Hipster Christian Housewife

The Gospel according to Nellie the Basset Hound: A dog teaches how to be good big sister

The Gospel according to Nellie the Basset Hound: A dog teaches how to be good big sister

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Meet Nellie the Basset Hound. Photo by Cameron Densen Hammon
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Matt, Syd and me Photo by Paula Hammon
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Syd gives Nellie a bone. Photo by Cameron Dezen Hammon
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Nellie the dog takes the couch, and Steve the cat watches from almost underneath the table. Photo by Cameron Densen Hammon
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We have sovereign states in our little townhouse this week. Upstairs belongs to Steve the Cat, downstairs is the domain of the newcomer — Nellie the Basset Hound.

The stairway appears to be functioning as a kind of domestic, De-Militarized Zone where both patrol in relative peace.

To be fair, there’s been no actual war, only tension — a few explosive bursts of chase — with Steve ending up in the rafters (the top of our closet) and Nellie wagging her tail waiting for the game to resume.

 It’s exactly the kind of love — heart on your sleeve, tail wagging, face licking, risk taking love — that we should aspire too. 

I never thought I’d be a dog owner, I’m more of a cat person to be honest. But after three years of trying to have a second child I decided I was open to the idea. Bringing home a dog, a 1-year-old rescue, seemed like the right thing to do at the time (it was Sunday). Nellie’s not a baby, no, but she’s someone for us to love, and right now, we need that.

My daughter, Syd is 5, and on the day of my D&C, a surgery she had no idea I was having, she told my friend Holly who was watching her, “I really, really, really want a baby brother.” Maybe Syd’s spontaneous plea was inspired by playtime with Holly’s 1-year-old baby boy — but she wants a sibling — this I know.

Nellie is not a human sibling of course, and she is a lot of work, but for now, she’s helping Syd to learn some important lessons, lessons I hope will prepare her for being a big sister some day.

1. Share your toys, even if you don’t want to

This is a hard one for Syd and for Nellie. Nellie is a basset hound so smell is her strongest sense. When Syd was at school, Nellie found her Strawberry Shortcake figurine, you know the one whose red hair smells like “strawberries." Nellie made a quick snack of Strawberry (thankfully chewing, not swallowing) and Syd was distraught to find her “favorite doll” chewed to ribbons.

I reminded Syd that Strawberry hadn’t gotten much action since disappearing behind her dresser some months ago, and she hadn’t seemed to miss her. She agreed. And dried her tears. Victory.

2. Make room on the couch

Syd is an only child, and thus queen of the couch (I prefer the desk and the Hubs has an overstuffed blue chair,) so the south end of the living room couch is her domain. It's her corner for snuggling and watching The Electric Company, or whatever it is. It just so happens that Nellie seems to like that end of the couch too.

When a baby brother, or sister comes, I tell, she’s going to have to share her room! Can you imagine! Scooting over on the couch is no biggie, right?

3. Don’t be afraid of poop

Syd and I took Nellie for a walk yesterday, it was our maiden voyage without the Hubs and I gave Syd the job of holding the poop bag. Of course this was before there was any poop in it (did I mention I prefer cats?), but nonetheless it’s an important job and she took it seriously. Nellie can’t clean up after herself so we have to, I told her.

(Can you imagine what it would be like if people didn’t pick up after their dogs? Oh yeah, it’d be like 1997, or my sidewalk after the mastiff from Allston Street come by.) Babies poop a lot, I tell Syd, and recount the story of when she pooped in the bathtub at two months old. That one always gets a chuckle.

The day we got Nellie my dear friend Lisa put her dog to sleep. She had lived a good long life and was in obvious pain, and the vet solemnly told Lisa it was time.

Even though Lisa now lives in Michigan I felt her pain through Facebook updates — pictures and memories of her beloved pup who was always ready with a sloppy kiss and a wagging tail. Loving a dog is like putting your heart on your sleeve, it’s opening yourself up to heartbreak, because we can be sure that the day will come when we will have to say goodbye to this incorrigible fluff ball, long before we’re ready.

It’s exactly the kind of love — heart on your sleeve, tail wagging, face licking, risk taking love — that we should aspire too. It’s the way God loves us. His Love pursues us, even when we don’t reciprocate. Even when we’re too busy, when we don't call or write, when we don’t, or can’t believe. Even when loving us, loving me, might be painful.

Loving a person should be the same (who's not above face licking?) This is the kind of love that needs to be practiced daily — with friends, children, spouses and rambunctious 1-year-old basset hounds. I have a lot to learn from Nellie, too.

As I write this Syd is at school, Steve is hiding under the bed, and Nellie is roaming her zone, paws clicking on the wood floor. For now there is peace, the calm that precedes the storm after I pick up Syd from school and the comical battle for territory resumes.

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Cameron Dezen Hammon writes here, and sings here, and here.