Your paws left prints on my concrete life


Olivia Harshman

Me and Leon the day I brought him home; I look a little rough.

Since I had been waiting fifteen years to meet you, I certainly considered the chance that I would be mildly emotional and that I could possibly shed a tear of joy when you finally were in my arms.

However, when I held you, the tears that rolled down my cheeks were not those of happiness, but of being overwhelmed and scared.

When we visited your cousins, I was so excited to bathe in the reality that I was finally getting a dog after all of the relentless hours of begging and research. But when you sat in my car on my lap, the icy touch of the tangible pool froze me in terror.

I’ll admit it, we had a rocky start—between my sobbing as we drove down the country roads and you getting carsick all over my lap, I’m sure both of us were confused and disturbed.

You were so real, and it terrified me.

When I was five, I had an imaginary dog, and later on, I had my stuffed dogs. When I got a bit older and truly started to dive into the dream, my family tried to satisfy me with FurReal Friends and other robotic dogs. None of it even scratched the surface of what I was looking for.

But staring at you quietly laying in my living room made me so uncomfortable, you might as well have been an extraterrestrial.

But staring at you quietly laying in my living room made me so uncomfortable, you might as well have been an extraterrestrial.

While my sister cuddled you and helped you explore, I sat anxiously to the side and secretly wished you away. Finally, I voiced my wishes, much to the well-hidden horror of my parents. My mother, who I had to work the hardest to convince to get you, likely wanted to scream, but she knew me better than I knew myself.

For days after that, the ice surrounding me began to thaw ever so slightly. Day by day, the atoms spread and the water dripped down off of its frozen haven. I never noticed, but one day, the ice was completely gone, and I couldn’t imagine not coming home to your smiling face and whole body wiggling with excitement.

Occasionally, it still stirs my stomach when I think about how you may still walk this Earth when I am thirty years old—I will have undoubtedly changed so much, and you, while your charcoal curls may have washed to a soft silver, will still retain that dopey smile with your far too long tongue hanging out the side.

Honestly, having you around was not at all what I was expecting. I thought a hound hanging around at my feet would serve as both a guardian and an adventuresome guide. Somehow, I forgot that you would be a part of the family, and of course, would pick up on how we are and how the household is run. Though obviously, you would have your own personality, the nurture versus nature concept is factual.

From your days running around on the farm to your tireless playing nowadays, you have been like me in ways I wasn’t expecting—I am not a wildly explorative and protective person, so I had no reason to think that you would be that way either. Instead, your pace matches mine as we stroll and occasionally jog through neighborhoods and fields. 

I never imagined that a not even 17-pound Bernedoodle would scare me—somehow, you managed to. Oddly enough, I have to thank you. Thank you, Leon, for your lopsided smile, knack for shredding your toys to tiny shreds, eager jogs, and everything in between that dried those first tears. Thank you, above all, for teaching me how to have courage in the face of change.