What I Learned from my Parents the Day they Gave My Dog Away


Smart. Alive. Extremely affectionate. I can’t remember where we got Shelby, but her coloring resembled a malamute, possibly mixed with a little Norwegian Elkhound or Husky.

Her tail curled up, encircling her backside with lush white fur. And I remember as a child, just sitting along the windowseal, staring out at her dancing around the back yard.

Her ears were constantly alert, she paced the chainlink fence like a cougar looking for her prey. Her smile gave way to an intelligence that surpassed most tired, lazy dogs, that don’t know night from day.

For a city house, our space was big; one and half lots. Our house was three floors, and Shelby had run of the entire back yard, as well as access to anywhere in the house.

Yet, for a strong, smart dog, craving regular stimulation and excercise, a small city space must have seemed boring and mundane.

How can anyone adapt to fences when they were made for wide open spaces? 

I honestly didn’t care if Shelby was happy. As long as she ran up to my elementary school-aged self so I could stroke her fur, cuddle her face, lay my head on her to find refuge from the struggles of my own day.

I wanted her near, by my front door. She was my safe space in a world that was anything but predictable.

But domesticating something that was made for freedom, can be cruel, can’t it?

Still, my childish mind didn’t understand why Shelby would escape from the yard when my mom would work and I would leave for school.

“She just wants to play”, I justified as the exhaust from my mother’s automobile scratched my throat and poisoned my breathing while combing alley’s and city streets looking for our dog who had escaped from our fenced yard to have some fun.

saja-5-1564085Day in, day out, Shelby would dig a hole, sneak out between a fence post, or find a way to use her brain to adventure out to more exciting places when no one was home, or watching.

I might have felt upset by it, but honestly I couldn’t blame her. While my tired mom turned the keys to start her vehicle to go looking for my dog, I secretly praised my dog for her sneakiness and savy…

For her not taking a boring day lying down, for being smart and ingenious and creatively escaping from our yard, to explore the big, wide world I too had longed to see.

After all, I felt locked in a compound, staring out some classroom window six hours a day in public school. Frozen. In what seemed like a punishment to this creative mind brimming with thoughts and ideas.

And I wonder where we got that all animals or people fit into similar fixture or box? When did we start expecting both math wizards and artists to follow the same mold or education pattern?

When did we just assume all dogs like being carpet rugs, waiting lazily for their owner to come home, thinking of nothing but puppy treats and just another pat on the head before falling to sleep and waiting then for breakfast again?

  • Yes, I wonder how this world would be different if we gave permission for each of us to be exactly like we were made?
  • What if we gave wings to fly, instead of anchors or burdens to those desperately desiring freedom?
  • What if we empowered others with the tools they needed to be all they can be, instead of shaming them into some mold, demanding they act like we want or are thinking?

I’ll never forget my mom telling me we need to get rid of Shelby. My dad chimed in, because my parents were like that; always standing in solidarity and oneness, regardless if they agree.

I inspected my dad’s eyes, as he told me, “Shelby learned to jump our fence. I can’t go and build another fence, there is no way to keep her from leaving.”

He didn’t flinch. Regardless of how hard I tried, there was no way to see what he was meaning. Would he actually get rid of my dog?

But then, he goes on, “We found a man who lives on property who wants him.”

My heart sunk down, my lungs stuck, while air quickly filled them. Tears and rage mixed like a hurricane of questions. Outside I was quiet, but inside I was screaming a thousand cries….

Dying a thousand deaths.

My dad was a lot of things; my true hero, always safe, fair, just, and the one person I know without a doubt loves me dearly…

But one thing I knew…

When he made up his mind, all the wailing and crying, all the tears in a thousand eyes would never make him even consider changing what he has already said he would do.

Now as a child, a child who was shy, extremely introverted. A child who trusted few, and opened up to no one….except four-legged creatures who I knew would never betray me…

The thought of secrets leaving, and beauty separating, the idea of this dog I loved dearly being cared for by someone else, was almost too unbearable.

The world stopped. I froze at the thought of my best friend not greeting me excitedly when I got home, not having her dance around me when I played basketball, or laying my head of her stomach while patting her face.

I couldn’t think or care about anything or anyone else, but how I felt at the time. And all I felt, was like I had been betrayed.

I mean, who takes away a daughter’s dog, and even goes behind her back making plans to find a saja-3-1564090home she hadn’t even seen or approved of?

That Saturday, we drove, as if unto a slow, cold, horrific death, to take Shelby to her knew owner.

I am guessing my parents thought me seeing the man with his property might somehow sooth the ragging pain that peirced through me a bazillion times a second.

It didn’t help.

Rage flooded my mind for this man the moment I met him. I didn’t care if he was alone and needed a companion. I wasn’t worried that there were bears and mountainlions trying to devour his growing bird collection…

This was my dog. And this was the man taking my fury, best friend away from me. I seretly declared him an enemy the moment I met him.

Again, all I cared about was me. My dog. My dreams. My stories told quietly in her ear, now left to be pet by a person I didn’t care to know.

I rationalized, “No, my parents wouldn’t do it.” I tried justifying while standing outside this strangers house, my dog running laps, him quietly nodding and me frozen like a statue watching a scary end to a movie of someone else’s life.

Would they really get rid of her? Just. Like. That.

I couldn’t believe it.

Then, my dad motioned me with his hand, brushing quietly to get in the car. It was the look that said, “I am not talking or arguing about this. Do what I say. I am the dad. Trust me.”

I hated that stance, that look, that quiet authority that I bowed in respect to. I hated it. But I knew not to question it. Not even for a split second.

Yes, He could get my feet to follow in obedience, but by heart burst out in rebellion, exploding in a thousand pieces as I crawled in the back seat of the car, watching my beautiful, gorgeous Shelby stand in the driveway as we pulled away, me staring at him from the back window…

Tears unapologentically flooded my face. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

We drove down that long driveway, my words mute by the shocking reality that my best friend I loved would now be offering another person, some strange man of all people, the affection she had once given to me….

No, I could hardly bare it.

Rage overtook me. Rage that gripped me, darting lies in my brain, “It is not fair”, “She was my dog”, “How dare you care for what God has given ME”…

Over and over the lies filled my head, the hate festered and I couldn’t justify it until years….years later.

And I wonder, doesn’t love sometimes need distance to have perspective?

Is selfishness blind? And can our own will have the capability of fencing in those made for greater freedom?

Doesn’t true love really want what it adores to fly bold, be all that it can be? And don’t all things, kept in cages, eventually wither and fade.

I mean, who wants what it loves most to be gripped by doubt, live small and cold, or to slowly wither and fade?

Yes, I have learned, mature love stepped back in retrospect, looks forward with a humble heart doing what’s best for the other person. It doesn’t just look out for ME. 

And childish ways can be selfish and greedy. We can live life old, even in an aging body, and still never learn to let go…

I don’t want that. Do you?

We can’t keep what we love most caged, confined, kept so that we can feel better about your own needs or wants…

True love let’s go, sets free. True gratitude and appreciation can see the beauty and timing of letting those things and people we value find their wings and fly…

alaskan-malamute-1345283Even if it’s at the expense of the aching of our own broken and shattered heart.

It has been decades now, and a long time ago I forgave my parents. I realized we all must be forgiven for doing what is easiest for us and not what is always best for the other person. 

If I were my parents, now, I might even have done the very same thing…

No dog deserves to be confined when it was made to run and chase, created to grow and learn and experience the fullness of abounding in it’s gifts and skillset.

A year or so later, my parents got a call. They were told that Shelby actually saved the life of the man he went to live with.

The man was in his field and a cougar came and could have killed him. Shelby jumped in and fought the cougar off.

That man needed Shelby. He needed her more than I ever did. In fact, Shelby was given the gift to guard and protect and actually was a hero because of her bravery to defend. 

Laying on our boring wood floor until I got home from school or my mom got home from work would never have pleased or fulfilled her.

She was made to run and chase and protect and live a life full of growth and freedom…

My parents knew that. I was simply young and niave, solely protecting my own selfish heart.

Yet, as I grew and matured, I eventually realized letting go can be one of the most grown up signs of authentic, genuine, and mature love.

Still, I will never forget sitting in the back seat of our car, watching Shelby standing in that old gravel road, fumes of our engine filling my breath, tears running down my face….

My four-legged friend, the one I’d shared my secrets with, staring back at me.

We would never see each other after that. Never, ever again.


***  Shelby lived a long, happy life with the man on his farm. I heard she was a great defender and a wonderful friend to that one, lonely man for years.

We went on to get another dog years later. A puppy waiting to be euthenized from a dog shelter. Our new pet loved sprawling on our floor, resting lazily until I got home from school. He eventually died naturally just a few months before I got married. 

Still, my heartache taught me that wings have more power than chains, love lets fly, and gives those we love every opportunity to soar. And selfishness is never a reason to hold onto something that was never meant to be ours in the first place.

God brought Shelby for a season, but this man was her friend for a life-time. And even now I can see her darting off across open fields, fighting cougars and living her life in confidence, guarding what was more than some small yard with a too low chainlinked fence. 

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Jen Avellaneda

Jen is an adoptive, foster, & bio mom to trans-racial family. She speaks, writes, & passionately advocates for the orphan domestically & internationally with her husband of twenty-five years.
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1 Comment

  1. Jen, This was such a poignant and heartwarming story which you shared with raw emotion, yet closed with a beautiful lesson about letting go for the sake of love.

    Thanks for sharing your heart.


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