For my 7-year-old city kid, moving to the country was going to be a doozy of a transition. All Hannah had ever known -- her friends, her school, the deli on the corner -- was about to disappear from her life. When my husband, Mat, and I broke the news, she cried.
We told her she'd no longer have to share a bedroom with her little brother, Ethan. She said that sounded lonely. We told her it would be dark enough in the country to see the stars. She said that sounded scary. She fixated on leaving her black-topped backyard behind rather than imagining future adventures on a grassy one. If only I could find her a friend, I thought, to make the prospect of a new home less lonely and scary. Then I realized...I could!
We told Hannah that in the country, she could finally get a dog. Hannah's tears dried. Her focus shifted to fervent study of a coffee-table dog book her grandmother had given her. One day her dream pet was a Beagle. The next, it was a Brussels Griffon, then a Dachshund. She settled on a West Highland white terrier. I liked the idea, too: a white tuft of fur toddling around our house, swishing a comma-shaped tail, black dot eyes peering up at me. I contacted local Westie breeders online, but no puppies were available. "Check again, Mommy" became Hannah's mantra in the days leading up to our move.
Move in day arrived, and still no Westie pups had been born. We awoke that first morning in our new home to seemingly endless tasks of cleaning and unpacking, but a promise is a promise. I took Hannah to the animal shelter. "There might be a dog there who needs us," I told her.
The shelter's most recent arrival was a puppy that looked nothing like a Westie. He was black. His ears flopped, his tail corkscrewed like a pig's, and his eyes bulged comically from his squashed face. The diagnosis was black pug mixed with Boston Terrier, and it was love at first sight for Hannah.
After we brought Otis home, with his wild jumping and his house-rattling snore, I wondered if we'd made a mistake. But Hannah tended to him wholeheartedly. She showered him with kisses. She went to dog training classes and practiced tirelessly with a clicker and treats. Despite the snoring, Hannah wanted Otis to sleep in her bed.
I watched as Hannah did everything in her power to welcome this displaced puppy into our family and to give him a new life. It made no difference that he was a funny-looking rescue dog, not a purebred terrier. Through her new canine friend, Hannah was experiencing the joy of nurturing a living thing.
Otis helped all of us adjust to our new home. On dog walks, we met our neighbors and explored the town. We enjoyed family time playing fetch in our grassy backyard. And gradually, Otis morphed into a delightful pet. We've all gotten used to his epic snoring. He's so ugly-cute that I smile every time I look into those bulging eyes. But that's not why our silly dog will always hold a place in my heart. Otis's friendship smoothed what could have been a much tougher transition for my girl. And every day, he reminds us how caring for others can sometimes be the best way to ease our own worries and cares.
Hannah and Otis at home in Amherst, MA
Originally published in the October 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.