There are so many benchmarks in our children’s lives to photograph: the first smile, the first wave, the first missing tooth, the first day of school, the first family pet.
When my son, Quincy, was six, he begged me for a dog. Though I did not really want a dog, I caved in and promised I’d get him a dog by summer’s end. We went to our local shelter just to have a look-see.
My son took my hand as we walked a gauntlet of cages filled with barking canines, all begging for us to take them home. Near the end of the line was a young, blond border-collie mix named Sunny. There was something special about him and both of us immediately stopped.
A volunteer asked if we wanted to take Sunny outside for a walk. “Dad, can we please? Please?” Quincy and I were soon outside, throwing a tennis ball to a dog who was grateful and happy he had someone to play with. All three of us knew that this was a perfect match but I wanted a day to think things over.
The next afternoon, Quincy could not get out of school fast enough. As soon as we pulled up to the shelter, he jumped out of the car and ran to find his new buddy. My son dashed down the line of barking hounds and then turned toward me, tears rolling down his face. “Sunny is gone.”
I picked Quincy up in my arms and bolted for the front office, where we learned that Sunny had been adopted that morning.
Dejectedly, we went home. The next day, I woke up with a pit in my stomach, the kind you have after something really painful has happened to you and you’re frantically searching for solutions but unable to find anything that can ease the pain.
Quincy went to school wearing the saddest face I’d ever seen. I plodded through my workday, refusing to give up hope but still not knowing how to fix things for my boy. As soon as school was out, Quincy and I drove in the rain to three other animal shelters and looked at scores of dogs, all with pleading looks on their faces. We wanted to adopt any of them, just to ease our pain, but none came even close to being like Sunny.
The next day I got a call from the first shelter. Sunny had jumped up on an elderly neighbor, who became quite irate and threatened a lawsuit, so he had been brought back to the shelter.
I sped to the shelter to adopt Sunny and hugged every staff member. I called Quincy’s second-grade teacher and explained what had happened and that I wanted to walk into her class and surprise my son with Sunny.
At the school minutes later, I buttoned Sunny inside my coat, with just his head peeking out. Quincy was seated at a small table talking to his buddy Talen about how he had lost Sunny, the best dog in the world.
My son looked up at me with disbelief and joy. Sunny squirmed out of my coat and ran to Quincy. The entire class somehow knew what was happening and erupted in applause.
As Sunny licked Quincy’s happy face, I knew something amazing and wonderful had just occurred in my boy’s life—something that he and I would never forget.