Some people are dog people. Some people are cat people.
And some people weren’t cut out for pets.
We had always planned on a dog because we thought it would be a good experience for our children to grow up with that responsibility. We figured when our youngest was out of diapers we might be ready to get a dog.
Then, unexpectedly, some friends of ours needed to re-home their dog. It was exactly the sort of dog we had hoped to get—someday. But we weren’t ready yet. I was only pregnant with our youngest. We had years to go before she would be potty trained. Still, I kept feeling a pull toward this dog. My husband was against it until he saw a picture of her. When he did, we were all hooked. She was so sweet and loveable, and just what we wanted—just not yet. We figured we could get past that, so we took over ownership of Bailey.
Bailey was already housebroken, spayed, and she was up-to-date with her shots. She came with a crate, a leash, toys, and even a partial bag of food. We were off to the races.
Our boys were excited, and a little nervous, to have a dog. At first, they were excited to help walk her, bathe her, and play with her, but it didn’t take very long before each of those tasks was a drudgery. I had set up Bailey assignments so that she was fed and watered, played with, and walked every day, but this was rapidly becoming a really sore spot for our family.
To make matters worse, Bailey had some difficult habits. She ran out the door as soon as it opened and wasn’t obedient when called home. She squeezed through every small opening in the backyard fence and since she was 2/3 fluff, she could slip through almost anything. She didn’t heel on walks, often pulling hard at the leash. This made it difficult for younger children to take her out for a walk. She jumped on guests and whined and scratched at the doors if she put away or outside while guests were over. But most challenging of all—she barked. And barked. And barked. And barked. We had tried humane bark collars, but she would rather bark than avoid the bark collar buzz. She loved to bark. Our neighbors weren’t so fond of it. It was becoming a challenge in our relationships with our neighbors.
One particularly difficult day, an elderly woman in the neighborhood rapped on our door and proceeded to yell at my son about our barking dog. Why couldn’t we get her to stop barking? I really didn’t know what more to do, and I certainly didn’t want anyone else yelling at my son about it.
None of these things made Bailey a bad dog. But it did sort of make us bad dog owners. As time progressed, I couldn’t help but feel that Bailey needed and deserved a better family for her. She needed people who knew how to train her. She needed a family who would willingly and gladly walk her and play with her every day. She needed an owner who wasn’t already so beyond overwhelmed with her own responsibilities that she could put in the time and energy for a dog. It was heartbreaking, but my husband and I came to the decision that we needed to let someone else care for Bailey better than we could.
To be honest, I was surprised by my children’s reaction. I thought they might feel a little sad and then be over it quickly. I thought they might feel relieved at not having to clean up after her anymore, or take her on walks, or throw her balls and toys. They hadn’t seemed to enjoy a bit of it. I anticipated a brief display of emotion. That’s all.
So, when the tears wouldn’t stop and we went into recurring days of sadness, I was taken aback. I had no idea it would upset my children so much. They told me how much they loved her and would miss her.
I was also in tears. I was crying for my children’s pain. I was crying out of regret—not regret that we were letting someone else care for her, but regret that we had gotten her in the first place. We weren’t cut out for this.
My tears turned to prayers. My conversation with Heavenly Father went something like this:
Me: “Father, my kids really loved her. But this didn’t work. We couldn’t take good care of Bailey. Bailey deserved better. But look at how they are suffering now. They really did love her. If love never fails, why didn’t this work?”
Father: “Love may fail, but charity never does.”
Me: “Wait, what?”
Father: “Your children have feelings of love for their dog, but they didn’t act on that love. It was love, but it wasn’t charity. It wasn’t Christlike love. Christlike love is actionable. Christlike love serves others. Christlike love makes sacrifices. Christlike love does what the other person [or dog] needs even when they don’t feel like it. Christlike love is selfless. Christlike love is charity. Christlike love never fails. Charity never fails.”
The difference between feelings of love and charitable, Christlike love hit me like a bag of kibble. The same lesson is applied in families, in marriages, in ministering, in wards. It’s not enough to have nice feelings for someone if we won’t selflessly act in those feelings. I’ll always be grateful for Bailey’s part in teaching this lesson to my family.
Love can fail, but charitable, actionable, sacrificial, Christlike love never fails. Some relationships will need both sides to demonstrate this kind of sacrificial love, but if they do, their Christlike love will be enough.
How have your relationships been blessed by sacrificial love?