I heard a pastor say that when you pray for patience you should be prepared for how God will answer your prayer.
At the time, I laughed. Raising two kids, commuting on Route 28 and dealing with a few crazy bosses and clients over the years have forced me on numerous occasions to ask God -- no, make that beg him -- for a little patience.
Did I know my patience lesson would arrive disguised as a 15-pound bundle of cuteness?
When my beloved cocker spaniel died, I dreaded giving the news to my son Alex, who was then 6. When that same kid was consuming way too much albuterol and prednisone to keep his asthma under control, I watched him flinch with every skin prick and then saw the tears roll down his cheeks when he heard he was allergic to tree pollen, cats and ... dogs.
Try allergy shots, the allergist said. Of course this was suggested to break the cycle of allergies causing asthma, causing trips to the emergency room. But I was also holding out hope that after the allergy shots we could get another dog.
Three years of allergy shots, followed by five years without any asthma attacks, gave me the confidence to ask my doctor if we could get a dog. With a perfectly professional tone, she cautioned that there is no such thing as a hypo-allergenic dog. However, if I got something small, that doesn't shed and that I kept out of Alex's bedroom? Yes!
I found a 4-year-old Shih Tzu and Lhasa apso mix in a shelter. I was in heaven. My son, now a somewhat moody teenager, was laughing and giggling as he and his little sister played with the dog. It was pure bliss, but short-lived.
The dog was housebroken, did not shed and was perfect in every way -- until you left the house.
• • •
I never knew a small dog had the strength to push apart the sides of a metal crate when left alone for just two hours. Or, that a little dog could eat through the two heavy-duty bungee cords wrapped around his crate. I didn't know housebroken dogs could poop in the house out of fear of being left alone. I never heard of a condition called dog separation anxiety.
I also didn't know you could earn a living as an animal behaviorist, or that I would ever hang onto every word this person said.
The animal behaviorist told me about the "find it" game. Before we left the house, we would put the dog in a bedroom and scatter boxes with treats inside all over the house. We would then let the dog out, scream "Find it!" and run to the car. The idea was that the dog would be so busy running around looking for treats, he'd forget we left.
We were also told to vary our routine. I would put on my coat, grab my keys, sit on the couch and watch some bad television. We were told to leave for a very short period and quickly return. This teaches the dog that we will always come back.
So, I would come home from work and send my kids a text saying, "Now!" They would drop what they were doing and run out of the house. We'd drive down to the bottom of the hill, turn around and come home. This went on for weeks.
I even tried aromatherapy. According to the description on the bottle of Chill-Out I used, "a powerful blend of chamomile, lavender and marjoram act to calm and quiet pet nervousness."
The combination of all of this seemed to be working. I was feeling quite proud. Then, the dog started attacking doors. The day I returned to find his paw covered in dried blood from a big splinter, I realized he was seriously crazy.
Now there's a new routine at our house. Every morning the dog gets a spoonful of peanut butter with a little Prozac. (Gotta love the pharmaceutical industry for making beef-flavored happy meds for our canine friends!)
He also gets two walks a day. Two very long walks, even in bad weather. We attend dog agility classes to exercise his body and his mind. He also gets dehydrated chicken -- a delicacy in his world -- before we leave.
Maybe my kids will look back on all of this and think their mom was the crazy one. Hopefully though, this little dog taught them something about patience and compassion. I know that's what he taught me.
Carole Reinert Lucas of Springdale, a public relations director, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Animal Tales" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.