Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Making of a Boy

Stock photo of a Beagle, not our Rudy
Rudy the Beagle has been in our home ten days and he's rocking our world. I either have a sinus infection from a prior cold, or I'm allergic to his dander. Whichever is true, I love this dog and we're keeping him. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it! Not just because we love him, but because we made a commitment to him and we won't break his heart.

Now, consider that I never had a dog or wanted a dog, and I always turned my nose up at dog smells and thought people who treated their dogs as people were being ridiculous. Neighbor kids with dogs came over smelling like dog, and I couldn't understand how they stood the constant odor.

My firstborn begged for a dog for years and when he was 5 we told him we would get one when he reached 10. But when he reached 10, we had a three year old so we said she was too young and would mistreat the dog. (Plus we couldn't afford it.)

My son was appeased with a series of hamsters, a tree frog, and a corn snake (which is still loose in the house), but Peter never stopped talking about dogs, and every relative or neighbor with a dog, and every book or picture book about dogs made him pine more for a canine best friend.

We read a couple years ago that dogs can be therapeutic, and of course we knew they helped lonely people, including the elderly. A single 50-something man at our church brings in a therapy dog every Sunday, which helps him with emotional problems.

Peter's OCD and ADHD cause considerable stress around here, and when I recently added my girls to the daily homeschool load, that extra, along with the stress from Peter, made me feel like I needed to find solutions, and fast. We (and I) couldn't continue with the current level of stress, I was certain.

So, as we prayed about solutions, we considered a dog. ADHD children need a lot of stimulation and if they don't get it, they tend to bother their siblings and make a nuisance of themselves following a parent around (me) talking excessively, just to stimulate their brain. They can probably read social cues, but their impulsivity is so strong, they don't heed the signs of irritation. Negative attention is better than nothing, as it still provides stimulation.

As far as OCD goes, Peter needed a distraction to help him resist doing the compulsions. If he could stay busy and purposely ignore the OCD, he could win victory over it.

All this came into play, and we decided to get a dog, though neither of us looked forward to it. It was a last resort.

Now ten days in, I can understand how people come to dearly love their canine friends. There is something special there, I have to admit. God meant for dogs to comfort people, I am sure. They are dear creatures--loyal, funny, cuddly.

Now I have to admit the dog is running us ragged. We're in a period of adjustment, learning that Beagles, while being the perfect family dog--they are pack animals and love every member of the family--are also escape artists, as much as hamsters are (ask me how we know). He has escaped twice and I fear him becoming a stray again. His adoptive mother saved him at the last minute from dog death row, after six months at the pound. Beagles smell their way into homelessness, literally, being so intent on following a scent trail that they lose their way. Some family somewhere has been mourning this dog for eight months, and I'm determined to do right by this dog, who doesn't know his own nose.

As much as he's running us wild and I have three extra hours of housework weekly, we are learning fast. I put our refrigerator in front of one escape route, and a dresser in front of another, leaving us with one doorway into the kitchen, until a baby gate arrives with a opening latch to replace the refrigerator barrier. He isn't allowed in our living room, and that bothers him excessively, even though we make sure someone keeps him company most of the day, in the family room, mostly, but also the kitchen and dining room.

Truthfully, it feels like there is an 18-month-old baby here, with all the charm, giggles, and good times, along with all the headache of keeping the child out of danger, and keeping him entertained. He's not into the low cupboards yet, but I'm sure it's coming.

And just like when I had 18-month-old toddlers running me wild, I wouldn't trade these times. Rudy is a delight. A real peach. A good egg. An answer to prayer, albeit a labor-intensive one.

The Holy Spirit spoke to me profoundly yesterday about the Rudy and Peter.

I was exasperated because while Peter had two friends over, he got distracted and left the yard temporarily, leading to his five-year-old sister leaving the backyard gate open, and Rudy escaping. Fortunately, I check out the window frequently when Beth is out, and I looked, aghast, at the open gate and Rudy sauntering through it. Frantically, I opened the window, shouting at the kids in the front yard to intercept him ASAP.

Peter is grounded from having friends over for three months, partially because of this incident, and because of the friends, who also own dogs, trying out improper "training" practices on Rudy, like swatting him on the nose, however gingerly. Peter did not object strongly enough, in my opinion (like me, he is still learning assertiveness), though I warned him that the friends should not interfere with the dog. Peter also disobeyed me during this same time by going across the street to the drainage ditch, intent on catching fish and frogs with his friends.

Does that sound harsh? Three months? I don't think so, and I was glad of the opportunity to teach Peter that a life is in his hands. A dog is indeed like a toddler, needing a serious parental figure to love, guide and train him.

I wake Peter up every morning on time so he can let his dog out (if we had an extra alarm clock, I'd have him use it). I don't do any dog chores for him, and I gently remind him that the dog is his responsibility, but that I will help him create a workable schedule for the dog and for his school tasks, should he need my help.

Peter is, most of the time, doing a fantastic job, displaying a stellar work ethic. He even brings along a plastic grocery bag on every dog walk, telling me, "You know, Mommy, I actually like picking up Rudy's poop on the walks. It makes me feel grown up. And you wouldn't believe how warm it is. I never knew poop came out of bodies so warm. Steam comes up from it!"

The Holy Spirit clearly said to me yesterday, as I riled from the stress:

This dog will be the making of Peter, just you wait and see.

It is with tears that I write this, thinking of all that God did to bring this particular dog to us. The whole thing involves much sacrifice and expense (initial expenses, mostly), but just like most hard things in life, the pay off will be huge.

We've encountered several novels the last few years with similar themes--a dog being the making of a boy. Nothing grows a person like parenthood, and that's what dog ownership is for tweens. It forces them to acquire and practice growing-up skills. It provides an avenue for them to invest their hearts and time, working for the good of another.

Yes, I would definitely say God knew what he was doing when he created dogs to be a man's (and a boy-man's) best friend.

Of course, the girls here love him too. :)

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