Meg, our Labrador, was the result of a moment of supreme weakness on my part. It doesn’t help that my daughter Emily suffers from the most common genetic disease of children and young adults in this country, cystic fibrosis.
Hidden in her DNA, mutations take their toll on her body, especially her lungs, necessitating a brutal, endless regime of respiratory therapy and medications to keep her alive.
During one particularly severe bout of pneumonia when Emily was nine years old, a little girl in pigtails and a modest hospital Johnny asked, “Daddy, do you think you could buy me a yellow Labrador?”
It felt like a cry for help, for companionship, the need for absolute security helping her to find the words.
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There is no going back on any promise made to a child in a hospital bed. Our pediatric pulmonologist was not thrilled with the concept of canine dander irritating Emily’s already sensitive airways. But I argued for more reward than risk.
There would always be times when Emily was sick and had to stay home from school, isolated from her friends. Here was a chance to have a constant companion, a play-mate who never feared catching your cold, always cheerful and content just to share your space, guaranteed to make your down feel up.
Between heartbeats, my precious little girl grew up, transforming into a defiant teenager, sprawled across a couch, hypnotized by Kim Kardasian, thumbs on texting autopilot.
These days, when I come home from work, it is Meg who greets me in a manner reminiscent of my daughter when she was younger. Unlike Emily, Meg wants me to know she will never tire of my affection. Meg also promises never to ask for the keys to the car, she won’t turn up at two in the morning and she won’t complain if I convert a bedroom into a home gym.
Like most dogs, Meg offers love without the risk. Now I’m the one who finds solace in her company.
Though I’m grateful for Meg’s different perspective, love between humans is meant to be full of risk, a game of give and take, all the more potent for the balances we strike. For now, during Emily’s emotional hibernation from her parents, I must let her Labrador be my envoy.
In times of upheaval and transition, our pets act as a reminder of normalcy, of comfort, and the certainty of a particular type of love that can get you through. Though Emily may be loathed to admit it, deep down she knows her father’s love for her remains no different from her beloved Meg’s – unwavering and unconditional.
Don’t miss his previous RIF post, Nick Trout Gives Thanks for His Animal Mentors
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