I didn't grow up with animals in the house. Aside from the ducks who nested in our front bushes and the brief period of time where we had an algae-free fish tank – the mess of animals wouldn't have fit into our feces/fur-free home. We weren't "animal people."
Although I begged my parents repeatedly for a cat (ewwww – and I would have been terribly allergic – there go all my cat-lady readers) I didn't have my first pet until I surprised Jahred with a Beagle over nine years ago. Oscar – as we call him – was diagnosed with Stage Four Grouchiness almost immediately.
When we brought Axel home from the hospital the grouch was two. His interaction with our tiny human was purely olfactory. As Axel became a toddler Oscar developed fast-twitch muscles and spent most of his day escaping the grips of an unpredictable monster.
Although Axel immediately took interest in the animal kingdom (and at times we feared we had a Dr. Doolittle on our hands), Oscar skeptically watched from the sidelines, keeping his distance as this child grew, matured and calmed (he may have calmed too much according to his teachers).
Oscar was nearly seven when monster #2 arrived – a beast who like his grandparents showed little tolerance for the 4-legged. At his advanced age, the escapes were slower and the growling increased. Although we love our dog, and he has never (actually) bitten anyone...he is the kind of dog that kids want to pet because he is adorable...and we firmly tell them, "This dog bites." Oscar has little patience for the energy of youth.
Last night I was charging away on the treadmill, the kids plugged were plugged into a movie (volume up to overpower my labored breathing) and Oscar sidled into the room. As Ollie quickly hid his brimming cup of stolen marshmallows (the kid can climb) and started screaming, "No Oscie," Oscar curled onto the ottoman taking refuge from a pair of trusted legs. Axel bent down and stroked his fur slowly – attention never removed from the screen – and I could see as Oscar closed his eyes that his relationship with my near-sever-year-old was one of respect and trust.
I am always looking for signs of aging/maturing in my kids. Milestones never go unmarked or unnoticed. This one for whatever reason struck me as profound. My dog, who has trust issues among other psychological hiccups, now acknowledges Axel as an adult and a shelter from the storm that is childhood. He has graduated from a chaotic hunk of water and carbon to a human who is capable of being a protector to the vulnerability that is a domestic pet. It's important.
Not having grown up with animals I see my first pet in a unique light. I see his purpose as a teacher, a listener and as a friend. While I'm not ready to hand Axel the keys to my car or let him use the stove, I am happy for this recent "graduation" of sorts and that he is the kind of person trusted by an old grouch like Oscar.
Because I never posted a birthday portrait in 2014, here he was on December 12th – the day he turned 9 (in people years).
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