By Laura Moore
As an anxious ball of fluff, he scared the living daylights out of me in the weeks leading up to Z's birth.
If anyone got within 10 yards of either me or my husband, he scowled and barked and asserted his vocal dominance (while his legs quivered beneath him like a cowering child). He went after small dogs with fury, yanked our arms out of socket when he saw scooters or bicycles, and raised his ears in high alert every time we left the house.
Inside, he was perfect. Over the course of his life, he chewed the foot of one rubber shoe....and that's it. He was house trained in a week and other than a few stomach bugs, he hasn't had any accidents since. He doesn't fish through the trash even if we accidentally leave the cupboard open or the bag against the door. He rarely jumps on us and as long as our friends pet him and acknowledge him, he's happy to open up and share his home.
Outside, however, everything crumbles and he turns into a mound of panic. Outside, he jumps at squirrels, at other dogs, at scooters, at the sound of a puck smashing against the roller hockey walls in the park. We spent months worrying about this, nights wondering how he'd handle a baby, wondering what he'd do when we brought home a living being that cried and crawled and banged things together in ways much more aggressive than anything he had ever seen.
To be safe, we hired a dog trainer and Finn underwent months of hard work. We tested him and directed him. We worked on walking and we established hardcore commands. We got a fake baby and we practiced extended stays. When Z was finally born, Finn was as ready as he was going to be, and the moment we came home from the hospital--the moment our family of three turned into a family of four--I swear our little dog's light started to shine.
It was a faint glow at first. He smelled him and licked him. He stared at him for hours. He held his bladder patiently until I was free enough to emerge from a feeding session and let him outside. He guarded Z's door. He didn't complain when his food bowl was filled an hour or two later than normal or when his walks were cut short. When Z was old enough to control his hands and reached out to grab Finn's tongue, Finn didn't move. I nearly had a heart attack right there, but Finn just took it, backing away slowly without lowering his jaws.
Over the last twelve months, he's lets Z pull his fur and lay his head against him in ways he doesn't tolerate with anyone else. He doesn't get mad when the little guy sneaks off and sticks his fingers in his water bowl or plays with his food. He watches Z take his bones and his Kong and even though J and I are sure it drives him insane, Finn doesn't fight him one bit when he does it. He jumps off the ottoman when Z wants to hold on, and when our little baby first started to crawl, Finn jumped into high alert.
The first few times he saw him approaching the step between our kitchen and family room, Finn ran out in front and blocked the way. Once he stopped Z's progress, he proceeded to cry until I acknowledged him, until I ran over and devoted my full attention to the baby as he belly scooted over the step and down to the family room floor. I was watching all along, of course, and knew that Z had about 30 seconds before I had to run from the stove to the step, but the fact my dog's instinct was to protect him made my heart smile. The fact he continued to do it, made my heart burst.
Last week, when Z was sick, Finn surprised us yet again. While my husband and I were busy holding Z's hands and squirting medicine into his mouth, Finn vigorously licked his toes for a good 60 seconds. When he realized the toe licking wasn't quelling the tears, he got up and ran into the family room where he found the only thing he could think to give. Dislodging his grimy red Kong from the bowels of his favorite chair--the same red Kong Z had persistently tried to steal for the last three months and J and I had persistently taken away from him--Finn tucked it into his mouth, carried it into the kitchen, and dropped it down at our son's tiny feet.
My husband and I looked at each other and I swear something inside us both melted. We couldn't even bring ourselves to take it away. We couldn't bring ourselves to return it to Finn's mouth. We couldn't even bring ourselves to wash Z's hands. Our hearts were too full to move.
Even though it is easy to get caught up in all of the changes our one-year old is enduring, it's about time I give our dog a little credit. It's about time I own up to the very real fact that I underestimated him.
Worried about his anxiety and imperfections, I neglected to honor his strengths. I neglected to consider his heart. I neglected to acknowledge just how beautiful of a creature he was beneath his huge bark and quivering legs. I sold him short in those first few months, but today, I'm calling him out.
Today, I'm saying thank you.
While much of last year belonged to little Z, today, Finn...today belongs to you and all of the others out there who have been taken for granted.