It’s a dog’s life

It all started with a PowerPoint presentation. And a family meeting. Our 11-year-old daughter, Aspen, had been sneaking around for days. I knew she was planning something. And I figured it had to be big.

I was honestly caught off guard when I realized what she was proposing. She sat stoically in front of the computer once we all gathered in the kitchen for her presentation. If I recall correctly, I was taking a sip of my coffee when her first slide appeared on the screen. It burned like acid when I inadvertently sucked it up my nose. It felt like I was ducking a 90 mph curve ball as I read the title: “Why we need a dog.”

The reality is, we are cat people. We had a dog. Once. Long ago. Her name was Dora and she definitely shared many traits with the Nickelodeon character of the same name, Dora the Explorer – aptly named for her curious nature and quest for mischievous adventures.

It was Jaiden who spearheaded the arrival of Dora into our lives. Much like Aspen, it all started with a quest. Jaiden spent hours searching online for the perfect puppy. We listened for hours as she tried to convince us how a dog would change our lives. She promised faithfully to take care of her dog. She lobbied and lobbied until she convinced us all that we really needed a dog.

I remember the first day we laid eyes on Dora’s photo. She was listed on Petfinder in a most adorable pose. She looked like a truffle of white, angelic fur, just glistening in the sunlight. We learned that Dora had been found wandering the streets down South with a litter of pups in tow. And she was heartworm positive. And she was pregnant again.

Her story tugged at our heartstrings. Everyone else on Petfinder fell in love with her adorable pups. We fell in love with Dora. We thought we knew better … choosing an older, wiser dog instead of a puppy.

Little did we realize that Dora had endured a lifetime of scouring for meals, stealing what she needed to care for herself and her pups, and running wild and free with no restraints. Perhaps small beans for a dog guru, but remember … we were basically cat people.

The first several weeks were easy enough. We had to keep Dora quiet while she endured her heartworm treatment. She basically stayed in her crate and spent all of her energy healing herself. As the days passed, we began to let her spend more and more time outside of her crate, exploring our house and frolicking outside in the warmth of spring.

We installed an electric fence, but that never kept her contained. We bought the best food money could buy, but she only wanted whatever scraps she could source from the garbage or steal off a forgotten plate on our kitchen table. We grew accustomed to calls from our neighbors asking us to come get Dora because she was marking her ground in their child’s sandbox. It was a long summer of countless hours trying to retrain our feisty little momma dog.

She would literally try to hump any child laying out on our pool deck, seek out any destroy any dirty diaper she could find, and simply refuse her high-quality food over and over in lieu of unwanted trash. Eventually it happened. By late fall, we had morphed into a system with her. The hardest part was helping her realize she did not have to fight for every meal, run off at every opportunity, and impress every male dog she encountered. The days became easier and Jaiden rose to the occasion of being Dora’s No. 1 human.

And then, tragedy struck. In our shock, we forgot about everything except Jaiden. For 25 days, we never left her side. My dear friend Laura took Dora home with her. To a house full of other dogs and fosters. We retreated into the painful abyss of our newfound horrific reality. We were in no shape to take care of ourselves, let alone any pets after our return home. My friend kept Dora for many months, until the frozen snow finally began to retreat.

A warm spring day, similar to the day we first brought her home in many ways, Dora returned. We tried to reacclimatize ourselves to her. Everything had changed. Her human was gone. She searched and searched, and the pain of watching her in Jaiden’s absence was more than we could bear. It was a tough decision, but we decided to re-home Dora.

Fate intervened and we found, quite literally, the perfect family. A fenced yard and a house full of happy dog people. One of the best things about this new home was a classmate of Jaiden’s to remind sweet Dora of the special bond of love from a little person.

Time passed. Eventually, we embraced our cat-ness and adopted a delightful kitty named Delilah from the Cat Brody Pet Shelter. We were happy, we thought our animal family was complete.

And then … much like Jaiden’s mission of persuasion began, we found ourselves again listening to all the reasons why we needed a dog. Aspen shares the same passion and persistence of her big sister. It did not take long for her to convince us to contemplate a dog. This time we decided we wanted a puppy, so we could train it from the start and be responsible for any learned behaviors.

Petfinder came through for us again. We found a most adorable little guy rescued from the South with his momma dog. They called him Bernie and he is thought to be a terrier-chihuahua mix. At just about 5 pounds right now, he looks like a miniature Jack Russell, and his sweet nature and curious spirit is simply charming.

The day of his official adoption, I stopped by Jaiden’s grave to tell her about him. As tears rolled down my cheeks in the frigid cold, I apologized to her that we were not able to keep Dora. But I know she understands. I asked her then for a sign. I explained that we had not decided on a name yet for our new boy. We had a short list, but all we knew for certain is that his name would NOT be Bernie.

Working with rescue leagues is always a bit confusing and disorganized. They lost Bernie’s records and sent me home with just the sweet puppy and a promise to get his file to me as soon as possible. Still nameless, hours after our return home, I got an email with a PDF attachment. As I opened the two documents and scanned them, I learned that our little boy had been brought up to Woburn, Mass., with a group of six dogs total, including his mom.

Imagine how my heart fluttered when I read the name of the town he came from in Tennessee, and immediately realized it was one of only five potential names on our list. A single tear escapes, as I looked up toward Heaven and silently thanked Jaiden for the sign. I have a feeling that Jasper looked up then and thanked her, too.