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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

Rocket: Rights and Responsibilities

Yesterday, we got a dog. He’s a collie puppy and we are naming him Raghib Ismail – “Rocket” for short. (Josh says I have to clarify this is a late 80s ND reference. Google him, he is awesome!)

In our married life, and certainly our life with children, we have never had a furry pet. That is to say, we have had our share of tree frogs, but nothing that cuddles you back.

Joshua and I both grew up with dogs – a collie and a sheltie respectively. But the way the animals figured into our families’ lives growing up was very different. Joshua had an outside dog that I may have only seen inside their house — and then only on the mat at the front door – once or twice. She was a good dog that roamed the outside of the house and might join the family on hikes.

My dog was perpetually in the house and with me all the time growing up. He watched for me by the windows at the front door, swam with me in the pool, and slept in my room. Although he almost never came with us when we were out as a family, he walked with me pretty much anywhere I went alone in the neighborhood.

From the time Joshua and I got married, we pretty much knew that one day we would get a dog and that it would be either a collie or a sheltie. He felt strongly that it needed to be an outside animal for many reasons, not the least of which is that he is slightly allergic. So we agreed that we would need to wait to have a dog until we had a yard to provide for our pet.

As our children have started to grow, folks have often said, “every child should have a dog…” I don’t know if this is more prevalent in the canine-loving Northwest, but I am sure I have heard it from a variety of people. Joshua and I didn’t disagree, but we were confident that we needed to wait until we had the right space.

Well, our children are pretty savvy, I must admit. While they knew that we couldn’t get a dog while we lived in our blue house in Portland – we always had the “yard reason” at the ready – they quickly figured out that moving to a new state and new house meant getting a new yard as well. During the tender stages of our preparing them for our recent move, they secured the promise from us that if we got a house with the right yard, we would get a dog.

Turns out the house we are renting may have been previously owned by dog breeders. The children quickly noticed that we have three fenced-in areas that are beyond ideal for multiple dogs let alone one puppy. They didn’t press the point of WHEN we might get a dog, but there have been wide-eyed expectant looks of late.

By some beautiful confluence of circumstances Joshua’s family found an available collie puppy earlier this week. A fact we did not share with the children. Although, Joshua DID conduct a “hypothetical” conversation at the dinner table two nights ago about “what we might name a dog WHENEVER we get one.” That is when we chose the name “Rocket.”

Completely unbeknownst to them, Joshua picked him up yesterday and got home late last night, after the children were asleep. We had already decided it would be best to wait until morning to surprise them and Joshua in particular was so excited he almost couldn’t sleep.

When they woke up, we invited the children into the room to “see a housewarming gift from their grandparents.” They were all smiles and excitement. Oscar, with his characteristic composure, calmly greeted the new puppy, “Oh, hi Rocket” as though he had known him his whole life.

As the first day with him wore on, the reality of owning and training a new puppy, especially one that is teething and close to the same size as Lucy and Simon, smashed up against their dreams of what it would be like to have a puppy.

Playing with and caring for a living, breathing animal is very different than they expected. And I realize that this entire experience is going to be incredibly character-building for them. We have taught them how to gently interact with other children and adults. But that same demeanor does not translate directly into interactions with a pet; to making a frisky puppy stop jumping or stop trying to nibble your fingers.

I realize in this process that they are going to learn to be stronger individuals that are able to stand their ground and speak with appropriate authority. But also learn to be caring and to begin to grasp fully the complexity of a relationship where another living being depends on them for his livelihood and thriving.

Such are their rights and responsibilities…a phrase that comes directly from Catholic Social Teaching. It’s funny, we have worked to make sure some tenets of CST are not foreign and even abundantly familiar to our children. For tenets like human dignity, community and the common good, care for creation and others we act and speak about being in right relationship with God, other people and the earth. I guess I never would have thought that being in right relationship with a pet could open up so much room to pass on more of our Tradition.