A family dog and the gift of choosing to love

3 mins read
Warden family
Scott Warden photo

Scott Warden (new)In the spring of 2010 — several years before taking a job at OSV — I worked the night shift on the copy desk of our local daily newspaper. We had three kids then, and because my wife was home with them at night, she wanted to get a dog for protection purposes. Reading through online ads (this was before Facebook Marketplace was a thing), she found a family about two hours away who were moving out of state and couldn’t take their 2-year-old goldendoodle with them. Sight unseen, we arranged to pick the dog up and welcome him into our home. Our kids were 7, 4 and 1 at the time, and they couldn’t have been more excited.

The five of us piled into our minivan, and at the end of the 100-mile trek, we pulled off the two-lane rural highway into the owners’ driveway, and my jaw dropped. It’s a memory that will never fade as long as I live, so I’ll try to do it justice by describing it here. We all see a man standing near the driveway cradling his dog — our dog — in his arms like a baby. While that’s somewhat sweet if slightly abnormal, there’s more: The dog he’s holding is almost as big as he is. Picture a normal-sized man playing Rock-a-Bye-Baby with a small moose and that’ll come close to setting the scene.

Many thoughts were racing through my head, but the main one was this: We had, at the time, five people in a three-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot house; we didn’t have room for Sasquatch the Goldendoodle. Regardless, there was no putting the toothpaste back into the tube. We were committed. What monsters would load their kids up to pick up a dog and then drive away without one?

He was light in color, and his name was Bear — fitting, given his stature. Standing on all fours, his back came up to my hips, and when he got excited and stood up on his two hind legs, he could place his front paws on my shoulders. At his most robust, Bear weighed 110 pounds, making him, for the majority of his life, the third largest member of our family.

Despite the fact that he was tall enough that we could literally see eye to eye, Bear and I never really connected. For the kids, he was a great dog. But they didn’t have to drive around the neighborhood two or three times a week trying to find him after they’d invariably let him escape out the front door. And then there were other constant annoyances related to his size and strength.

For almost nine years, though, he was a part of our family. When the big fella passed away in the fall of 2018, even though I didn’t like him much, I cried — more to mourn the kids’ loss than my own.

We have six kids now, and the younger three (ages 8, 5 and 3) either barely remember Bear or weren’t born when he was with us. Still, all six have been begging to get another dog for years. The more they would ask, though, the more adamant I would be that we weren’t getting one. Depending on my mood, my tone would range from jokingly dismissive to flat-out mean. But their persistence was admirable. Then one day this fall, after a heavy dose of introspection, I realized that because of my own aversion, or laziness — or both — I was robbing them of the potential to experience not only a great and daily joy, but of real, foundational love.

And so, moved by the Spirit to right four years’ worth of wrongs, I did what any impulsive-but-loving father would do. I went online — without my wife’s knowledge or approval (mistakes were made) — and bought one. The kids were shocked and thrilled, of course. As we were driving home with the new goldendoodle puppy, I asked them to suggest names. Our 17-year-old, who loved Bear the deepest and has grieved for him the longest, instantly piped up from the backseat. “His name is going to be Kodi,” he said, “short for Kodiak” — a lasting tribute to Bear. My wife asked him how he came up with the name so quickly, but I already knew.

“Mom,” he said, his voice trembling, “I’ve had this name picked out for four years.” The lump in my throat began to grow.

Thankfully, God has blessed us with both time and the ability to right our wrongs — to see past our own preferences and preconceptions for the good of others — and, truly, for the good of ourselves. It is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.

Speaking of gifts, Kodi is now 4 months old, and everyone in the house loves him (most of the time). At his first veterinarian appointment, the doctor mentioned how handsome he is, and as he was feeling the puppy’s paws and bone structure, he said, with a hint of shock and warning in his voice, “He’s going to be one big dog.”

More to love, I guess.

Scott Warden is OSV’s senior managing editor for periodicals.