My grandparents got a puppy. They shouldn’t have, but they did. They’re old and slow, and puppies are the opposite of those two things. But they recently lost a dog who had been their companion for years. And the new puppy, which looks a lot like their old dog except puppy-sized, is the most adorable, the most soft, the most lovable thing you’ve ever seen.
And so, they bought it. At a pet store. In a mall.
They did this in spite of the strong discouragement from their three, grown children who all understood that it would be more sensible for them to get an older dog, a calmer dog, one that would not demand so much of their attention. But once my grandfather held the little white mess of fur and puppy slobber, it was done. Sold. No arguments could persuade him otherwise. Cash spent, dog adopted.
The dog has since escaped from their house 3 times; once for a week, and the other two times for a period of a few minutes. The dog is a quick little thing, unlike–as I noted–the old folks. During the longer stint, the dog wound up in a shelter, and then a doggy foster home. She was well cared for, and probably would have been better off to have stayed there. But, after a chip-scan she was identified, my grandparents were called, and she was brought back to their home.
They’ve fixed the fence, but not the core problem. She’s too much for them to handle, and they can’t care for her.
So, we took her. We took her to train her. We gave ourselves a month, but in two days she was as trained as one could expect a 5 month old puppy to be. She, we came to understand, was not the problem.
Can You Teach An Old Man New Tricks?
Training a dog isn’t hard. Dogs want to please us. They want to do right by us. Especially the little ones. They don’t know how, but they have a deep yearning to do so. If we give them the right kind of attention, the right kind of discipline, they can succeed. The result of proper dog training is a peaceful, symbiotic relationship between dog and human, and this little puppy has shown that she’s capable of having that kind of relationship. She’s ready for it.
But my grandpa? He’s pretty much fixed in his ways. Has been for all of my life. His hearing may have changed, getting worse with each decade, and he shakes more now than he used to. But, fundamentally he’s the same man I’ve known for the last 32 years. Stubborn. Hard-headed. Frail now, but still capable of projecting the posture of a war-seasoned Marine.
He’s going to feed this dog from his plate no matter how many vets tell him he shouldn’t. He’s going to see this little puppy in her crate, and the first time she whines at him he’s going to let her out. She’ll learn to manipulate him, she’ll run the roost, and in no time he’ll wonder why she doesn’t behave. She’ll go right back to being the dog that they couldn’t handle.
It seems fated.
I could find a better home for the dog. The original foster family said they’d take her back in a heartbeat. But, it’s arguable if I would even have the right to do that without their permission. I want to. I want to give this dog to someone else, find my grandparents an old mutt they can love, and have it all go down smooth and easy, without conflict.
I want to correct the mistake they made when they bought this dog, but it isn’t mine to correct.
And, I’d only be making a new mistake.
The Freedom To Fail
Far too often we treat old people like puppies, deciding what food they should eat, what living conditions are best for them, how to schedule their lives. We condescend to them by insinuating that they don’t know what is best for them. We speak to them from a place of assumed superiority. I’ve seen other members of my family do it to my grandparents, and been horrified by it.
And now look at me.
They deserve better than that. They deserve the freedom to fail as much as the opportunity to succeed. You can’t take away one without the other disappearing, too.
But What About The Dog?
We’re going to bring the dog back. We do it with reservations, and with a laundry list of suggestions for how to better care for the puppy. We’ll spell out the do’s and don’t’s we use with our dogs, doing our best not to condescend or belittle, and knowing full well that our “Guidelines For Proper Puppy Care” may be completely ignored. We’ll check in on little “Patches” every so often to remind her of our blissful days of doggy training, but we’ll no longer take the lead. We’ll give back the control that we seized, and by doing so provide my 80-some-odd year old grandparents the opportunity to make different choices.
Whether or not they do, ultimately, is up to them.
Have you ever been in this kind of situation? Do you have experience intervening in the life of a grandparent or parent? If so, what was that like for you?
Or, have you been in a position where your children or grandchildren have attempted to influence, or even govern over the choices you make? If so, would you be willing to share your insights in the comment section? I’d love to hear your perspective.
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