How Our Blind Dog Taught Me About My Teen Daughter
About four and a half years ago, I convinced my husband that our family was ready for a dog. It had been a couple of years since we’d gotten married, relocated, and blended his life with mine and the kids’, and things felt stable and settled. A family pet would be the icing on the cake.
Licorice came to us from a local rescue group, and though we lovingly refer to her as “12 pounds of terror,” she is truly the sweetest animal I’ve ever known. Loyal to the family—and always ready to bark at the UPS guy—she’s never met a stranger, and quickly assumes newcomers are here to adore her. We refer to it as fate or the arrival of our third child; Licorice is the perfect dog for us.
So my husband was perhaps a little confused when I began jonesing for a second dog. Wasn’t Licorice already everything we needed? Of course she is, but sometimes we’re out for a while and she’s home alone and she must be lonely. And sometimes just one little dog isn’t big enough for everyone to get their snuggling/petting in at the same time. Plus ZOMG Licorice isn’t going to live forever and I need a backup. (I don’t pretend this process was driven by logic. I’m just being honest.) We returned to the rescue where we got Licorice, but as we wanted another Shih Tzu mix and they didn’t have any, I broadened the search. We saw several not-right dogs, and then we found Duncan on Craigslist.
Duncan’s family felt they had to give him up because they didn’t have sufficient time for him. His skin and coat were in poor shape (Tzus are very allergy-prone) and he seemed to have joint issues, even at the relatively young age of 4. He was stiff and hesitant, but he walked over to my outstretched hand and sniffed, then gave me a lick. “I love him,” I announced. “He’s the one.” Duncan’s integration into the household wasn’t without bumps in the road—turns out he’s closer to 7 than 4 (which never would’ve been my preference, but too late now), during the transition period he bit several of us, I’ve already spent hundreds of dollars at the vet nursing him back to health, and by the way, he’s almost completely blind.
His former owners didn’t even notice, I don’t think. He gets around pretty well.
Now that Duncan is happy and healthy and we’re all hopelessly in love with him, I’m seeing more and more how much he and my teenager daughter have in common. (For the record, she has never bitten me.) Why is it easier for me to learn these rules of engagement from a 20-pound mutt than from my firstborn? Well, that would be a treatise all its own, probably. Regardless, Duncan has been a good teacher when it comes to dealing with temperamental creatures.
Duncan will tell you when it’s okay to interact. Licorice is up for a thorough snuggle any time, anywhere, but Duncan can get grumpy if you get in his face without invitation. Hmmm, that reminds me of someone else I know…. It’s not that he (or she) doesn’t want love and affection, it’s that it needs to be when requested (or at least needs to proceed slowly and be respectful of how it’s received).
Duncan doesn’t want you to bother him, but he needs to know you’re nearby. Maybe it’s because he’s blind, maybe he’s just always been like this, but if he doesn’t know where his people are, he becomes concerned. Hear that howling? Sorry, I walked upstairs while he was napping down on the couch. I just need to reassure him that we’re around if he needs us, and he’ll curl back up and be fine. Duncan doesn’t require allowance or chauffeuring, but this seems parallel to the teenager experience, as well. “Leave me alone! Wait, where are you going??”
Duncan isn’t playful… except when he is. Don’t bother trying to entice Duncan to play if he’s not in the mood. But every now and then, he’ll start rolling around with a toy like he’s a puppy again. My daughter is far too grown-up to be silly, you know, except when she isn’t. Trying to lure her into some fun when she’s not interested is a fool’s errand, but being willing to just go with it on those rare, goofy occasions? Priceless.
Duncan needs structure and clear expectations. In retrospect, I can see where a lot of Duncan’s early issues with us stemmed from being unclear on the lay of the land (hey, figuring out where to pee when you’re blind and in a new place must be daunting) and our routine. Now that he’s settled in, on the rare occasions when his routine is disrupted, it’s clear that it stresses him out. This is exactly like someone else I know, though (spoiler alert!) we don’t make her pee outside or wait for us to pour a bowl of kibble.
Duncan appears to be fine on his own, but he needs us. It’s not just that he doesn’t have opposable thumbs with which to open the treat jar, it’s that he loves having us as his pack, albeit on his (sometimes grumpy) terms. Is there a teen on this planet who doesn’t want you to believe she’d be fine, just fine without your meddlesome presence? Even as my daughter creeps closer and closer to the magical age of legal adult, and even as she assures me that I’m not needed, we’re still family, and I will scratch behind her ears if I want to.
Or something. I admit I’m still working out the specifics.