Wednesday, November 23, 2022

"Thurber's Tail: How My Dog Brought Joy To My Elderly Dad"

"Thurber's Tail: 
How My Dog Brought Joy To My Elderly Dad"
by Tom Purcell

"My Lab puppy, Thurber, was born on Christmas Day, 2020 - the best Christmas blessing I ever received. But he bestowed even greater blessings on my mother and father. In his 87th year, my father was facing a series of health challenges. Waiting for the other shoe to drop - waiting for a middle-of-the night call to help pick him up from a fall - had become the norm. Visits to my parents’ house were becoming less joyful and more stressful as my dad, with limited mobility, needed help getting in and out of his chair and had to ask his kids to assist with the many daily tasks he used to do himself so effortlessly.

We gave my father endless support as his needs grew but his decline brought sadness, and the sadness began permeating my parents’ home, hitting us hard every time we entered the front door. That all changed the day I brought my puppy Thurber home.

Thurber's first visit: The day I picked Thurber up in Punxsutawney, Pa., my plan was to drive directly to my mom and dad’s house. I slipped into their house quietly through the garage and sneaked up the back steps. I knew they’d be in the family room watching an old movie. That’s what they often did in the afternoons - and, sure enough, that is what they were doing.

In I walked, a soft cuddly puppy in my arms - and the room lit up like a Christmas tree. The joy was immediate and, just like that, my mom and dad were transformed from their late 80s into giddy, 10-year-old children. I set Thurber on my father’s lap and the puppy was in his glory, his tail wagging wildly. Dogs always loved my father and sensed instantly, and correctly, that he was the alpha male in the room. The two played and cuddled a good long while as Thurber climbed all over my dad and found an especially comfortable spot between him and the arm of his recliner.

I brought Thurber over to my mom and she too was thrust into instant joy and affection. We never think of our parents as being children, but with a puppy in her arms my mother became a happy little girl. It was as if her father, who died when she was only 19, was watching over her again - providing her with the warmth and security he did so well in her childhood.

After a time, my mother set Thurber on the floor, where I lay enticing him to play with me. I laughed aloud as he jumped on me and showered me with his affection, but it was more than just puppy affection that brought me so much joy. It was wonderful to feel the undivided love and playfulness my puppy directed solely at me. Better yet, it made my mother and father happy to see their middle-aged son being made so happy by the puppy who would now be an integral part of his world.

An angel of joy: I stayed a few hours that Friday afternoon, the first time in months we were able to forget about my dad’s health woes - the first time we laughed in I don’t recall how long. The power of a puppy is transformative, and my transformation was just beginning then, and continues still.

There is a saying I came across in which God is talking to a puppy and he says, “I removed your wings so they won’t know you are an angel.” Well, on the day I brought Thurber home, he became an angel of joy to my father and mother.

I didn’t know that for the next year and a half I’d be able to bring him to my parents’ house for multiple visits that inevitably resulted in childlike happiness for us all - sadness left their home instantly every time Thurber visited. And when Thurber celebrated his first birthday on Christmas Day of 2021, we had the celebration in my parents’ home, and it was a grand event full of laughter and joy.

I didn’t know last Christmas that my father would leave us nine months later - he’d leave us a few days after we’d celebrated his 89th birthday. But I will treasure forever the many joyful visits Thurber and I made to my parents’ home, in which their difficult days were made so much brighter by a furry angel with hidden wings!"

Editor's note: This column is an excerpt from Tom Purcell’s new book, “Tips from a New Dog Dad.” Read more chapters at

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