Early one morning after letting John Brogan out of the car a mile from high school this past week, (so he could walk with his girlfriend…that’s a whole ‘nother story) I passed a Mom and 7-year-old boy and their 10+-year-old black lab walking to school. I couldn’t help but go right back there, to those days not that long ago when we walked with the boys and our black lab to elementary school. Maddie was the world’s best dog, and she would say that she had raised our boys as much as we had.
Our boys have companioned Murphy (a black a brown shepherd), Maddie (a black lab), Buzz “down” Lightyear (an Australian shepherd), Emma (a red-boned, coon hound) and now K’bu (a chocolate lab). We’ve been blessed with really good dogs – and as it turns out, pretty darn good boys.
I know this isn’t a universally shared view, but I can’t imagine growing up without a dog. We were lucky because when I was 10, we got Sloopy (a mixed [up] beagle) and she lived with our family until all three sisters had left home for college. Sloop lived in a time before leash laws. One of our family’s favorite memories was singing Christmas carols in the neighborhood. Sloop walked into almost every house along the route and was greeted with treats and hot dogs all night long. [That girl could “work the room."] Sloop would run beside our bikes all through the summers. And she walked Dad every night for a mile or two and so they could both be home in time for Johnny Carson.
Dogs are unique in all the world. When the boys were little and our lives were chaotic, every night when I opened the door after a long day at work – there was Maddie sitting there, wagging her tail. Waiting. For me. She did that for Linda. And for each of the boys. Although we (actually) saw her rolling her eyes at each of the boys when they acted like kids around her. And I think she started (actually) sighing – a lot – after Sam was born. I don’t think she had anything against Sam, she liked him – it was the principle of the thing. We got Maddie when she was a puppy, 6 months before Brogan was born. And I truly think that her eye-rolling and audible sighs were overt signs of wishing for the good old days.
As I watched the Mom, the boy and old dog walk slowly down the street I was mindful of their pace. Five years before, I bet the Mom and dog had intentionally matched their pace to the toddler's – as he was slowly and carefully taking his first steps. And that morning as I watched, the Mom and the son were matching their pace to the old, friend who would most probably not be making this morning trek too much longer. Grey snout and tail wagging, that good ole girl looked up at her two humans as they were talking. Nodding her head, every now and then. But always on her guard. Ever the protector, ever the companion. I could tell just watching her, that she took this child-raring very seriously. I could tell that this was her boy.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.