Promises, Broken and Kept

“It has to be fast,” I said, “like ripping off a band-aid.”

He nodded.  We both knew it was true.  The relentlessness that is This American Life, combined with the energy of a large-ish puppy, plus three kids, plus a small living space, had confirmed our suspicions.  It was too much.  The dog had to go.  After all, we couldn’t give away the kids.

And we couldn’t alter our lives much, either.  The busyness of the hours and days had crept up behind us like a private detective hot on our trail.  We’d looked out for it, had been forewarned, but there it was all the same–busyness, its arms linked with ours in permanent, if dubious, friendship.  The endless ‘to-do’ list, the cosmic hamster wheel, the driving momentum, they were all part of our new lives here.

We were tired of being tired.

To be fair, it had dawned on us, somewhere around month three, that having an outdoor puppy of questionable breed live inside our small house was going to be a…challenge.  But we had decided to stick with her, to keep hoping she’d eventually calm down.  And she had, in miniscule increments of change.  Just not fast enough.  We, unlike God, did not see how the miniscule and the slow often point to the eventual, sweeping, ultimate things of life.

After five months we felt cornered, like we had to let her go.  We couldn’t find anyone who wanted a seven-month-old puppy who scissor-nips children’s shins to herd them, and who solves algebraic equations while plotting to rule the earth.  So we called the children downstairs to deliver the news that would make them hate us.  We explained that we needed to give our puppy back to the animal shelter because we couldn’t give her the exercise she craves, and they listened with horror to our sounding gongs and clanging cymbals.

“We have to do this, kids.  We know you’re so mad and sad that you can’t see that right now.  But she just isn’t getting enough exercise here and we’re not sure when, or if, that will change.  It makes her naughty, and she’s become a lot of work.  She needs to run.  But we don’t have a fenced-in backyard, and if we let her roam free you know she’ll get hit by a car on M road.”  I hated the sound of my own voice.

“We have to take her back to the shelter.” Husband spoke with more conviction than he felt, as even the kids could see.  Everyone knew this was his dog, if she was anyone’s.

We held our puppy and sobbed a goodbye, but she didn’t want to be held and tried to wriggle free from our clingy grasp.  Husband loaded her in his truck and drove away.

When he returned he was wearing sunglasses.  It was overcast outside.  The kids sat at the kitchen table and ate sandwiches while Husband and I debriefed our treachery outside, out of earshot.

“That was awful,” he said quietly.  “She wouldn’t go back with the shelter volunteer.  She stayed by me and kept rubbing her head on my leg.  I had to pick her up and, as soon as I did, she relaxed as if to say Ok, now everything’s going to be fine.  I had to take her to a back room and leave her there.  The worker had to drag her.  She just looked back at me.”  He began to cry quietly.  Suddenly he was weeping, bent, grieving three years’ worth of sorrows.

We stood on our back deck, looking through a row of trees, and wept wordlessly–for beggar women whose kids we couldn’t feed, for prostituted children, for the stooped and abandoned aged with polio, for persecuted believers, for year after year of feeling helpless.  For a puppy we didn’t keep our promise to.

The day stretched on as we tried not to think about our dog, what she might be thinking or doing.  That awful, incessant barking of canine hell.  We distracted ourselves by driving to the public library.  The kids browsed for their favorite titles while Husband I searched for audiobooks.  Suddenly, my heart, like a wet paper towel holding up an orange, began to fissure and sag under the weight of our decision.

“I can’t bear it.  Seriously, I can’t have her sleep in the pound tonight,” I whispered to Husband with a crazy look in my eye.

“What are we supposed to do?  Tell me what you want me to do.”  He steered me into a corner because at that moment I’d begun to ugly-cry.  The librarians, only too eager for a floor show to break up the monotony of their day, could see and hear me.

“Seriously.  Do you want me to go get her and bring her back?  It won’t solve any of our problems, and we only have ten minutes before the shelter closes today.  But, if you want to, we can go and try to get her back.  But we have to go now.”  He was already looking past my head, scanning the children’s section for our kids.  I nodded.

We raced to our car, the kids bewildered and beginning to hope.  Now we had five minutes before the animal shelter closed, and there was a good chance that a nice family had already snatched our dog up.  I tried to prepare the kids.

“This is crazy, what we’re doing.  And it may not work.  And someone may have already gotten our dog.  And if they did, then that’s fine.  That’s good.  But…”  I had started bawling again, mascara streaming down my cheeks.  Our middle son plugged his ears and screwed his eyes shut.

We arrived at the shelter with two minutes to spare.  The kids and I waited in the car as Husband, the hero, ran in.  The moments ticked by as we waited to see him walk back through the double doors of the entrance.  At last we saw Husband’s gray, long-sleeved t-shirt, a black leash…and our dog.  She ran to our car, straining until she coughed.

She scrambled into the car, tail whipping back and forth with ferocious emphasis.  She was greeted by three deliriously happy children, a sobbing shell of a woman, and a content man.

“We are keeping her until she dies and that’s final.  We will never do this again.  I, for one, can’t take it,” Husband warned us.

And that is how one family learned, yet again, that it’s good to persevere–to keep trying, keep going, keep loving.  It’s hard sometimes, often impossible without divine help.  But take it from us, it’s worse to give up.

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