By Jill Case
I knew we had probably spoiled our dog, Chad, too much when I saw that look on my daughters’ faces. My husband was bouncing Chad (all ninety pounds of him), who was sprawled across his lap, while I clapped my hands. The girls, home from college, looked at us like we had lost our minds!
Chad came into our lives to fill a void. When my younger daughter, Carolyn, found out that we were moving from Columbus, OH to Fort Wayne, IN the summer before her older sister, Alison, was leaving for college, she started asking for a dog. Feeling incredibly guilty about the move, I pushed for a new dog, too. We already had an older Airedale, Sadie, but my daughter wanted a new dog that would be all hers. We joked that the dog would take Alison’s place when she left for college.
We decided to look for our new dog at the county dog shelter. It was heart-breaking to walk by the cages; we wanted to take all of them home. Carolyn had narrowed our choices down to a couple dogs when we saw this black and brown dog in a cage in the corner. Scrunched into a cage that seemed too small, he just seemed to be calling out to use with his big brown eyes.
The worker from the shelter took him out of the cage to the “get acquainted” area where he bounded around enthusiastically. The girl told us that he was so sweet—that he just wants to be loved. My husband, John, thought he was too big, and we weren’t sure if Sadie, our Airedale, would like him. At the shelter, they told us they thought he was part Airedale, which would have met one of our only requirements for a dog—we did not want a dog that sheds a lot.
Chad’s coloring did look like our Airedale, and I could see coarse terrier hair on his hind legs. We asked if he would shed, and the employees said they didn’t think he would shed very much. John still had reservations, but tears and cajoling won out, and we went to pick Chad up.
He seemed very scared when we got him into the car. The shelter staff really didn’t have much information about him since they had picked him up as a stray. They thought he was between two and four years old, and no one knew if he had been abandoned, abused or just lost.
When we got him home, he had quite a bit of adjusting to do. For one thing, we found out that he was terrified of stairs. This was a problem since we had a two-story house with a finished basement, as well as three steps down from our porch to the back yard.
After much coaxing, we got him to come upstairs, but he was too scared to come back down, so John had to carry him. We worried that he had been abused or thrown down stairs at some point. We also discovered that he was terrified of men. He would cower when John came near him.
We began to be concerned about whether or not Chad was going to fit into the family. I couldn’t stand the thought of abandoning him again, so I desperately wanted to make it work. We all spent time working with him and showing him that we were not going to hurt him. There were some bumpy moments when he and Sadie didn’t get along and some jealous moments, too. Chad never instigated a fight, but when Sadie did, he fought like a street fighter—dirty! He always bit her ears (and dogs’ ear bleed like crazy).
As Chad began to trust us, his personality began to come through loud and clear. His goal in life was and is to be loved—completely and 24/7. Unfortunately, his way of showing love—licking people repeatedly—is not always appealing to everyone, but he just has to do it.
Chad progressed from street stray to pampered baby fairly quickly. He decided pretty quickly that floors were just not the place for him. His proper place must be the couch or beds (no dog beds—only human beds for him).
Sadie, our Airedale, never took to Chad, but he didn’t seem to care. He would cozy up to her whether she liked it or not and seek her out to play, but she was older and too tired to care. When she died, Chad mourned for her right along with us, his droopy demeanor matching our grief.
Once Chad was an “only dog,” he got even more attention and became more spoiled. Just about a year and a half after Sadie died, it was Carolyn’s turn to leave for college. I told her that I would still have Chad. I would also tease both girls, saying Chad was my favorite child because he didn’t go off and leave me.
Of course, he’s not my favorite child (I don’t have a favorite), nor is he a child, but he did help with the empty nest. We talk about him and pay attention to him every evening. He has a huge bin of toys and a basket of treats in the pantry (my tendency to overindulge him may be why he’s just a couple pounds overweight!). He is, in some ways, our baby.
I know it sounds crazy, but moms and dads do crazy things when confronted with the emptiness of the empty nest, which brings me back to the beginning of my story. Why were we bouncing the dog and clapping? Because we discovered that he likes clapping for some reason (he thinks it signals something exciting like a walk), and we just do things to make him happy. We don’t know what his life was like before he came to live with us, but we know that it’s pretty good now, and that’s the way we like it!