Puppy Love

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

My 4-year-old, Maggie, recently said she wanted to play with our dog, Louie, in the backyard. Louie is a 100-pound, barrel-chested, 9-year-old yellow Labrador retriever with bad hind legs. Play is a rarity these days, so the outing didn't happen. But I was happy to hear her make the request. It was a first.

Louie was plenty feisty when Kate and I got him as a 1-year-old from Canine Companions; he didn't make the cut as a service dog, but he was perfect for us. I remember assembling our bed frame the day we brought Louie home. He didn't leave my side, resting his head on my leg as I fumbled with nuts and bolts. If I moved around, he waited until I re-settled, then put his head right back where it had been. Like most pre-kid pets, Louie was our baby.

I had a yellow Lab and then a corgi as a kid, and I loved those dogs. We all did (even my dad, though he wouldn't admit it). My sister loved our corgi so much she forced that poor dog into dress-up clothes and dragged her upstairs to sleep on her bed each night. We were dog people.

I expected my family would be the same. Before kids, I daydreamed about my future children romping through the backyard with Louie.

Instead my 6-year-old, Liam, generally ignores the dog, and Louie regards both kids mostly as an inconvenience unless they happen to drop some food. I can't blame him. They accidentally step on his paws and tail all the time. He never snaps at them, but I think it's only out of love for Kate and me. He's happiest when the kids are in bed and he can follow us around unimpeded. You can see it in his forlorn Lab face: "This is the way it used to be. This is the way it should be."

Liam is so indifferent to Louie he has recently developed a fear of dogs - even tiny ones. I can only explain this fear by his complete lack of interaction with Louie. It's as if Liam doesn't have a dog, and kids who don't have dogs often don't understand dogs.

Maggie is different. She enjoys interacting with creatures. She scoops up all manner of bugs. She keeps worms and pill bugs as pets. She asks to pet other dogs. She gives Louie treats and pats his head. She holds his leash on walks.

To be fair, Liam enjoys walking Louie, too. But I'm doubtful he'll ever be a dog person.

Louie spends much of his days sleeping. He has cysts hanging off his chest. He has trouble rounding corners on our hardwood floors. It's sad to watch him deteriorate, but his docile halcyon years may work in Maggie's favor. I'm holding out hope that if he sits still long enough for her to show him some love on a regular basis, she may start to believe me when I tell her dogs are better companions than pill bugs.

-Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer and a lunch-packing, coat-zipping, dog-loving dad.