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The Toddler and the Dog From Afghanistan

IMG_1454Before I had June, my dogs were my children. I cuddled with them, played with them, went for long hikes in the woods with them, took pride in their accomplishments and generally talked to them like a character on Sesame Street. (If you have a pet and no kids at home, you know what I’m talking about.)

And then June came along, and suddenly Cowboy and Sunnie were relegated to the role of house pets. It was a stark transition. At the time I didn’t have much time to think about what was happening because I was too busy tending to a squalling creature whose needs outpaced those of the animals by a factor of five thousand. But there were clear indications things were different, like when Cowboy sidled up to me as I cradled the baby on the couch, looking up at me with an expression like that of a child facing down the bad, neglectful mom on Dr. Phil. “How could you?” the imploring expression said. “Don’t forget about me.” And the baby would start crying and I’d forget about Cowboy. Pretty soon, he stopped coming up to me altogether, preferring to stick closer than ever to Jake, who was still his unwavering best friend. I felt terrible about this. Cowboy was my pal. I felt like I’d ditched him.

Tragically, both Sunnie and Cowboy passed away right before Jake deployed to Afghanistan. But Jake, an animal lover of the first order, befriended a new dog while in Kandahar — a stray named Solha — and after months and months of wrangling, we were able to arrange a rescue and transport her to the United States.

June was one by the time Solha arrived on the scene. June and I had spent a year alone while Jake was deployed. We had established our own rhythm and routine. Solha was a fast wedge in this cozy mom and daughter union. She was un-housebroken, untrained, wild, incredibly strong and exhibited signs of stress. I wondered if she might even have a touch of post traumatic stress disorder, coming from where she did.

June was used to being the alpha female in the house. Solha had little regard for this pecking order. To remind June of this, she’d occasionally bump into her on purpose, knocking her down and scampering away. June hated Solha. She feared Solha. Solha could eat June for breakfast. I wondered if I’d be able to give Solha the kind of care and attention she needed and deserved.

Thankfully, Jake came home from Kandahar within a few days of Solha’s arrival. With both of us finally under one roof again, we were able to zero in on Solha and June’s needs together. We determined very quickly that Solha hated being confined and constrained in any capacity. She once smashed through a screen window when we left her in the house to go to a friend’s house for dinner. She had no trust or security. To her, confinement equalled captivity.

It’s been a tricky transition for the four of us, which I’m only now — nearly a year later — beginning to appreciate.  Jake largely takes responsibility for Solha: training, exercising and disciplining her while I assume more of the responsibility of June.

There have been growing pains, but I think Solha and June have both thrived in each other’s company, an ancillary benefit of sibling rivalry.  June, who doesn’t (yet!) have siblings, learns she’s not the biggest, baddest baby on the block; sometimes she actually has to wait her turn! And Solha learns that June is not her personal chew toy.

Read more about Solha here.

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