73: Pug Therapy

73: Pug Therapy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Dog Did That!

Pug Therapy

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not the absence of fear.

~Mark Twain

I was making dinner when I heard our Pug Lollipop’s frantic barking, punctuated by loud splashes coming from the pool. I dropped my tomatoes and ran as fast as I could to the deck, my heart in my throat. I had told my husband Mark we should put a fence around the pool. The poor dog sounded terrified. Pugs can’t swim. At that moment, I forgot that neither could I.

When I reached the pool, I saw Lollipop racing in circles around the edge — her usual routine when our nine-year-old daughter Jenny practiced laps. But where was Jenny?

Kablam! Another loud splash shattered the pool’s clean surface. I turned and saw Jenny, perched on the diving board, chucking one swim trophy after another into the water. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Jenny, what is it?” I approached the diving board and stood next to my daughter. She stared down at the water, where several of her blue ribbons floated. At the bottom of the deep end, her trophies gleamed.

“I quit the team, Mom,” she said. “I’m never swimming again.” She stepped off the springboard, scooped up Lollipop, and carried her inside, crying into the dog’s fur.

I’d always been so proud of Jenny. I joked that her real mother must have been a mermaid, because I sure couldn’t swim. I was so grateful that my athletic daughter hadn’t inherited my fear of water.

Thanks to my husband, Jenny learned to swim before she could walk. She’d been swimming competitively since first grade, and talked about competing in the Olympics someday. She’d just started learning to dive that year when her beloved swim coach and mentor, a competitive diver, took a bad dive and was badly injured. Jenny and her teammates learned that Coach Forster would probably never walk, much less dive, again. I thought Jenny had been handling it well. She visited her coach in the hospital, sent cards and letters, even went to practice and seemed to work well with the new coach. What had changed?

I went up to Jenny’s room. She curled herself around the Pug, who snuggled with her patiently.

“Well, Lollipop,” I said, “for a dog who’s supposed to be mine, you sure seem to belong to Jenny.”

Jenny hugged her tighter. “She can’t swim either, Mom, so she can keep me company.”

We got Lollipop about four years ago, when I joked to my husband that I felt left out of the family swim club, and wanted another member who hated the water. Mark showed up with a Pug puppy the next day. And sure enough, that dog would not go into the pool. But she always stayed outside when Jenny swam, racing alongside her and barking.

“Remember how I tried to teach Lollipop to swim?” asked Jenny. “Coach Forster said anyone could learn.” She burst into fresh tears.

“Coach came to practice today,” said Jenny, “in a wheelchair. She looked so different. She told us we had to keep swimming, that her getting hurt didn’t mean we should stop, but Mom, if the coach could get hurt that bad, what about me? I can’t go back. I’m too scared.”

For months Jenny proved as stubborn as Lollipop. She refused to swim, to even go near the swimming pool. Every afternoon at 4 p.m., Jenny’s usual home practice time, Lollipop ran out to the pool, barking, but Jenny never followed. The Pug would come back inside and sit on Jenny’s lap in front of the TV, looking up at Jenny.

Jenny didn’t respond to anyone. Not to my husband, her teammates, her coach, or me. We were so worried we considered sending her to a therapist. People said to give it time, but I was scared. What had happened to my brave little girl? Where was her spirit?

I know she missed swimming. How could she not? Every morning I set out her practice suit and swim cap, offered to drive her to swim practice, but she turned over, hugged the dog, and went back to sleep. I was beside myself. If Jenny learned to give up this early, how would she handle life’s real setbacks?

One afternoon, I was preparing dinner as usual when I heard Lollipop barking. Then I heard a splash. Then, silence. I just knew. I ran out to the pool. Lollipop had fallen — or jumped — in. She paddled frantically, but her dense body and little paws weren’t made for the water. She sank, came up snorting, sank again. I couldn’t reach her with the pool net. Every second counted. Mark wasn’t home. I couldn’t wade in — she had fallen in the deep end. I watched her sink and surface, sink and surface, and I could see she was getting nowhere.

“Jenny!” I screamed. “Get out here!”

Jenny came running out and without thinking took the most beautiful dive I’ve ever seen straight into the pool. She struck with clean strokes for that little dog, grabbed her just as she was sinking, and swam her to the edge. Jenny tried to get out, but when she did, Lollipop jumped straight back into the water. Again and again, the girl fished out the dog, and the dog jumped back in. Finally, Jenny gave up, and stayed in the water, floating the Pug in a lazy circle.

“Look Mom,” she said, “Lollipop’s trying to swim!”

Never let anyone tell you that Pugs can’t swim. Ours can. I still don’t know for sure if that Pug fell in the pool or jumped. But she got my daughter back in the water.

Jenny went back to swimming, and Lollipop swims, too. Not well, and mostly in the shallow end. But she swims. Looks like I might have to overcome my fears and take some lessons, too.

~Helen Rucker

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