A Canine Nanny

A Canine Nanny

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

A Canine Nanny

The dog was created especially for children.

Henry Ward Beecher

I was physically and emotionally exhausted. At night, I was awake more than I slept, caring for our three-week-old daughter, Abigail. By day, I chased our older daughter, Bridget, an active two-year-old. My already taut nerves began to fray when Abigail developed a mild case of colic. Bridget demanded attention each time her sister fussed. Our dog, a purebred Brittany named Two, was constantly underfoot, and stumbling over her repeatedly did not help my state of mind.

I also felt isolated. We were new to the area, and I didn’t know anyone in town. My parents, our nearest relatives, lived 150 miles away. Phoning my mother on the spur of the moment to ask if she’d drop by and watch the kids for an hour while I got some much-needed sleep wasn’t realistic. My husband helped as much as he could but needed to focus on his job.

One day Abigail woke from a nap. As babies sometimes do, she had soiled her clothing and crib bedding. I tried to clean her up as fast as possible, but her cries developed into ear-shattering wails before I was through. I wanted to comfort her, but I was at a loss. I had to wash my hands, I couldn’t put her back into the crib and the floor hadn’t been vacuumed for days. Strapping her on the changing table, I wedged a receiving blanket between her and the railing. I promised I’d be right back. As her screams followed me into the bathroom, I neared complete meltdown. Women had handled this for generations—why couldn’t I cope?

I had just lathered up with soap when Two trotted purposefully past the bathroom door. A moment later the crying ceased. Hurriedly, I dried my hands and entered the nursery to find the Brittany standing on her hind legs, tenderly licking Abigail’s ear. The baby’s eyes were opened wide in wonder. Two dropped down and wagged her stubby tail in apology. With a canine grin and her ears pushed back as far as they could go, she seemed to say, “I know babies are off limits, but I couldn’t help myself.”

At that moment, I realized why I had been tripping over Two all the time: she wanted to help! When Bridget was born, Two had enthusiastically welcomed the newest member of her family. But because she had difficulty curbing her energy, we had watched her closely. Now, at six years of age, with a more sedate disposition, Two understood she had to be gentle.

That daymarked a turning point forme. During Abigail’s fussy moments, I laid her blanket on the floor and placed her next to Two. Often Abigail quieted as she buried her hands and feet in the dog’s warm soft fur. Although Two relished her role as babysitter, objecting onlywhen Abigail grabbed a fistful of sensitive flank hair, I still kept a vigilant eye on them, or Abigail would likely have suffered a constant barrage of doggy kisses.

When Abigail turned four, we enrolled her in preschool. Her teacher as well as several of the other parents commented on how she was always the child who reached out to those who were alone. Extending an invitation to join in play, Abigail often stayed by someone’s side if she didn’t get an answer, talking quietly and reassuringly. I like to think that Two’s willingness to remain lying next to a screaming infant somehow contributed to our daughter’s sensitivity.

I admit I’ve spoiled Two since that first day when she comforted Abigail. If I leave the table and a half-eaten meal disappears, I know who the culprit is. But I don’t have the heart to punish her for being an opportunist. I’m indebted to her, and losing out on several bites of cold food is a small price to pay.

Two is still part of our family, and although we all dote on her, there is an unmistakable connection between her and Abigail. Now nearly twelve years old, Two has more than her share of aches and pains. During winter, she often rests in front of the heat register. When Abigail wakes in the morning, she covers her dog with her old baby blanket and fusses over her. And when Abigail wanders away, Two trails after her, the tattered blanket dragging along on the floor. Two still considers Abigail her special charge, and I’m happy to have her help. I hope they have many more days together, looking after each other with such loving care.

Christine Henderson

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