In a previous life, I was terrified of dogs. I was the kid at the backyard birthday party who couldn’t go into the backyard because there was a dog there. And I’m not talking about a large, intimidating dog. I’m talking about a cute little fluffy dog, of which I was absolutely terrified.
But one day in 2006, I received an email from a neighbor inviting me to adopt a foster puppy. I couldn’t explain my sudden deliverance, but I wanted that puppy. I felt called to her.
From the moment we met each other, we were completely smitten. I named her “Jovie,” and found myself doing all kinds of “puppy mommy” things like buying her jackets, baking gourmet dog treats, and scheduling puppy play dates.
I was not yet a mother when I adopted Jovie, but I was serving as a youth pastor. In so many ways, I feel that I became a mother when I was a youth pastor, which you can read more about here. The cumulative effect of caring for my youth and now caring for this puppy intensified my desire to have my own children. I was just starting a doctoral program, which meant that having a family would have to wait a few more years.
So I adopted another puppy. This time, a border collie corgi mix whose owner didn’t want her because she was the mixed-breed offspring of her full-breed border collie mother. She was playful and happy, all the time. Her coat was solid black, like a bear. I named her Winnie, after Winnipeg the bear, the namesake of Winnie the Pooh.
When Jovie passed away unexpectedly in June, 2009, exactly one week to the day after my Papa Stanley passed away, I was devastated. When I discovered Jovie’s body, I also discovered Winnie sitting there at her side. I guess that Winnie sensed Jovie was not well and stayed by her side until I could get there.
A few days before this happened, I officiated my Papa’s funeral. He was our family’s minister, and now I am our family’s minister. And in order to make it through his service, I had to suppress my own grief.
When Jovie died, my walls collapsed, and I was beside myself with grief from so much loss in my family. Having Winnie was such a comfort. Not only was she maybe the most loyal being I’d ever known, but she forced me to play again.
In time, my heart opened to adopting a new puppy. As long as Winnie had been in the family, she was one of two dogs, and I could sense that being alone was hard for her. She needed a playmate.
And then I met Scrabble. She was a white Brittany spaniel dachshund mix with the cutest markings on in her fur: a brown heart on her back and what looked like a brown Mickey Mouse on the top of her head. At the pound, I learned that her owners were both soldiers at Ft. Hood and had been deployed overseas, forcing them to put her up for adoption.
Scrabble was not as energetic as Winnie, and it took a while for them to learn how to be sisters. But in what seemed like no time, we were all a family.
Not long after, I celebrated that I was expecting a baby! On the first anniversary of my Papa’s death, I told my grandmother that I was pregnant with my son Stanley, named for her late husband. Friends coached me in how to introduce puppies to babies, and their suggestions worked. The puppies tended to keep their distance from Stanley, but as a mother, I treasured the feeling of having us all be family together.
When Stanley was learning to walk, he would try to chase the puppies around the couch. When Stanley would cry, Winnie would sit by his crib until I could get there. She was always faithful with the ministry of presence.
As I was going through a difficult divorce, I was grateful for the companionship of my puppies. They helped me feel physically safe in my home as a single mother. They eased some of the loneliness of the times when my son was visiting his father.
My ex ended up with the dogs in our divorce. Not long after he assumed ownership of them, he gave them away. The family with which he placed them lost them the very next day, which I learned when I received a call from the microchip company. The dogs had been found in a parking lot of one of the busiest intersections of our town.
I helped return the puppies to the family, with gritted teeth. I contacted the family a week later to ask how the puppies were doing and was told that they had been given away to another family. My heart was breaking for them. They must have felt so confused and alone.
Two years passed, with no word. I often thought about them, wondering how they were doing, wondering if they were still alive, wondering if they thought about me like I thought about them.
And out of the blue, in December, I received a call from animal control in a town several miles away that they had picked up Scrabble. They had tried to contact her owners multiple times but heard no response. Since my information was on her microchip, they legally gave Scrabble back to me. She was home!
When I picked up my son that afternoon, I told him that we had a puppy. He gasped with excitement. He wanted to race home to meet her. I showed him a picture of him with her when he was little, but I don’t think he understood yet how special this was.
They took to each other instantly. He worried she might be cold and got a blanket for them to share. And they laid there on the rug watching TV together, like the brother and sister I had always hoped they would be.
He loves helping take care of her. Twice a day, he measures her food and puts it in her bowl. (Scrabble eats from a Snoopy bowl and Stanley thought she looked kind of like Snoopy. I did, too, when I chose his baby bedding. Like mother like son.)
He likes to help me hold the leash when we take her out. He likes to pack her toys and snacks when we go on trips. He even likes to share his hats with her, which for him is a really big deal. He tells me sometimes, “Mommy, I’m a good puppy brother.” I smile and agree.
I don’t know where Winnie is. Animal control said that she was not with Scrabble, and I pray that wherever she is, she is safe and happy.
My heart rejoices that Scrabble has come home, that my son will grow up with her. There has been so much healing for me since Scrabble came home to us. It’s like a piece of me has come back, like a ripped seam has been mended.
This February, as you reflect on the love in your life, I encourage you to celebrate love in all its forms. This month of love is about so much more than romance.
For me, February is about my family. And we are celebrating how blessed we are to have each other.
Courtney Pace Lyons serves at Baylor University, where she earned her PhD, as Assistant Director of Student Success and a Lecturer in the Department of Religion. Proud mother of Stanley and Scrabble, Courtney also wrote “Rev. Dr. Mom” for A Divine Duet: Ministry and Motherhood (www.helwys.com). Her blog is at courtneypacelyons.blogspot.com.