When I was a child, my sister and I hung up our Christmas stockings on the same wooden doorway in the dining room each year. Once our stockings were up, we’d place our dogs’ stockings right next to them. I continued the tradition with my own kids, so we hang our Mom and Dad stockings next to our daughters’ and son’s stockings, and then we begin the process of hanging the pets’ stockings. If you walk into our living room in December, you’ll see 10 stockings in total and you might think we have an enormous family; two of them are for each of the dogs and three are for each of the cats (shhh, the frog, fish and turtles don’t get their own stockings!)
It’s a little extra effort in a home when Santa comes to all the children and pets. Many a late Christmas Eves have been spent filling stockings with goodies, including toys, rawhides and catnip, but it has all been well worth the effort, partly because many Christmas mornings have been spent speculating what Django and Hayley thought of Santa since they are really the only ones in the house who knew for sure what he looked like in person. And then it’s off to inspect the stockings to see what Santa left behind for Hayley, Django, Baby, Lily and Cloe. The joy on the children’s faces is always a delight. I hope it is a lasting memory that they will keep and share with their own children one day.
Django was the last pet to get her own stocking after we adopted her in November 2010. We excitedly made room on the wall for our new pup as I recalled making a new stocking for each child and furry family member throughout the years.
Our dogs may not talk but they certainly provide comfort and love to all of us. From Hayley’s restorative bond with my daughter to Django’s insistence on lying with me (and sometimes on me) when she senses that I am down in the dumps, our dogs are a definite part of our family. We would be a different family without them. Yes, we’d have less fur and chores, but we’d also have a whole lot less love.
Wishing you and your family (human and furry) a wonderful and warm holiday season!
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blogGrown and Flown
Our youngest child, now a senior in high school, used to beg for her own dog. Whenever asked what she wanted for Christmas, the answer was always “a puppy.” Knowing that a calm and predictable schedule is necessary for a pet to become acclimated to a new environment, we never granted this wish. Further, for years, we resisted her pleas for a puppy of her own until she became old enough to manage the dog it would become.
My husband and I discovered a different way for her to spend time with puppies without taking on the responsibilities of ownership. The Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB), an internationally accredited guide dog school in Yorktown, New York, has a need for volunteer “puppy socializers.” After being accepted into the program, my daughter and I spent an afternoon at the GEB where we learned our new responsibilities: feeding, walking, cleaning up after and loving a pair of six-to-nine week old Labradors in our home. It was a volunteer match made in heaven for our little girl!
In the decade since, we have hosted more than a dozen pairs of puppies, mainly during the summer months and holidays when our daughter had the time to help with their care. Climbing into their fenced space, she would hug each new puppy, playing with both and often holding one until he fell asleep on her lap.
But she has also felt puppies chew on a finger and listened to them yowl. She has walked them in the back yard, bringing them inside to see them soil freshly laid newspapers. She has learned much, not only about dog guardianship, but also about the commitment required to be a volunteer.
As I think back on holiday gifts past, I believe that one of the most enduring presents our daughter received was not delivered on December 25. Instead, she discovered a volunteer role that allowed her little girl love of puppies to blossom into a mature dedication to others in need.
Mary Dell Harrington, a graduate of the University of Texas and Harvard Business School, began her career in the media where she worked for NBC, Discovery and Lifetime. Most recently, she and Lisa Heffernan co-foundedGrown and Flown, a parenting blog that looks at the entire arc of family life from the point of view of moms with kids 15-25. Their writing has appeared in Huffington Post, Atlantic.com, PBS Next Avenue and Lifetime Moms. Along with her chocolate Labrador partner, Moose, Mary Dell is a certified Pet Partners animal therapist and volunteers for New York-Presbyterian Hospital in that capacity.
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown
Long ago, our house became a favorite destination for our son’s playdates, and we have a big, brown, furry family dog to thank. During our 20+ years of marriage, we have actually had four chocolate Labrador retrievers, beginning with a puppy when we got engaged and ending with the dog who joined our almost-empty nest three years ago.
Of all the dogs, though, Argus, a Christmas addition for our then six-year old son, was the rowdiest, matching up in temperament perfectly with the pack of energized little boys who came over to play. As he trained (somewhat successfully) his unruly pal, our son gained a playmate and confidante, alarm clock and buddy; in fact, he gained a brother. The years of puppyhood, with chewed possessions and indoor accidents, are distressing. But witnessing your grown child say goodbye to a now-aged dog as he leaves home for college is infinitely harder.
Author Willie Morris (1934-1999) wrote about the magic of a family dog in his wonderful book, My Dog Skip. We learn of how Morris blossomed from an awkward and lonely (only) child to a confident college student and recipient of a Rhodes scholarship, all with the help of his loyal dog. As the story ends, an ominous call arrives for him in Oxford telling Morris of Skip’s death. He writes:
The dog of your boyhood teaches you a great deal about friendship, and love, and death: Old Skip was my brother…. They had buried him under our elm tree, they said—yet this was not totally true. For he really lay buried in my heart.
As we packed our son off to college for his freshman year, my husband, daughter and I watched as he hugged his dog and told him he would see him soon. For 13 years, the enormous chocolate Lab who joined our household so many years before, taught our son about friendship and love. Like Morris’ dog Skip, Argus passed away during our son’s collegiate years.
No doubt our son will have other dogs, but he may never have a relationship quite like the one he had with Argus. When I think of him as a really young boy, in my mind’s eye, he is smiling broadly, running with his giant retriever. It is an indelible image.
Mary Dell Harrington, a graduate of the University of Texas and Harvard Business School, began her career in the media where she worked for NBC, Discovery and Lifetime. Most recently, she and Lisa Heffernan co-founded Grown and Flown, a parenting blog that looks at the entire arc of family life from the point of view of moms with kids 15-25. Their writing has appeared in Huffington Post, Atlantic.com, PBS Next Avenue and Lifetime Moms. Along with her chocolate Labrador partner, Moose, Mary Dell is a certified Pet Partners animal therapist and volunteers for New York-Presbyterian Hospital in that capacity.
It was a typical Saturday morning in Brooklyn. I was showering when my kids began knocking on the bathroom door, explaining that a pet adoption van was parked outside our building and “could we just go look? Pleeeeze?”
It had been a tough year. My nine-year-old daughter, Kate, was diagnosed with a chronic disease. As a family, we were still adjusting to Kate’s condition, and she was feeling pretty terrible, not to mention depressed, from her ailments. Her eyes lit up when I said, yes, we could “just look.”
Among the various adorable dogs and puppies was one grungy, older Chihuahua mix who had instantly bonded with Kate. They were face-to-face the entire time, and my kids pleaded and begged collectively to bring her home. A half-hour later she was ours, and we named her Hayley.
We learned that Hayley had been abused. She literally screamed in horror anytime any one of us picked up our hand to wave or scratch our heads. She also had a deep scar on the top of her head and a few ticks. Her fur needed serious grooming, and she was not housebroken.
We gave her a bath and a good meal and then, immediately after, Kate took charge of Hayley’s issues. When she screeched, Kate comforted her. When she had an accident, Kate walked her to show her the proper potty place. When she just seemed nervous, Kate reassured her, “It’s OK, Hayley,” and followed up with multiple hugs and kisses.
While Hayley surely benefitted from Katelyn’s love, I learned firsthand that there is perhaps nothing better than taking care of a dog and giving and receiving the unconditional love only a pup can bring to sick child (or adult). There was no better remedy for Kate than to care for this abused little dog. Seven years later, they have helped each other very much to heal. Hayley no longer is afraid of us or anyone else. Kate just turned 16, and she and Hayley are closer than words could convey. It’s been said that we save dogs when we adopt them, but I think we often forget how many dogs actually save us.
Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for more than 10 years. Danielle also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Babble.com. Find her on her blog, Some Puppy To Love, Twitter or Facebook.