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Humping, biting, pooping wonders

I love Black Jack.

No, not the game, my dog. My wonderful, dorky, pubic-haired Schnoodle. Sunday was his last day with us. About 10 p.m. that night he went to his new home. I’d like to say I handled it well, crying just enough to look beautiful in my sorrow, but I’m a terrible liar.

For two hours prior to his departure, I cradled him in my arms while sobbing into his curls. He licked the salty tears and snot off my face, enjoying the treat, not understanding what was about to take place. That made me bawl even harder. He’s so innocent. I don’t care if he bites the kids when he’s excited. So what if he likes to demonstrate his dominance by hugging  your leg. He’s a good dog!

By the time his new owner arrived, I was a blubbering, red-faced, swollen, snotty mess. I could not pull myself together. It didn’t matter that Black Jack’s new owner was my best friend, who just lived down the street. All I knew was that my feet were going to freeze at night without my fur blanket to keep them warm.

Black Jack’s leaving was a long time in coming. I knew back in May that he would have to go. On Mother’s Day, my sweet boy, Ian, was hospitalized for a massive asthma attack.

Following this trauma, I took Ian to see his asthma doctor.

“Do you still have the dog?” Dr. Gourley asked.

“Yes,” I admitted sheepishly. “But this one is hypoallergenic and Ian seems to be fine…”

Dr. Gourley was shaking his head. “He’s not fine. There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog to an asthmatic.”

I love dogs. I grew up with them and cannot remember a time when my youthful feet weren’t tripping over metal food dishes on the floor. My first pooch was Penny the Toy Poodle, and then came Kachoock, our Siberian Husky with different colored eyes, and finally Mindy, the stray Collie my mother rescued on a stormy afternoon.

Having grown up with dogs, it was only fitting that I would want them to be part of my own family. When my oldest daughter was about two, she developed a mild discomfort for all things canine. My husband and I decided the best way to combat this unnaturalness was to welcome a tiny ball of fluff into our home. Tank joined our family and for the next 13 years; he worshipped my husband and pretty much hated everyone else.

At least he cured my daughter of her fear. And while he tolerated four children, I would never recommend a

Pomeranian as a good family dog. In spite of his propensity to bite and his inappropriateness with stuffed animals, I loved him and cared for him when age claimed his hearing and bladder control. Three months after his passing, my husband, Scott, surprised me with an American Bulldog.

Once in a while, an animal comes along who is different from all other animals. There is something special and unique that draws you to this creature. My bow-legged, barrel-chested, Tinkerbell, was such an animal. She had a magnetic soul. Weighing in at 50 pounds, she was the largest puppy I’d ever owned.

Caring for a dog means that you are willing to make certain sacrifices. You understand that poop will be tracked into the house on the bottom of a sneaker, you learn that library books shouldn’t—but do make good chew toys, and you decide that the short white hairs in your food really aren’t that big of a deal. You make these sacrifices because the rewards of having someone in your life, who loves you unconditionally, are worth it.

For me, dogs are the best medication, the best therapy, the best cure-all for whatever ails you. They fill a need in me that I can’t get from anyone or anything else. With a dog in my life, my soul feels complete.

After two months with Tinkerbell, I knew it wasn’t going to work. Ian’s allergies intensified around her so much, that with one lick of her tongue, he’d break out in hives. After giving her away, I came home and climbed into my bed. I didn’t leave it for three days. And when I did, I refused to wear anything but black. I wasn’t in a good place.

Along with my appearance, my thoughts and mood were dark. I admit that during that time I had some very un-motherly feelings toward my son. It wasn’t rational and it wasn’t fair, but part of me thought, If it weren’t for you, I could have a dog. I’m ashamed that those thoughts and feelings once had a

place in my mind and heart. Ian couldn’t help his allergies and asthma. He was born with those ailments.

What I failed to realize at the time, was that he was losing something special too. Like me, Ian loves dogs and is happier when he’s around them.

But as with dogs, raising children requires certain sacrifices. We know that sleeping through the night is a rare treat, and the ruins at Mesa Verde will wait, but a kidney infection will not. We understand that a dinosaur diorama is a family project, and we know that teenagers—when unsupervised—will break a brand new La-Z-boy. Our children’s needs always come before our own, even if we don’t want them to.

Black Jack was my last attempt to have a dog. Being a Schnoodle, he was considered a hypoallergenic breed. I lived in denial for two years, but eventually came to realize that it was Ian or the dog. The canine season of my life had come to a close, and it was time to put my child’s needs before my own.

The night Black Jack left I knew I needed to stop looking at my losses and start counting my blessings. I have many of them and the best ones are my children: Tawni, Rebeka, Zackary and Ian. No pet is better than them.

So with eyes that tear up occasionally — but remain clear — I am choosing to look for the good, and I’m finding it.

Although my feet are cold.

— Polly Bringhurst

Polly  Bringhurst of Sandy, Utah, is a stay-­at-­home mom who is returning to school after a 22-year hiatus. She’s spent the last two decades raising four children in a house with a revolving door. Foster children,  homeless siblings, neighbor kids and  rowdy teenagers all contribute to the loving chaos called “home.” She blogs at The Fourth Gift.

Reflections of Erma