dad on Board