published Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Kennedy: Puppy love gets tested

Tuesday, May 28: My phone just vibrated. A text.

There's a picture attached. My 11 year-old-son is napping beside his new puppy, who is curled up in the soft fabric bed we bought at T.J. Maxx.

It should be a happy photo, but it's not. The puppy is very sick. There are subcutaneous fluid treatments and forced-feeding sessions involved. The vet is hopeful, but she isn't promising recovery.

"Napping with the sick baby," reads my wife's photo caption. "He is really worried about Boise."

For the first time in his life, my son is at risk of losing something he loves, a little puppy named Boise, who is warm and furry and smells like baby shampoo. My son, whose room is a shrine to Boise State football, named him.

Just two weeks ago, my son was doing the happy dance around the family room. His mom and I had finally relented. We decided to get the puppy for which he had begged for months -- and we showed him a picture of Boise on a website.

I knew he was ready for pet ownership. He would look for strays in the neighborhood. Some days he'd sneak off, and we'd find him a block away, petting a neighbor's dog named Angel.

There is a small window of time in a boy's life when a dog is more than a friend. A puppy can be a sponge for a boy's emerging heart, for emotions he doesn't quite understand. When I watched my son nuzzle the new puppy on the day he arrived, I had a strange realization that the power of love is like a form of electricity that arcs from one generation to the next. Some of us believe it is a force that comes from God and finds its way into our hearts because we find the courage to let it.

Dogs have been an important part of my life. Two terriers -- sisters named Nessie and Beuly -- were my best friends more than 10 years. They were my bridge between two life phases when I needed a couple of small creatures to pull me forward, straining at the leash.

Losing them was so emotionally wrenching that I had resisted getting a family dog until now. Ultimately, I realized my pain was selfish and unfair to my children. Still, I wanted to protect them from an animal's fragile mortality.

And now this.

To see an 11-year-old boy's heart soar, then crash in the space of a few days is almost too much to bear. My 6-year-old son is sad, too, and so is my wife. But my older son fell from a higher place. His psychic bruises are bone deep.

Nobody is to blame. Puppies get sick -- sometimes before their little bodies are prepared to fight back. Shots help, but they aren't bulletproof. We will fight for Boise with a good vet and financial support, and prayers lifted to the maker of all love.

At the end of the day, though, love is about surrender. It's about risking a broken heart for the sheer fear and exhilaration of feeling connected to another person -- or even a puppy.

No matter what happens, my boy will feel love again. With a girl, perhaps. Then, someday, maybe with a newborn who smells like baby shampoo.

And that love will be deeper, richer and rippled with a little melancholy because of a trembling little puppy named Boise born the first week in March in the spring of 2013.

Oh, there's the phone again. It's my wife. She's been back to the vet.

Blood count looks good. ... He's drinking water. ... Meds could be causing drowsiness. ... Bring him back in the morning.

Meanwhile, a little boy prays.

•••

Postscript -- Wednesday, May 29: Boise's tail is waging like a metronome -- prestissimo! -- and his nose is cool when it touches your cheek. His temperature is normal and the vet thinks he's turned a corner.

God is good.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
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