After our first family dog, Linus, died nearly 2 years ago we always knew that our remaining four-legged companion, Pippen, would need a new friend. He suffered from a strange depression after Linus died. Pippen didn’t play with toys or chew on bones. He wasn’t excited to see us when we got home. He didn’t trail us around demanding to be close like he did when he was following Linus’ lead. It was painful to watch at first, but we just weren’t ready to have another dog.
At that time, we also had two hamsters in the house – pets that we thought were a good substitute for the cuter and softer, but remarkably more sensitive chinchilla that Peter had originally set his heart on having. However, we quickly realized that you couldn’t pet, play, or cuddle with a hamster. They ended up being living tchotchkes on the top of our family room bookshelves.
Once the hamsters had lived out their long and prosperous 18-month life span, we ceremoniously buried them in the back yard complete with grave markers and recitation of the Numbers 6:24 prayer, “May the Lord bless you and keep you…” The small funeral acknowledged and honored life and death and provided a primer for my children to begin learning how to grieve. And for that opportunity, I was grateful to have endured many months of feeding, watering, and cleaning the cages of our little living tchotchkes.
A few weeks after the funeral, I had a long conversation with Peter one night. I noted that his pet quest began 2 years ago when he originally wanted a chinchilla. I admitted that the hamsters proved to be an unfit alternative. So, I began asking him what it was about the chinchilla that was so appealing. He began describing the small rodent as having the softest fur of any animal in the world. It was small enough to carry around in your pocket, and might play by running through tunnels, maybe, but it was at least active. I listened closely and surmised that he wanted a soft companion that was his very own that would always be with him to keep him company and to play with. I said with more question than statement, “Peter, it sounds like what you really want is a dog.” His eyes beamed with a glimmer of hope and he said, “Yeah, but I thought we couldn’t get another dog.”
For 2 years, Peter had been trying to get his needs met. He wanted a soft companion that was his very own that would always be with him to keep him company and to play with. After Linus died, he heard me say I wasn’t ready to get another dog. So, he assumed (probably correctly) that getting another dog, just for him, was out of the question. So, he set his sights on a chinchilla as an alternative to not getting what he really wanted. Then, when we learned that the chinchilla was actually far too sensitive for a young person to care for, I managed to convince him that hamsters would be a suitable substitute. Turns out, I actually had no idea what he really wanted.
How often do we do the same thing that Peter did? Our hearts have an initial desire and we conclude that it is too much or it can’t happen, so, before we even mention it to anyone, we lower our dreams and expectations and settle for something less. Then, when that something less doesn’t satisfy, we mince our longings once more and settle for something even further from the original desire. And when that mincing ends up being just as disappointing as settling in the first place, we stop believing that our original desires will ever be met and likely, we give up trying. But what if getting what we really want is not only possible, but probable? What if the universe (in this case, a boy’s mother) actually longs to give us what we need if we just asked?
That night, after I understood for the first time what Peter was really needing, I said, “I think now its time to get you a dog.” We began looking through books trying to settle on which dog would be best for him: playful, but not too energetic; soft, but not too much hair to groom; not too big, not too small; loving and affectionate, not independent and aggressive. After narrowing down our search to only those that met these criteria, we settled on a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Peter began saving his allowance and birthday money until he had a certain percentage of the actual cost of the dog. And once he did, we found him a puppy to call his very own.
It has not been easy for Peter to potty train a puppy and redirect its need to teethe on shoes, books, bark, rocks and pillows. However, I am happy to report that Gizmo has made Peter very happy. He is as cute and nearly as soft as a chinchilla. He likes to play games. And originally bred to warm the laps and feet of King Charles’ ladies of the court, cuddling is one of his favorite activities, second only to chewing on toilet paper.