I met this family, one at a time, through their puppy. That’s how I meet most families. This pup was an eight week old, French Bulldog. I learn about many families through their dogs that I train. Some of the families are very special. While dog trainers usually concentrate on the dogs, we do work for and with their humans and if we’re lucky, we are welcomed into their world with their animals. Sometimes those families are so extraordinary they help their dogs shine and in some families their dogs do the same for them. I learned about the humans in this family through their dogs and in the beginning, I fell in love with them through the eyes of their dogs and stories told by their human Mom.
I met the youngest of the three teenagers through her mother telling me that it will be absolutely unacceptable to train this puppy with anything but positive, peaceful training. It was a nonnegotiable statement and it was final. That was it for me, I already loved this kid. They had had a difficult time with a previous trainer and some very scary advice was offered. They both decided together that “old fashioned” training was not going to be allowed.
As I heard more stories about this family during our training sessions, I grew more and more excited about the future of this puppy and I wasn’t surprised about the gentle nature of their older dog a nine year old, Ridgeback. He was one of the calmest and sweetest dogs in the neighborhood and he was a pleasure to hang around with. As I gathered more stories from the Mom, while the kids and husband were at school and work, I started to realize how loved these dogs were. There were discussions over who would get to sleep with them, stories about one of the kids staying home from school sick and the dogs holding vigil at their bedside, only coming down for meals and quick outside business. A few times I had a late afternoon appointment and I would walk in on a teenage boy laying on the couch watching TV with a dog on his lap.
When the older dog died the family was devastated. He was a great boy and it was a hard blow for the family, as it is for most families. When they were ready, they added another Frenchie. They were cute together and followed each other around the house. It was once these two Frenchies were together that I heard the story that would make me fall in love with their human Dad. I had spent several weeks in the house before I realized that he was in a wheelchair. The Mom told me that every morning her husband and the dogs all had breakfast together. He would take a bite of cereal and then share one with each dog. They took turns. I was truly in love. Any guy who would share his first meal of the day with his dogs was okay in my book. This man, who struggled everyday, for whom movement and energy was precious, made sure every morning he had this endearing connection with his dogs. A busy executive, with limited access and energy, had breakfast with his dogs every morning.
I’ve know these dogs and this family for a while now, and I am so grateful that we live close to each other and have been able to become friends. Our dogs are playmates and walking pals and these two Frenchies are very close to my heart, as are their humans.
On the day that I met their Dad, he was smiling. He was laughing actually because my own dog was there and she wanted to kiss him so badly that she kept attempting to jump on him in his chair. And he of course said the very words that every dog trainer doesn’t want to hear about their jumping dog, “Oh, it’s Ok, I don’t mind if she jumps on me”. I was so worried that she would hurt him or break some intricate part of his chair and therefore his mobility, but he just kept smiling and laughing and reassuring me that he was just fine and I should be also. He did that a lot with people, made them feel just fine. Every time after that day I saw him, he was smiling.
I was moved to write this as a tribute. I write about dogs all the time but this one is for a very special human. This weekend in a tragic accident this family lost their Dad. The Dad who shared his breakfast with his dogs. No one said that in the service today, but that’s what I pictured while he was being so beautifully eulogized. They talked about his legacy and it is a large one. They talked about his philanthropic generosity and they mentioned briefly his important job. They talked about his athletic endeavors, running marathons, when he still could, and what an awesome son, brother, father, husband and friend he was. Mostly they talked about his smile. I’ve witnessed all of this throughout the years. There were over a thousand people at the service. Yet, the whole time I pictured him eating cereal with his dogs.
Now when I think of him, I know I will I smile as I imagine him sharing spoonfuls of Cheerios.
There’s a quote of unknown origin that says:
“My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am.”
I know one thing. When I visited the dogs the other night, they told me in their best language that they were sad. No, I’m not that amazing of a dog trainer. I just looked into their eyes.
Run In Peace