Over the year I’ve written this column I’ve talked about myself a lot. I’ve also talked about my husband and kids. But I’ve neglected to mention an important family member, the one I swore I wouldn’t welcome into our home.
This month marks the second anniversary of our dog Tippy’s adoption.
During summer 2010, our two old dogs died. Lifetime mates, Mattie and Dylan had a host of health problems that had deteriorated into a painful, poor quality of life. Then Dylan had a stroke and we made the heart-wrenching decision to put them down together. Filled with grief, we said we wouldn’t get another dog. It hurt too much. Plus, Ian has a mild dog allergy so it seemed sensible to be pet-free.
To fill the void, for the rest of the summer my kids spent extra time getting a dog fix at their grandparents’ house. This helped as much as an appetizer before dinner dulls your hunger.
When the kids returned to school, their sadness dissipated some but mine worsened. I work from home, and my office felt empty without dogs. I didn’t miss apologizing when one of them barked during a phone interview, but I missed their tail wags, wet-nosed nudges for a pet and eager response to any attention, whether a brief ear scratch or prolonged flying disc session in the backyard.
Perhaps more than anything, I missed their constant, unconditional devotion no matter how many times I stepped on a tail, filled the dinner dish late or cut short a game of fetch. Forgiveness for a dog is instantaneous. Everyone should get to see themselves through a dog’s eyes.
Still, I held firm to my resolve, thinking time would salve and solve my longing for another furry family member. But after several months of missing our dogs, I wanted one more than ever. Meanwhile, Ian’s stuffy nose hadn’t improved, perhaps because he’s allergic to grass and dust too, impossible allergens to avoid.
Soon I began browsing rescue sites “out of curiosity,” still checking for tails when I rolled my chair away from the desk when none of the warm brown eyes or soft floppy ears on the Internet moved me.
Then I saw Tippy and read his bio. He was the same Australian shepherd/border collie mix my Mattie had been and he looked a lot like her, only smaller.
But his story was sad. Tippy’s first owner had loved him and cared for him well but had called Inland Northwest Rescue when he became terminally ill. He needed them to find his pet a new home. A few years earlier they’d cared for Tippy after the dog had gotten lost while his owner was out of town.
“Dad came home and searched everywhere … what a joyous reunion that was,” I read on the rescue website. “Jump ahead to present day. My dad got terribly sick and called Gramma. He wasn’t able to care for me any longer so I came back here. I knew he was ill and I so grieved losing him. I heard them say he died about an hour after I was safely on my way.”
Staring at Tippy’s picture, I felt my throat catch. Then I exited the site. I didn’t want a dog whose heart belonged to someone else, I reasoned.
That night I couldn’t stop thinking about Tippy. The site said he loved to fetch balls, a game I’d played with Mattie and Dylan, though they preferred leaping into the air for flying discs. As an Aussie/border, I knew Tippy couldn’t go to just any home. He needed a family that understood the higher maintenance needs of a highly intelligent, active breed animal that wants to work.
Thanks to movies like “Babe,” which popularized the breed, and uninformed owners, countless border collies and Australian shepherds are abused or abandoned because owners underestimate the stimulation and exercise these animals require.
The next day I checked the website again, reading Tippy’s story to my family.
“Let’s get him,” the kids said. Ian emphasized this request by jumping up and down.
So we filled out the extensive online application, sent a cover letter and waited. The next weekend we went for an interview. Dog style, Tippy sniffed my hand then positioned himself in front of Ian like a guard. In between ear pets and ball throws we answered questions, eventually passing the screening process of both rescue agency and dog.
When we left, leash in hand, Tippy jumped in the car as though he owned it. He’s owned our hearts ever since. Always eager to obey or play, Tippy will happily fetch or perform tricks for any family member. And although he never enters Ian’s room, they’ve become best friends.
Each morning Ian greets Tippy first, then feeds the dog before feeding himself. He also gives his furry friend the first hug after school and takes the time to pet him and play with him every day. In return, Tippy shows Ian and the rest of the family what unconditional devotion looks like, through tail wags, wet kisses, obedience and an exuberant welcome whether we’ve returned after a few hours or mere minutes.
Everyone should get to see themselves through a dog’s eyes.