The bark park

A few months ago, I had a laugh-out-loud moment reading an acquaintance’s Facebook status. It read: “In our greatest act of self-sabotage yet, we got a puppy!”

It resonated with me, because we had just gotten a puppy ourselves and were questioning every day in every way whether we had made the right decision. We had been so careful to find a puppy that was hypoallergenic and non-shedding, both to accommodate Isaac’s allergies and asthma and my low-maintenance household cleaning requirements. We researched and asked all of the right questions to make sure we were getting a kid-friendly, family dog.

We looked at rescues and we looked at breeds, and we finally found the puppy we wanted. He was a Whoodle, a Wheaten Terrier/Miniature-Poodle mix, a beautiful little puppy with soft wheaty curls and a little black beard. (Rescue folks, please don’t judge me, but…) We flew him in from Idaho to surprise the kids and become part of our family. Precious moments ensued, followed by chaos.

Todd and I named him “Murphy,” a good Irish name for a Wheaten, after a bar near our first home in Chicago (Murphy’s Bleachers). The kids added the middle name “Rogers” after one of Isaac’s friends, though we like to think of it as paying homage to Fred Rogers, one of our family heroes. And Fred Rogers’ Neighborhood is what we expected Murphy to bring with him: tenderness, love, and joy, with a side serving of decreased anxiety and increased responsibility.


All went well for about two days, until Murphy made it clear that he would not be a pawn in some scheme to add more peace and kindness to our home. On the contrary, he would demand the same doting attention and intensive training a third born child would have brought to the family. And if we didn’t give it, he would chew our books, our wooden spoons, the weather stripping on our doors, and eat our socks and underwear whole, though somehow evading a bowel obstruction. At least there was that. It turns out, Murphy may actually be part goat.

A few weeks in, it became apparent that we would need a new approach to training our dog, the same way we needed a new approach to raising our children about six years ago. Thanks, life, for another new challenge!

We’d expected a puppy to bring gentle moments and warm, fuzzy hugs to our kiddos. It was such a great idea! Isaac, who deals with ten times more challenges than a typical child, could benefit from the stress-reduction of having a furry best friend. And Gillian, a growing child in her own right and also facing unique challenges as Isaac’s sister, could benefit from that special bond, too. But instead of bringing a magical calm to our world, Murphy had a natural tendency that was eerily similar to our children’s…BE HIGH ENERGY ALL THE TIME!!!

Murphy has an irrepressible urge to socialize and play, to the point that he nearly jumps out of his fur when he sees humans and other dogs. So Isaac, and so Gillian! This is good for about five minutes of monitored playtime (which, I might point out, is not much out of a 16 hour day). Isaac, in particular, loves to stir Murphy up with his rope toys and chewies, or more problematic, a pencil, a forbidden food, a throw blanket, or you-fill-in-the-blank. Then he screams at the top of his lungs when Murphy gets said item, “Murphy has something!” And the whole house turns to chaos. (Even messier, when the young crew is outside, Murphy gets so wound up running around the yard that he jumps in the pool. My personal favorite.)

Since discovering Nurtured Heart Approach®, I have not been one to yell at my children. Not that I am perfect by any stretch, but I have learned more effective strategies to help my children (and myself) through stressful situations to a peaceful resolution. We’d been practicing NHA for five or six years, and practice, of course, makes you better. Things were going well! We were ready for a dog, I thought. And then there was Murphy. And then there was yelling, first by Mommy, then by the kids.

In our greatest act of self-sabotage yet, we got a puppy! Truth.

It hasn’t all been bad. I do love Murphy, and so do the kids. Todd loves him, too, on most days. It just hasn’t been what I expected, which seems to be a theme for my life. Murphy can be a naughty little thing, but he’s also tons of fun. He might be the only creature alive who can keep up with Isaac when he’s in excitement mode. And the kids’ giggles when Murphy does something cute or funny, like sneeze, scratch his nose, or jump around on them in unbridled play, are truly priceless. The hugs and tenderness have come more slowly, but they have come. The kids have taken on the responsibility of feeding and watering him and often go with us on walks.

More recently, we ventured out to our neighborhood bark park. I avoided the bark park for several months, because I thought Murphy might terrorize the other dogs, and I’d have to walk away embarrassed, with my tail between my legs. But on the final Saturday of Spring Break, I got up the nerve to take him. I’m sure it helped that Todd could go, too. And lo and behold, Murphy did great! We’d seen some video of him with other dogs at our trainer’s house, so we knew it wasn’t unusual for dogs to rumble around and engage in horseplay. Murphy did the smelling routine and a little barking, but mostly, he rollicked and ran and had a grand time with the five or six other dogs who were there. It was a huge success.

We’ve been back to the bark park twice since then, both times with the kids, which makes three times this week. Yesterday, I met a young woman there, 28, I think she said. (Isaac asked.) She had a dog named Ollie who was training to be a service dog. He and Murphy played, and the kids alternated between playing with the dogs and hanging around with the grown-ups. We were chit-chatting, and I said something self-deprecating about flying Murphy in from Idaho and getting a dog who was just like my kids. My new friend responded lightly, casually, “They say the dogs pick us.”

IMG_2540Maybe you’ve heard it before. Maybe it’s just a catchy little phrase. But it struck me. What if, in the inexplicable mystery of the universe, Murphy picked us?

I’ll be thinking about that one for a while.

For now, my heart is just a little more tender toward this wild little puppy who joined our family back in July. Whatever questions I’ve had, there’s never truly been a doubt.

Murphy is ours, and we are his.