The Only Child

In early spring of 1983 I was 23 years old, and 8 months pregnant. Being the first female in our company to teach the male-dominated technical courses, I spent my work days surrounded by a classroom of guys. They were good to me, protective. And it was on this spring day that one of my students asked if I would like to know how many children there would be in my life. “Okay,” I said skeptically. They found a needle and thread, which he stuck through the eraser of a pencil, held it by the thread over my right hand, and watched it move. Somehow that pencil told him I would have one child, a boy.

I didn’t think much of this prediction until a decade later when, after a couple of mishaps, I declared I was done trying to having children. My son would be an only child.

That pencil could not predict, however, just how many dogs there would be in my life, and I seem to have made up for having an only child by ensuring no dog ever lived in my house without a sibling, or two or three.

2011: my son with (left to right) Durango, Damen, Dakota, Dudley, and Dylan (on the floor)

Dank, a black lab, was our first dog and was 3 years old before we found Damen, a 6-month Japanese Chin puppy, at a cat shelter just off Damen Avenue in Chicago.

A year later my husband and his son browsed through a pet store near our home in Florida while I talked to an old friend. They came out with a 5-week old Golden Retriever the exact color as a leather upholstery sample in my purse. We named him Durango (the name assigned to that leather sample).

For the entire summer of 2004 I visited Chicago’s No Kill Animal Shelter. It was October 21st, the day before we went back home to Florida, that I found her sitting patiently in the wire kennel – a 2-year old Maltese/Shih Tzu mix, and the most beautiful dog I had ever seen. By now we had this “D” thing going, and Dakota suited her perfectly.

A few weeks later, we lost Dank to a sudden illness, but across town a lovely, white standard poodle had already been born. We saw him at the groomer where we had taken Dakota for her first grooming. He came home the day before Thanksgiving, and we named him Dudley.

By 2006, we had moved to South Carolina and were exploring the nearby little town of Landrum when puppies caught our eye in the window of a storefront called Love On A Leash. It was our groomer from Florida who had also made the move to South Carolina, and when Dudley’s Uncle had a baby, we gladly brought him home. It was Dylan.

Dylan watching TV.


The thing about Dylan is that God has blessed him with an over-abundance of nerves. He has every disorder known to man, and a few yet to be identified. Our Vet suggested he may be a candidate for a daily dose of Prozac. We were reluctant.

Dylan and Mr. Boggs wait patiently for Dakota to walk away from her dinner, and then they race each other to finish whatever’s left in the bowl.

When he was 18 months old, Dylan traveled with me on an overnight trip (to give the other dogs a break) when I realized what a peaceful, calm dog he was without his siblings around. His OCD tendencies diminished. There was no separation anxiety. He was pleasant. Dylan needed to be an only child.

About six months ago, we hatched a plan for Dylan. He would move to Chicago to live with my son and become an only child. The day for that transition arrived late last week.

He jumped into the Jeep before I could even get my bags loaded, as usual. We drove through the mountains to Knoxville, past the horse farms of Kentucky, and the windmill farms of Indiana.

The Wind Farms on I-65 through Indiana. I snapped this photo from the side of the highway although it doesn’t come close to showing how many windmills there are.

Every few hours we’d stop, stretch our legs, and have a potty break. . . except that Dylan being Dylan won’t go potty when he’s anxious.

Nine hours into the trip, I stood under a tree until he settled down enough to go. It would be 26 hours before he would go again. We walked this dog for hours. He wouldn’t go, wouldn’t eat, barely drank. We went to bed that first night unsuccessful. I cried.

By Sunday morning, my son and I had spent hours talking through the Pros, Cons and What If’s of Dylan being an only child in Chicago. I came to the difficult decision that we had made it this far and should give him a chance to adapt. I sent my husband a text to tell him my decision when I learned Dudley and Mr. Boggs had run away!

Dudley finally came home after 6+ hours in the rain; he was drenched to the bone. 


It seems to me that sensitive souls cross our paths for a reason, as if there’s something we should learn from them. Maybe it’s patience, empathy, or acceptance. I suppose I have learned something about each of these, along with a greater appreciation for others who live with troubled souls. In our situation we realized the greatest gift we could give Dylan was the opportunity to be at peace. Loving someone enough to let them go is most certainly the hardest thing in the world I will admit.

Dylan is a scared and fragile soul that just wants to be loved. He is insanely jealous and a caretaker all at once. He paces constantly, circles the coffee table 3 times before lying down between it and the sofa where he must feel secure, and panics when routines are broken. On the other hand, he is immensely sensitive, smart beyond belief, fun-loving. . . and perfectly normal as an only child.

Dylan holds his own with Mr. Boggs.

We’ve decided Dylan will be the one that ultimately decides whether this is a good transition or not, but as of this writing he’s doing very well – eating, drinking, and going potty.

I’ll always be grateful that my son was willing to open his heart and his home to give Dylan a chance to achieve peace, but no matter the outcome, we’ll love Dylan forever, unconditionally. . . quirks and all.

Dylan Cole

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