Our 14-year-old daughter Dixie was out walking with her girlfriends after school and found a dirty, female dog without a collar or any identification that was running around in the middle of the street. The girls were afraid the dog would get hit by a car and brought her home to our house.
Dixie fell madly in love with the little pooch, but we insisted that she allow us to take the dog to the Pasadena Humane Society. We told her that if no one claimed the dog, we would allow her to bring the new pet home. Dixie has wanted a dog for as long as we can remember and now we feel that she’s old enough to be responsible for much of the dog’s care. She visited the dog every day and soon was allowed by the shelter to take over daily basic needs like walking, grooming, feeding and cuddling the dog. She took her own money and bought a dog collar with musical notes on it and named her new dog Jazzabelle.
Unfortunately, Jazzabelle didn’t pass her health inspection. The veterinarian believes Jazzabelle is over 11 years old, blind in one eye and severely arthritic. It’s not even the future vet bills that we are concerned about. We are worried that Dixie’s heart is going to break when her new pet gets sick with pain or dies. We tried to explain this to her and told her she could get a young, healthy puppy of her choice, but she refuses. She insists Jazzabelle is her adopted dog now and it is not possible to replace her. She, too, is worried about Jazzabelle’s health, but it seems like it has only made her closer, more understanding and more protective of the dog. My husband and I are not sure what to do. We know that we won’t always be able to protect our daughter from heartache, but we feel it’s our job to try. We regret we didn’t buy her a healthy little puppy like she asked for long ago.
I understand your desire to try to ensure Dixie doesn’t have unnecessary suffering in her life, even though supporting her devotion toward Jazzabelle may end up causing your daughter some pain. In spite of this challenge, you are giving her a beautiful message: love and commitment are worth it.
You must be so proud how Dixie is already showing such great personality traits. She is showing she can be a responsible, kind caretaker and has a strong ability to be loyal, affectionate, compassionate, empathic and understanding toward Jazzabelle. These attributes — as well as the ability to emotionally bond and attach to another — will help her with future relationships throughout her lifetime. Research shows that when children are encouraged to care for animals, they tend to be more sensitive and caring toward other people, too. By supporting Dixie’s love for her dog, you’re helping nurture those all-important feelings of connection and stewardship as well.
As companions, dogs are wonderful in their friendship, and dog ownership is not something to be entered into lightly. Owning a dog is a long-term emotional commitment. It appears Dixie already understands that owning a dog is not just a privilege but a responsibility. Further, that Jazzabelle is not a machine one throws away when old or broken but a little being that’s beginning to depend on Dixie for love, safety and health.
Since Jazzabelle is considered a senior dog, Dixie may eventually experience the loss of her pet and this may be her first experience of death. This may also be your first opportunity to teach her about coping with the grief and pain that inevitably accompanies the joy of loving another living creature. When issues come up concerning Jazzabelle’s health, listen and give your full attention while Dixie voices her concerns and fears. Have her be specific in sharing her thoughts and feelings so you’ll be able to empower, teach and support Dixie to cope with problems. This is a wonderful lesson that will last for her lifetime. Make sure you express to Dixie how proud you are of her ability to love and care for other beings.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.