Since our family is allergic to animals, Myles and Brigid will probably never own pets. No cats, no dogs, not even guinea pigs will they tend to with care. Add to that our fairly active travel schedule, and even non-furry creatures like turtles or fish are not viable options either. However, they still have a natural longing for animal friendship.
Myles received his little toy dog when he was 18-months-old. It was adorable how he played with this stuffed animal from the very beginning. Pretending it was real, he giggled as he made the puppy bowl him over with dog kisses in the store. The toy dog was promptly named Douglas.
Douglas the dog has been on many adventures, as one would expect of a boy’s constant companion. He has accompanied Myles to the beaches of North Carolina, Harlem in New York City, the Shanghai Bund, the caves of Guilin, and the Terra Cotta warriors in Xi’an – to and from Asia and the US.
My favorite story about Douglas happened at a coffee shop in Shenzhen in 2007. I was placing my order when Myles asked me to get a slice of zucchini bread for Douglas. Previously, Myles had insisted he did not like this type of bread, so I believed that he was using his toy dog as an excuse to reconsider. While I drank my coffee, the zucchini bread remained untouched next to the little dog. I was ready to leave, so I asked Myles if he himself was going to eat it. He reminded me that he still did not like zucchini bread, and it really was meant for Douglas. (That was the last time Douglas was allowed to order something for himself.)
We knew that Douglas was special to him. When Brigid was on the way, we explained that he would be asked to share things – like toys, space, and even Mommy – with the new baby. Yet he would never be expected to share Douglas. In those first few months though, he placed his dog in his sister’s cot and insisted that Douglas wanted to be shared. “And besides,” he would add tenderly of his new sister, “I love her!”
As Brigid grew more mobile and verbal, her insistence on sharing Douglas stretched beyond her brother’s generosity. This really escalated when we were in the US last summer. I hoped the situation might be remedied by taking Brigid to the same store where Douglas was found five years before. I pointed out a rack of toy dogs, but she was surprisingly uninterested in them. I pulled them one-by-one off the shelf, asking her each time, “Is this your puppy?”
Each time my question was met with a shake of the head and a sad “no.” Her eyes started to brim with frustrated tears. I was ready to abandon the idea of getting her a new toy, when she finally nodded her head when I held up a brown-and-white one.
To be sure, I asked her again, “Have we found your puppy?”
She drew the stuffed dog to her, saying with even more enthusiasm than before, “Yes!”
She named it Gougou, the Chinese word for “doggy.” Like Douglas, he joined us in our daily life and travels. As Myles outgrows his need to carry Douglas everywhere, Brigid reminds him that he should have his dog whenever she brings Gougou. Hence, he hasn’t abandoned Douglas to the toy box. Not yet.