9 min read

3 Ways My Rescue Dog Makes Me A Better Dad

“Anyone with at least one child and one rescue dog has two time-consuming blessings in their lives.”

My rescue dog, Vector, joined our family four years ago courtesy of the Sato Project, a Puerto Rico-based organization that, currently, has its hands even fuller than usual in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Vector is everything we hoped he’d be: faithful companion, boisterous playmate, persuasive beggar of all things edible. Wounds from his hardscrabble history — bitten-off tail, missing toe, scarred snout — make him even more endearing, serving as outward signs of his inner resilience.

vector rescue dog sato project
My two boys | Christopher Dale

What I didn’t anticipate was the lessons Vector would teach me. I’ve been humbled by his uncanny empathy and amazing adaptability, and soon he’ll start bestowing doggie doctrines upon my toddler, Nicholas.

In fact, Vector is already a blessing my son’s life. Here are three ways my rescue dog is making me a better father.

The importance of discipline ...

three ways my rescue dog makes me a better dad
Christopher Dale

Dog owners with children know that our canines and our kids are locked in an unbreakable tie for Cutest Living Thing Ever. Vector and Nicholas have been waging this age-old war since the latter's birth. Saying no to either is heart-achingly hard.

In disciplining our dogs, rescue owners face an additional emotional layer — a conscientious compassion telling us these salvaged souls have suffered enough. Vector survived three years in a place literally called Dead Dog Beach. His needs went unmet, and desires unfulfilled, long enough; he can have another treat for God's sake.

three ways my rescue dog makes me a better dad
Vector pushing his luck | Christopher Dale

Though reasonable, such rationalization is counterproductive. Dogs need a baseline amount of discipline to keep from becoming unruly. Here, a transitive property of parenting kicks in. If I can discipline Vector, I can also discipline his counterpart in cuteness, Nicholas.

The discipline is reciprocal — born of … well, Nicholas' birth. Vector's lack of discipline wasn't a concern until his human brother came along, doubling the amount of mealtimes and introducing a slower, more fragile family member. For parents, disciplining our dogs becomes mandatory for our children's safety and our own sanity.

Fortunately, instilling discipline on our beloved rescues — whom we love wholeheartedly, and who can't understand why they're being restrained or reprimanded — makes it easier to say no to our children, with whom communication becomes easier with age.

... and the importance of setting discipline aside

Christopher Dale

Anyone with at least one child and one rescue dog already has two time-consuming blessings in their lives. Add spouses, careers and other responsibilities to the mix, and navigating life becomes an evolving balancing act.

In our daily scramble drills, our dogs are leaping, frolicking segues from employment to enjoyment, from mandatory to voluntary, from "out there" to "in here."

Entering my house, I‘m immediately greeted by Vector's rapid-fire jumping and over-the-moon yips. His message is clear: It’s family time. Trailing Vector by mere steps, my son becomes an instant beneficiary of this canine-created compartmentalization.

three ways my rescue dog made me a better dad
Halloween Ewoks. Who wore it better? | Kara Suttora

For time-impoverished parents, the ability to drop our hang-ups, responsibilities and lingering concerns to fully enjoy life is no small gift. Vector literally helps me leave the day's worries right at the front door.

Our dogs are catalysts, expediting our transition from buttoned-up professionals to buttoned-down parents, from the hardened game faces we show the outside world to the soft underbellies our loved ones know. Vector is my doggy decompresser — he hastens my immersion into home life and its most important role: fatherhood.

Living with uncertainty

Christopher Dale

Vector has been plagued with health issues, most stubbornly tick-borne ehrlichia, a relapse-remit autoimmune syndrome similar to human Lyme disease. I’ve written before how caring for Vector has made me a more patient, compassionate dad.

The process of treating Vector’s ehrlichia has dragged on for years. Various rounds of antibiotics have failed to significantly decrease Vector’s titers — bloodstream markers indicating the disease’s prevalence. It’s the toughest case our vet has seen in his decades-long career, and it will almost certainly shorten Vector’s life.

For a long while, this high-stakes hurry-up-and-wait was unacceptable. I — and, I think, a lot of rescue dog owners — am a bleeding-heart problem solver. I see a challenge, I try to overcome it. I see a wrong, I try to right it. I see a loved one struggling, I try to relieve it.

All the while, blissfully unaware, Vector is licking and jumping, sniffing and marking. He’s all-in on life. His ignorance becomes brilliance though a simple lesson: We can’t let unresolved issues — even big ones — prevent us from full, joyful lives.

And that brings me to my son.

Toddlers are blank slates. They are uncomplicated, uncompromised, bursting with potential. It’s beautiful now but, as our kids grow, parenthood promises an ever-fluid, head-spinning journey into the unknown.

three ways my rescue dog made me a better dad
What's important | Patricia Li

Nicholas is a years-long X factor, poised to antagonize someone instinctively driven to expedient solutions. He’ll struggle, and I’ll want to solve his problems. He’ll fail, and I’ll want to give him all the answers. He’ll rebel, and I’ll want to hold his many blessings over his head.

I must resist these temptations, because Nicholas must be allowed to forge his own path. And when that path inevitably branches off from my own, I have to be OK with that.

Vector’s vexing health issues have helped teach me to move forward — not just reluctantly but full-heartedly — despite these daunting, dangling parental question marks. I love him and his human brother completely, ellipses and all ...