A New Dog Helped This Retiree Strengthen His Faith

He had plans for retirement—travel, fishing and relaxing with his wife. They didn’t include a rambunctious puppy named Dolly.

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Posted in , Nov 25, 2021

Marilyn, Dolly and Chuck; photo courtesy Marilyn Turk

A plaintive whine emerged from the crate in my wife’s home office. Not again. The sound seemed to build as it traveled down the hall, invading the stillness of our bedroom. Not that my wife, Marilyn, and I were asleep. We’d been lying awake—the occasional long sigh escaping from one of us—for hours. Ever since we’d put our eight-week-old golden retriever to bed.

Dolly was unbelievably adorable. And unbelievably energetic. She bounded around the house and yard all day. She should have been tired by now. She’d worn us out, that was for sure.

How could one little puppy make this much noise? How long was she going to keep it up?

Marilyn and I had decided to crate-train Dolly, partly for housebreaking and partly because a crate would provide a safe place for our dog to rest and give her sense of security.

I was an Air Force veteran and retired engineer. I understood the importance of structure and consistency. Crate training worked only if you stuck to it. As I’d told Marilyn, we had to hold firm, no matter how much Dolly whined and cried. The puppy would learn.

We’d brought her home just four days earlier. But with my exhaustion, it felt like four weeks. I guess sleep deprivation and age—I was 73—will do that to you.

Lord, I thought, this is why I didn’t want to get a dog. I just don’t have it in me anymore to take care of one. What have I gotten myself into?

For more than a year, I had strategically avoided Marilyn’s demands for a dog: “Chuck, I don’t understand. You’ve had dogs before. You love dogs. Why won’t you let us get one?”

“Someday, when the time is right,” I’d say, then change the subject.

But Marilyn was tired of waiting. She was right—I had always had dogs. Heck, when I was in the Air Force, I’d even schlepped my two dogs around the world with me. They were part of the family.

Marilyn wouldn’t give up. “You keep saying we’ll get a dog. I thought you would give me one for my birthday, but you didn’t. I thought you’d surprise me with one at Christmas, but you didn’t. What’s the problem?”

What is the problem? I asked myself. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. I just needed a break. A break from responsibility. Marilyn and I had married late in life. We were in complete agreement on our retirement plans: We would travel and enjoy new experiences—just the two of us. I had raised two children with my late wife, and Marilyn had been a single mom to three kids after her divorce. Now it was our time.

For a while, we lived like newlyweds: date nights, Saturday morning fishing, church choir on Sundays and romantic trips galore. Then, not quite five years into our marriage, Marilyn’s three-year-old grandson, Logan, came to live with us. His parents’ relationship had fallen apart, and neither of them was ready to take care of Logan full-time.

It was hard to imagine raising a young child in our sixties. But we’d prayed for Logan’s well-being since he was born, and I knew that we could provide a stable home for him.

For the next eight years, our lives centered around Logan. I got him involved in sports. We started with tae kwon do, then found his favorite—soccer. I took him to his practices and even did a few stints as Coach Chuck. Before I knew it, our weekends revolved around his games.

One busy Saturday morning, as I searched for his missing shin guards, I realized that it was okay with me. In fact, I loved it. How blessed we were to have Logan living with us! We even went RVing with him. Was it more work? Yes. But it meant more joy and wonder too.

In the spring of 2020, Logan moved in with his dad, Marilyn’s youngest. That’s when Marilyn became even more persistent about getting a dog. A golden retriever, the ultimate dog. When her friends posted photos of their goldens on Facebook, Marilyn would shove the pictures in my face. “Look how cute!” she’d say. “I want one.”

I didn’t. Lord, I’m done caregiving, I thought. People, pets…I’m tapped out. Marilyn had come into our marriage with an old cat; I’d had my aging dog. Both had died. Then we’d taken care of her son’s cat during its final years.

At long last, I was going to get my wife all to myself. Hallelujah!

Marilyn said she was excited about having together time again, just the two of us. Yet she wouldn’t let go of the idea of getting a golden retriever puppy.

I wanted my wife to be happy—after all, God had brought her to me—so I relented. One weekend, we made a four-hour trip to visit a breeder. Both of us were quiet on the drive over. Marilyn was probably worried that if she talked up getting a dog any more, I would get sick of it.

I was having second thoughts. Puppies are hard work. They need constant supervision. You can’t sleep in anymore. They get into everything. House training can be a challenge. Same with obedience. All the way there, I prayed the Lord would guide us to make the right decision. Secretly I was hoping he would say, “Forget it, Chuck!”

We arrived at the breeder’s home. A gaggle of golden retriever puppies spilled out onto the porch, tripping over their own paws. “Oh boy,” I said under my breath.

One of the pups caught my attention. She was pouncing all over her siblings. “Wow, this one’s got spunk!” I said, surprised at my reaction. We had our shoes off, and suddenly the puppy lunged and started wrestling with Marilyn’s sock. Then she growled…at the sock. It was so funny.

“She likes you,” I said to Marilyn.“

More important, I think you like her,” she responded. “You’re smiling.”

It was true. I couldn’t help it. By the time we picked up Dolly three weeks later, I had to admit—I was excited.

After four sleepless nights, the excitement had faded. My clock read 4 A.M. Another whine, then whimpers. I threw back the covers and got up.

“What are you doing?” Marilyn whispered. I shook my head and walked out to Marilyn’s office. As soon as she heard me, Dolly threw herself against the door of her crate. I sprung her from it, and she scrambled into my arms.

“You’re okay,” I said. “I’m right here.” I gave her a quick cuddle before carrying her and dragging the crate into our bedroom.

“You call this holding firm?” Marilyn said, hiding a smile…and a yawn.

I set Dolly down and put the crate in a corner. “Back to your crate,” I said.

She looked up at me, her big puppy eyes beseeching. “Crate,” I quietly repeated.

Dolly stared at me for a minute or two, then walked into her crate. This time she settled down immediately.

I climbed back in bed, smiling. I’d engineered a solution. Maybe I did have it in me to take care of a dog after all.

Our daily routine has changed since then. I get up at five to feed Dolly. Then Marilyn and I switch off walks throughout the day. I take Dolly to the dog park, but mostly we head for the woods. She loves to tromp around near the lake behind our house; she splashes in the water for as long as I’ll let her. At home, she’ll play ball or tug-of-war for hours.

“Look at this,” I said to Marilyn a couple months after Dolly came. I pulled at the loose waist of my jeans. With the walks and play, I was exercising more than I had in years.

That’s not the only benefit to having Dolly. Marilyn and I have grown even closer. Almost every day, the three of us go for a walk—it’s our together time. Often Dolly will lunge into the bushes. “What’s she after now?” Marilyn will say. A lizard? A squirrel? A bug? A wayward leaf?

We can’t help but laugh as we watch our dog’s backside wiggling under a bush, her youthful energy rubbing off on us a bit. I’d thought I was tapped out. But God keeps surprising me, bringing me love and joy I never expected. With Marilyn, then Logan and now Dolly.

We’re about to embark on our first RV trip with Dolly. I can’t wait to see what adventures the three of us get into. After all, retirement has so far been one big adventure, one I didn’t plan but wouldn’t change even if I could.

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