Canva - Happy family with dog


Nov 15, 2019

How getting a new dog saved our family

By Kelly McQuillan
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Last December, our family was in a fractured state. We’d been through a rough couple of years and we were struggling in the aftermath. At 16, my stepson became critically ill with vasculitis and his kidneys failed. Fortunately, his disease is now in remission and he received a kidney transplant, but by last Christmas the accumulated tension in our household had reached breaking point.

My husband and stepson were at odds (parental concern clashing with teenage rebellion), my husband and I constantly bickered, and we were also wrangling a busy, headstrong toddler. Additionally, I was coming to terms with newly diagnosed anxiety. It was one of those times when you just want to cuddle up with your dog and hide under the blankets. But we didn’t have a dog.

We used to have two big, beautiful dogs: Shaylo, a charismatic Bernese, and Belle, a fiercely loyal Maremma Sheepdog. The loss of these pooches, one to cancer and one to degenerative myelopathy, was hard on everyone. My husband said he wouldn’t be ready to get another dog for a long time, if ever.

One day my son saw a dog outside of a cafe window and said, “Belle! Belle!” He’s too young to remember Belle, who passed away when he was around one, but he’d seen many pictures. I turned to look and saw a fluffy white face under a chair. The dog did, indeed, look like Belle.

We investigated and, sure enough, it was a Maremma puppy. The couple said there was a breeder nearby. We revelled in the puppy’s impossibly soft fur as we all gave him a pat. Leaving, my husband and I looked at each other.

“Um…it’s time, isn’t it?”


We couldn’t find the local breeder online, but we did stumble across a photo of our future puppy—a Maremma/Great Pyrenees cross from a farm on the mainland of BC. After many phone calls back and forth we welcomed our new family member at the ferry terminal in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, two days before Christmas.

Pearl is a gentle, patient dog with endless (often goofy) character. My husband observed that she is a perfect mix of our last two dogs. She’s already enriched our family lore and my younger son delights in telling visitors tales of Pearl’s exploits, which of course include when she jumped the fence at the dog park and spent the night lost in the woods. He always caps off his story with a triumphant, “And she was sooooo dirty, she needed a BATH!”

There’s something magical about how a dog can heal relationships. Laughing at Pearl’s quirks (like how she sidles up to the couch and sneakily rests one hip on it, then both, then voilá, she’s sitting on it) diffuses tension and brings us together. Her need for exercise and mental stimulation motivates us to take more family outings and explore new places.

My stepson once again has a friend he can connect with, wordlessly and judgment-free. Instead of constantly badgering us to play with him, my four-year-old is forming a deep bond with his fur-sibling.

Most importantly, Pearl is something we all have in common that is completely unrelated to any of our past struggles—untouched by domestic upset, the trauma of my stepson’s disease, or mental illness. She symbolizes a new, positive path forward for our family — a path of healing and connection. I am endlessly grateful she came into our lives when she did.

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