I am half Bichon and half Shih-Tzu, also known as a Teddy Bear Dog or a Zuchon. I am sixteen and a half pounds and I barely stand a foot off the floor, but do not let my size fool you. I may be small, but I am mighty.
I’ve been with my family for five months now. Everyone keeps saying the Easter Bunny brought me as a surprise.
But I remember the two biggest people in the family—the mom and the dad people—came to pick me up in a conference center off the highway in a small town called Portsmouth. We drove around for hours and then snuck home because they said the kids were finally asleep. I never did see a bunny.
Pee on couch. Look adorable.
Poop on rug. Appear irresistible.
Pee on floor. Tilt head to one side with cutest expression possible.
This went on for a while until the dad guy said I was on something called “thin ice” and I’d better get house trained soon. He had just stepped in one of my puddles wearing only his socks.
He pretends he doesn’t like me, this dad. But I’m not fooled by him. When it’s late at night and all the small people have gone to bed and the mom is upstairs reading, he sits on the big red couch, and he calls to me in a quiet voice.
“Wolf, come on boy, come sit with me.”
I sit next to him and we watch shows that the mom doesn’t like — baseball and politics and something weird called “The First 48.” But I can tell by the absentminded way he rubs my foot that he’s only half-listening to the television. Instead he’s thinking about his patients and his children and tax returns and healthcare and insurance.
There are a lot of people in this house. Seven. Two big people and five kids. One time a man came and delivered some food in a brown paper bag that smelled delicious. When he stepped into the kitchen and saw all the kids at the counter, he asked if we were having a birthday party.
The round boy laughed and shouted, “Yes! It my birthday! Let’s sing HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME! Happy birthday to me!” until the mom said, “Okay, Henry, we heard you. Eat your egg roll.”
This Henry boy is the smallest, but he isn’t too small. Life is very, very exciting for him, and he is very loud about it all. He fills up every room with his chatter and his laughter and his drawings, and he is squishy and delicious and curious and smart. He is so alive, you can almost see his heart beating through his favorite Batman shirt.
There are all these boys and only one little girl. When you look at her you just think about the color pink. She is sweetness and light and airy and calm, like the most delicate wafer cookie you hold on your tongue until it melts.
But she works very hard. She is the first one awake to take me out in the morning, even before I ask, and all day long she is trying to do things for other people — pack their snacks or sweep the floor or straighten the playroom.
Her mother worries, and the dad guy hopes if he tells her how beautiful and smart and sweet she is, she will believe it forever and never listen if someone accuses her of being fat or ugly or stupid or worthless.
I’m not worried, because this pink girl is so very strong.
There is a very big boy, a boy who stands taller than the mom’s shoulder. He wears glasses. They call him a “tween” sometimes, and I don’t know what that means but it seems to annoy him.
He and the mom can really get each other going laughing. They both like the same jokes. But there is a strain that I don’t think was there before. It feels new.
It feels like the beginning of something and the end of something all at the same time. He is starting to cleave from them, to long for video games and something called an “iPhone” and movies that are PG-13. The mom, she knows this, and her heart is aching to make the most of the time she has left, before this tween will pack up his glasses and his gym shorts and his Nook and drive down the driveway to a faraway place called “college.”
I may be very close to the floor, but I see it all.
There’s another big boy, just about as tall as the first boy. He also wears glasses. From behind they look like the same boy and sometimes people mix them up, but I never do.
From what I understand, I was supposed to help this boy. He has something called “autism” and he was very, very afraid of dogs, even little ones like me.
When the mom first brought me in from the garage where I was hiding and trying to stay very, very quiet, all of the kids squealed and laughed and clapped their hands. But he didn’t. His face was all twisted up and his voice was very loud and angry-sounding.
“I DO NOT like dogs. You have ruined my life. With this dog.”
I don’t know anything about autism or how to help people who have it. So I just did the only thing I knew how: I waited. I waited and waited and one afternoon when no one was watching he crept over to where I was lying on the couch. With one finger he stroked my paw.
“You are. Soft.”
This boy gets very, very mad. One day over the summer his temper rose until it felt like the sun was shining inside the house, the rays too hot to touch. He was screaming and hitting his head over and over again.
“No para! I will not have a PARA!”
I did not know what a para is, but the mom seemed to because she kept talking softly, telling him to take a deep breath and calm down; they would talk about it.
He came for her then. With his fists curled into the tightest balls he charged her wordlessly. She grabbed his wrists and held them with her long fingers and said, “Enough Jack,” so sharply her voice was like a knife cutting through the hot, still room.
He dropped his arms to his sides, and the only sound was his whimpering, “no para no para, no para.” I barked once, twice, my voice not as sharp as hers — more like an ice cube clattering into a smooth glass.
He fell to his knees next to me and buried his fingers into the fur around my neck, where it’s longest and deepest. Through his fingertips, I understood. I knew. Somehow, because of this strange thing called a para, the boy felt different. He felt worried and alone and disappointed.
He felt less.
There is another boy. He looks just like the dad, with dark hair and deep brown eyes that make you think of chocolate. He is all fun, this one.
But every once in a while a shadow crosses his face, and his eyes get cloudy, like the rain is coming. That’s when I know he needs a little extra cuddle, and I just turn on my back so he can rub my soft, white belly. He rubs it until the sun shines again.
“Come on, Wolfie, run outside with me!”
A couple of weeks ago, the big yellow bus started coming around again. We all walked down to the bus stop and everyone was so excited. But when the kids got on and the bus pulled away, the mom put her head on the dad guy’s shoulder and said, “Oh, Joe.”
Slowly the three of us walked back up the driveway. They looked down and started talking to me in a funny voice with funny words. “You a wittle doggy, wight? Just a wittle pup-pup.” I felt confused.
Then I understood. Their babies were gone. Now I was the baby.
Last weekend we all went to a big field to play with a black and white ball. The mom and dad kicked it around with the kids, but the second boy said he only wanted to hold my leash and run with me.
So we did. We ran and ran through the fields together. And with each big step he took I could tell, for the moment, he was free. Free of the shame and rage and confusion and panic that follow him around all day like uninvited guests.
Running by my side through the rich green grass, he wasn’t a child with autism or a fifth grader with a para or a brother who is not like the rest.
He was, quite simply, just a boy and his dog.
This post originally appeared on CarrieCariello.com.