I flushed the toilet and sank back on the edge of the porcelain bathtub. Another wasted month. My doctor’s advice from last week rang in my ears like a bullhorn. Relax and get a dog—you might become pregnant. An hour later, I met my husband at our backdoor with my keys dangling from my fingers. He blinked into my eyes, dropped his lunch bucket and pulled me into his arms. “It’s time,” I whispered into his shoulder.
The pound housed every stray animal in the county. I must have driven past it a hundred times on my way back and forth to work but this time I turned into the long driveway that led up to a patchwork of shelters.
“We need a gentle dog.” My husband grabbed my hand as we followed the backside of the teenaged assistant. She pointed out a long row of wire cages and suggested a stroll-by. By the time I passed a myriad of pit-bulls, hound dogs, and Labs, I had lost hope that God would supply the perfect animal—the one that would take my mind of what I really wanted—a child. But then my attention halted on the last cage. Inside, a mop-haired mutt rested behind a smaller dog. A beaded tongue lolled from the side of her mouth like part of a sneaker while the younger pup bounced at the screen as if it was made of rubber.
“That’s her puppy. Seems the owner didn’t want two dogs anymore. Want to take her out?” The gangly attendant handed my husband a leash. He looked at me and I nodded. What difference did it make? He slipped the leash on the older white ball of fluff and within seconds, Panda trotted by his side like a matched pair of slippers. On command, she sat, stayed and even held up her paw. I glanced back to her puppy, and knew she’d soon be orphaned.
My new charge took to us like peanut butter to jelly. After a bout of car sickness, she arrived at our home as nervous as we were. But a warm bath, a bowl of fresh leftovers and a mat positioned at the foot of our bed—helped the queen take up residence.
My life soon revolved around taking Panda for walks, brushing her miles of hair, and vacuuming up the rest. Three months later, I realized she’d become a huge part of our family. I couldn’t remember a moment without her. “Is this how having a baby will feel?” I asked my husband one evening.
He clasped my hand. “Some day.”
Some day arrived three months later. When I called the doctor to ask about my results, Panda waited at my feet with me. “Congratulations. You’re pregnant.” I nearly dropped the phone. Instead I dropped to my knees and pulled her head in my arms and cried.
Shelly entered our family much like Panda did. She cried all the way home, but after a change of clothing, a warm bottle and a bed positioned next to ours, she settled in like a princess. That night, when we turned out the lights, a ball of white fur padded up the stairs behind us.
“Oh no girl, not anymore.” My husband grabbed Panda by the collar and herded her onto the mat by the door. “Tomorrow I build you a doghouse.”
My heart broke at the thought of Panda spending her nights in a tiny house in our backyard but I knew I couldn’t clean up after her and care for a newborn. Eventually, she resumed court from her customized quarters, barked at strangers and pushed her nose into my daughter’s palm for treats. For fourteen years, Panda resided not only in our yard, but in our hearts until the day arrived when she could no longer chase Shelly’s softballs, race with the new Lab, or even climb the back steps for a hug.
I blinked back tears as my husband loaded her for one last ride in the truck. Her white hair had matted with age but still she held her head high. I remembered my doctor’s words again. Get a dog. Choking back a sob, I realized God hadn’t given us just a dog; he’d given us a life.
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