A Gift for Life

Publication Date: 
Friday, December 6, 2013 - 16:30

Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown

Our youngest child, now a senior in high school, used to beg for her own dog. Whenever asked what she wanted for Christmas, the answer was always “a puppy.” Knowing that a calm and predictable schedule is necessary for a pet to become acclimated to a new environment, we never granted this wish. Further, for years, we resisted her pleas for a puppy of her own until she became old enough to manage the dog it would become.

My husband and I discovered a different way for her to spend time with puppies without taking on the responsibilities of ownership.  The Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB), an internationally accredited guide dog school in Yorktown, New York, has a need for volunteer “puppy socializers.” After being accepted into the program, my daughter and I spent an afternoon at the GEB where we learned our new responsibilities: feeding, walking, cleaning up after and loving a pair of six-to-nine week old Labradors in our home.  It was a volunteer match made in heaven for our little girl!

In the decade since, we have hosted more than a dozen pairs of puppies, mainly during the summer months and holidays when our daughter had the time to help with their care. Climbing into their fenced space, she would hug each new puppy, playing with both and often holding one until he fell asleep on her lap.  

But she has also felt puppies chew on a finger and listened to them yowl. She has walked them in the back yard, bringing them inside to see them soil freshly laid newspapers. She has learned much, not only about dog guardianship, but also about the commitment required to be a volunteer.

As I think back on holiday gifts past, I believe that one of the most enduring presents our daughter received was not delivered on December 25. Instead, she discovered a volunteer role that allowed her little girl love of puppies to blossom into a mature dedication to others in need.

Mary Dell Harrington, a graduate of the University of Texas and Harvard Business School, began her career in the media where she worked for NBC, Discovery and Lifetime. Most recently, she and Lisa Heffernan co-founded Grown and Flown, a parenting blog that looks at the entire arc of family life from the point of view of moms with kids 15-25. Their writing has appeared in Huffington Post, Atlantic.com, PBS Next Avenue and Lifetime Moms. Along with her chocolate Labrador partner, Moose, Mary Dell is a certified Pet Partners animal therapist and volunteers for New York-Presbyterian Hospital in that capacity.