It was a sad day in our house this past week—we had to make the hard decision to put our dog, Tilly, down. It was even more challenging since my youngest son’s 13th birthday was the day before. Not that any day would’ve made it easy, but that made it particularly difficult.
After all, she was so much more than a dog—our Tilly girl—who faithfully did life with us for 16 years. No, she wasn’t just a dog; She was a teacher. My family learned valuable lessons from a brown-eyed, 10-pound, lovable furball.
Be nice to Tilly
My boys never had a sister, just brothers in a house full of transformers, footballs, and lots of dirt in pockets and the washing machine.
When my middle son—now 17—had just turned one, we brought a tiny black puppy home. Today people would pay thousands for a “designer breed” like her. However, back then, she was considered a mutt—half miniature poodle and miniature schnauzer. So, after a few shots and a hundred dollars later, we had ourselves a furry ball of love.
The boys quickly learned that playing with Tilly meant being gentle. By the time we brought our third son home from the hospital, Tilly had been with us for three years. The older two boys were pros and taught their younger sibling the art of being gentle in a rough and tumble boy world. However, as my son grew into the toddler years, Tilly was his favorite toy to drag, tug and pull on. So our household mantra became, “Be nice to Tilly!”
Family rule #4: Be Nice to Tilly
About that time, I saw a cute poster titled “family rules,” with a list of all the “rules” for the home. I loved this idea and felt it’d be even better personalized.
One afternoon I sat down with pen and paper in hand and began a list of essential things in our home. I asked the boys to chime in on what they felt should be on the list. After a few suggestions, my middle son shouted, “Be nice to Tilly!” I couldn’t help but chuckle, but we had been screaming that a lot those days. So, there amongst our rules to “Be kind,” “Be each other’s greatest fans,” and “Say sorry,” was “Be nice to Tilly.”
Friends and family giggled every time they read it and commented how cute it was. And I felt proud of our little list of rules I had carefully crafted up.
After several moves and many years, our list of rules got shoved in a corner and forgotten.
My boys have grown, and much has changed over these 16 years of life. But one thing never did; they learned a tenderness from having their Tilly; they loved her, cared for her, and protected her, even as she got old and grumpy and would snap at them if they picked her up too abruptly. Even still, they were nice to Tilly.
Even mom had to be reminded to be nice to Tilly.
In her last few years, she required diapers and constant cleaning, and I more than once became frustrated and angry with her accidents and continuous attention. She had lost that light in her eyes and had become more of a burden than anything else. Rather than a fun-loving puppy, she turned into one more thing for me to clean up. She didn’t know who I was anymore, and the days of loving licks were replaced with a vacant stare.
Amid my frustrations, the words, “Be nice to Tilly,” whispered to my soul.
Not only did she teach my boys lessons in tenderness, but she also taught me. Sometimes caring for someone or something isn’t fun or rewarding. Sometimes there is nothing in it for us whatsoever.
Tilly taught me that to care for the least important and most feeble is to display the fingerprint of God that he imprinted on us. God’s heart is one of compassion and tenderness for the least of these. We will not receive accolades or attention when we care for the ones that can give us nothing in return—the weak, the sick, the feeble, the poor, and the dying. Instead, we receive a humble and tender heart, the greatest gift of all.
So much more than “just a dog.”
Some would say she was “just a dog.” But not to us, to us she was so much more:
She was the little lady of the house—the princess and the only girl.
She was a face licker, fear comforter, anxiety calmer, food stealer, belly laugh giver, and faithful adventure partner.
I’m so grateful for the years she was with us. So thankful for a sweet, furry companion that taught my boys the importance of gentleness and their mama the value of a tender servant’s heart.
When my heart becomes unyielding by a harsh world, I pray it’ll soften by remembering a brown-eyed girl and our catchphrase that equated to gentleness:
“Be nice to Tilly.”
As always, friend, thank you for stopping by,