Renee Winick mug

Renee Winick

About two-and-a-half years ago, our family made the gigantic decision to bring an itty-bitty puppy into our home. This decision was years in the making and was not taken lightly.

Neither my husband nor I had ever had any kind of pet, so we were more than a little hesitant to get a dog. Our kids, however, were very persistent. Very. Like, asking-for-seven-years persistent. We did our research, asked our dog-loving friends for advice, and eventually took the leap and brought home our 3-pound bundle of love — a Havanese named Poppy.

The past two-and-a-half years have brought quite a few changes to our family. The kids went from a couple wide-eyed 13-year-olds to two wise and worldly scholars of life, closing in on their 16th year. In the meantime, Poppy has grown to a whopping 12-pound size, her coloring went from a warm chocolate brown to a pretty strawberry blonde, and she now has the entire family wrapped around her furry little finger.

It turns out that bringing home a puppy just as our kids were transitioning from tweens to teens was perfect timing. Our little Poppy helped fill the big void that all parents of teens experience — she became our snuggle surrogate. It didn’t take long for my husband and I to realize that, although our kids love Poppy beyond measure, we are her primary caregivers. We’d been told by others that this would be the case, so it wasn’t a shock to us. What did surprise us was the increased affection that she showed us. We joked that we’d gotten more hugs and kisses from Poppy in two years than we had from our kids in the last five.

The perks of having a dog around doesn’t end with Poppy’s sweet hugs and kisses. I’m now convinced that, technically, I’m not talking to myself if Poppy is in the room. She finds me fascinating, by the way. Conversely, there’ve been countless times that I’ve found myself giving the kids very detailed instructions only to have them look up from their phones, tap their ear buds, and ask if I’d been talking to them. Ugh, never mind.

Poppy misses us terribly when we’re gone and is ecstatic when we return. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been gone less than an hour or half a day, her excitement is unwavering. When my husband returns from a business trip, Poppy can hardly contain her excitement. She jumps up and lifts up her paws, pleading for him to pick her up so she can smother him in kisses. She then races around the house finding her favorite toys to lay at his feet.

When the kids eventually discover that their dad is back, they greet him with a nonchalant, “Hey, Dad”, grab a snack, and then vanish once again until dinner.

It doesn’t matter where we’re going, Poppy wants to join us. To her, a car ride is a wonderful adventure no matter what the destination. She loves walks so much that we now have to spell out the word when in front of her; otherwise, we’ll find her sitting by the door expectantly. When we ask the kids if they’d like to go to the store with us, the usual answer is, “No thanks, I’m good.” The only exception is if they need something vital that they don’t trust us to pick up for them — like shampoo.

Poppy has also helped the kids during these important years. She’s not only the perfect lap warmer on a chilly winter morning and nap buddy on a lazy summer afternoon, she also brings comic relief and unbridled joy to the ups and downs of teenage life. In addition, having Poppy around allows the kids to gain independence without the guilt of completely abandoning their parents.

Just one look at the pictures on my phone will tell you that Poppy has taken up plenty of slack for the kids. Their shutterbug mom has found a new muse! Poppy has been a joy and a blessing to our family from the first day that we brought her home. We sometimes say that we wish we had gotten a dog sooner; but then quickly walk that statement back because, if we had, we wouldn’t have our sweet Poppy girl.

The timing of when we chose to bring a dog into our home and our family was perfect for us. My husband and I were ready and our kids were more than ready to welcome our sweet pup.

What none of us was prepared for, however, was how much she has added to our lives and how having her around has made these transformative teenage years easier for the entire family. Having a dog doesn’t take away all of the dicey days, but it sure does help!

Renee Winick has lived in Prior Lake for nearly two decades, where she resides with her husband and twin son and daughter. She is also a contributor to the TODAY Parenting Team website.