Last June my family lost our beloved Labrador, Ralphie. It was a devastating loss that was shocking and sudden even though our boy was almost 14 years old. We spent much of the summer crying and being sad, but I still had two energetic little boys who needed me to fill their long summer days. And so, we summer camped and vacationed and road tripped. Through it all we laughed, we cried, we mourned, and we healed. Bit by bit and day by day we moved forward until we found ourselves smiling at his memory instead of crying.

The boys asked for a puppy, begged for a puppy and then finally gave up on us as the days stretched into months and their asking fell on deaf ears. While I knew our family needed a dog, I wasn’t sure that I was ready for a new puppy. I had forgotten the manual on how to raise one. I was so much younger the first time around and had gotten used to the calm and easy life that an old dog provides. No accidents, no frantic energy and no puppy teeth as sharp as razors.

Eventually, my husband and I decided to surprise the kids with a new dog. We researched breeders and were delighted to find a litter available a few days before Christmas. I ordered dog beds and bowls and toys and hid them around the house and then the week before the holiday we piled our boys in the car under the guise that we would be visiting family for an early Christmas celebration. No questions were asked as we pulled off the road just outside the breeder and handed each one of our boys a wrapped gift.

We videoed their reactions as each one excitedly tore into the paper. Immediately our older son began crying tears of joy after seeing the tiny red dog harness that we had wrapped up. He could not contain his happiness. It was the exact reaction we had hoped for. However, as we panned the camera to our younger son we were shocked to hear “I don’t want a new dog! Noooooo…it’s not our dog, it’s your dog! I want Ralphie.” Stubborn, strong-willed and fiercely loyal we probably should have been expecting this reaction, but we were genuinely shocked. “It’s ok,” we told him “you can just go look at the puppies.” “Nooooooooo!” He cried before becoming inconsolable.

My husband and I exchanged glances and laughed nervously before slowly driving up the long driveway to the breeder’s home. At this point our son was hysterical and our attempts to calm him were met with resistance and more tears. We sat awkwardly in the car with our crying child trying to decide the best course of action. We had 45 minutes to pick out and pick up our puppy and were given a specific time frame in which to do so. Having been the 3rd family to request this litter meant we were 3rd on the list to pick and the precious minutes were ticking by. All eyes were on us. No, I mean literally…the greeters were staring at our car as we sat with a screaming child inside.

At this point I was worried they would even let a dog go home with us. I turned to my youngest and said, “Nicholas, we need to go inside and see these puppies and we are going to choose one to bring home. You can either join us or wait here by the car.” His choice was to remain steadfastly in that car and so we got out, waved goodbye and headed to the gate. Now to be clear, we were inside a locked driveway, the car doors were unlocked and our youngest is almost 8. When he digs in…you must as well. But just before we entered, he did exactly what I hoped and anticipated which was to come running toward us. I’m sorry but once you see a lab puppy you can’t help but fall in love and that’s exactly what our whole family did. It was hard to choose because they were all so adorable.

My husband immediately asked, “which is the calmest?” The breeder pointed to one in a black collar and one without a collar. “What about this guy in the orange collar?” asked my oldest. “Oh, he’s the most rambunctious and our favorite” the breeder replied as orange collar climbed on top of his sleeping siblings to lay down. And who do you think our children chose? That’s right…. orange.

We’ve now had orange collar for two weeks and have since named him Murphy. He is all the things I thought I wasn’t ready for…a biter with teeth like razors, he pees in the house and has copious amounts of crazy energy. He also has brought a light back into our family. Our children adore him…. even my youngest son who came around as soon as he saw those sweet puppies. Even the middle of the night potty breaks can’t take away from our joy.

We brought home a lab in the hopes that he would be like our last dog…the best one that ever lived. And though Murphy is little like Ralphie, his special and unique little personality makes us love him in his own right. So, as I run him around the yard in the warm winter sun, I turn my head to the heavens and say a thank you to the past as we look toward the future.