Sharon Randall: Dogs teach us a lot about love

Published 1:07 pm Friday, June 24, 2016

Sometimes the best gift is something you never wanted.

When my oldest child was 12, he came home from school one day with a “proposal.” The boy was sharp, but “proposal” was a big word. It got my attention.

“What’s up?” I said.

His buddy Brian was moving to Italy, he said, where Brian’s dad, an officer in the military, had been reassigned. For a moment, I held my breath. Did Brian want to live with us?

Luckily it wasn’t about Brian. It was about Brian’s dog.

“He’s a great dog, Mom,” said the boy, “a Sheltie, like Lassie, but smaller. If he goes to Italy, he’ll have to be quarantined for a really long time. Brian said he’d rather give him to us than do that to him.”

Dogs mean different things to different people. Growing up, I never had a dog of my own. They were always around, fighting over scraps we threw out in the yard, or scratching their fleas under the porch. But they never belonged to me.

They came and went, often falling victim to truckers, who probably never meant to harm them, but didn’t bother to stop.

It’s a wonderful thing having a pet to love. But having a “pet of the week” can make you wary.

I told the boy I didn’t need another creature to feed and care for and clean up after.

“I promise I’ll feed him and walk him,” he said. “I’ll even clean up his poop.”

I rolled my eyes.

“C’mon, Mom. It’ll be fun. You can learn a lot from a dog.”

I laughed and the boy knew he had me. That’s how we ended up with Tuffy. The name came with the dog, along with the fur and the fleas and, yes, the poop.

Promises aside, responsibility for the dog ended up in my dishpan hands. I was the mom. Moms are responsible. We feed. We take care of things. We clean up the poop. It’s what we do.

We also love. That’s the part of the “mom job” that makes other parts doable. With Tuff, my head said, “don’t let him in!” But my heart didn’t listen. I fell flat-out in love with that dog.

Why? Who knows how love works? Here are a few reasons:

First, I loved how he loved my children. I assure you they were not always lovable. But he loved them anyway, just as I did, come what may, no matter what.

Second, I loved how my kids loved him. Like a brother, but better. They never fought or argued with him, never blamed him if they got in trouble. They each thought he was their dog alone. I let them think it, but they were wrong. He was mine.

Third, I loved how he loved me. When I walked into a room, Tuff would get up to greet me, even when his joints ached with age. If I did things he hated — forgot to buy dog food or yelled at him for chasing a neighbor’s cat or sent him out to do his business in the rain — he’d lick my hand like I was the best, not the worst, human on earth.

Usually, he slept with one of my kids. But on nights when, for some reason, I felt especially alone, I’d wake to find Tuff curled up, sleeping on my feet.

Dogs seldom outlive their masters. Tuff was no exception. But I’m glad to say that, unlike other dogs in my life, he did not get hit by a truck. Instead, he developed a brain tumor.

The vet wept as she put him to sleep. I held him in my arms and sang “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and watched that fine light fade away in his eyes.

He was a good friend. I was blessed to have him in my life. I hope he’d say the same of me.

I told you that to tell you this:

1. Gifts can look like burdens, but what you think you don’t want might be what you need.

2. When loss locks your heart, love is the key that will open it.

3. Finally, children are prophets. They tell us what we need to hear, whether we want to hear it or not. The boy was right. You can learn a lot from a dog.

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077, or on her website,