Truth be told: I’ve always been more of a cat person.
All said and done: no longer.
Charis, the boys, and I have recently moved into a new rental home, out of the much-beloved-though-now-outgrown apartment we’ve occupied for the past two years. Now, looking forward to the next three to four years, we decided—wisely, I might add—to transition into a nearby house which comes attached, rather amazingly, with more than an acre of a backyard. And, even more amazingly, it makes room for what the family has wanted for a long time: a new puppy.
I was, however, the last to give in. I have never had a dog, let alone a puppy, before, so I’m very much a novice with this new family endeavor. But the time now is right to take the puppy plunge. I knew it would come eventually: after all, Charis has pined over pet shops and online photos for the better part of two years; plus, every so often, the boys would greet me with a “Daddy, why don’t you want to get a dog?”—a telling question, to be sure, about the various discussions that would take place at home while I was on campus.
Everyone’s patience towards me paid off last month.
She’s a Maltese/Shih Tzu mix. A delicate thing, reminding me of the anxious caring that involves a newborn of any species. Even my boys have picked up on this. Her size, her fragility, her trepid yips to let us know that she is scared to go down stairs, to jump up onto a couch, to be left alone out of our sight for thirty seconds. So Liam and Oliver need little prodding to assist her in any way they are able.
She presents them, in short, with their first opportunity to tend to something beyond themselves, to nurture that which calls out for their care. The proverbial “they” say that pets are good for children, and I now understand why. To watch the kids welcome something new into the family, to see them come to know better what it means to care for the little things, has already proven worthwhile for me, for all of us.
Previous posts on this site have tackled what a dog means to them in much more eloquent and experienced style than what I offer here. But, if permitted as a newly-committed dog person, I’ll give a go at adding my voice to that chorus.
This bundle of fluff, wavering between energetic spurts and well-earned naps, represents on a more abstract level, a commitment to gentleness and a lesson in encouragement. When we first told the kids that we would be getting a puppy, we performed the usual “a puppy is a big responsibility” speech. The boys, surprisingly, have risen to that challenge and then some. That’s their commitment to gentleness, their gleeful duty to play with and love on this thing so much smaller even than they.
Their commitment, however, turns out not to be that surprising after all: that’s the lesson in encouragement for Charis and me. After years of trying to teach our children patience, gentleness—y’know, the usual—and waiting to see whether those things have stuck or have fallen on selective ears attached to mile-a-minute young bodies, we now have the chance to see that a good amount of it has actually landed home.
Even as I’m learning the obligations of dog-owning and puppy-training for myself, Clarke has become a source of encouragement. That’s not all she is, and whatever she is to me is nothing what she is to the boys and our family unit as a whole, but the cuddles, companionship, and unexpected well of affirmation are great perks. Especially for someone who took so long to acquiesce to opening up to the idea of puppy in the first place.
Jacob Schepers (Calvin ’12) is the author of A Bundle of Careful Compromises (2014), a winner of the 2013 Outriders Poetry Project competition. His poetry has appeared in Verse, The Common, PANK, The Destroyer, and others. He lives in South Bend, IN, with his wife, Charis, and two sons, Liam and Oliver. He is both an MFA student and doctoral candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame.