The gift of joy: Lessons from a puppy

The gift of joy: Lessons from a puppy

A puppy teaches a big lesson in compassion, not judgement
Feb 01, 2011
By staff

Two winters ago, clients of mine found a man dressed in several layers of badly worn clothing wandering up and down the dog food aisles at a local pet store. He held a tiny, emaciated black puppy in his arms. He was muttering to himself that he couldn't afford dog food.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Shawn Finch
The young couple asked the man about his puppy. He said he needed someone to take her because he didn't have the money to care for her. They asked if he would take $20 for her—which they had planned on spending, but probably not quite like that—and he did. They brought her to my clinic where we examined her. Other than the puppy's thin body condition, we didn't find any other physical problems. The clients didn't know if they were adopting or rescuing—they just saw a puppy in need and a man in distress.

Turns out they were rescuing—and I was the one doing the adopting. Two days later, the puppy came to live with my family and me. After much discussion among family and friends, we decided to name her after a dear friend who had recently passed away.

The perfect name

Joy. What an odd choice of name during what was such a sad time for many friends. But Joy has more than lived up to her name. When I first met Joy, I was so angry with the man who had almost let her starve to death. I couldn't see straight. Then one of my friends said, "He took her to where he knew she'd get help." That stopped me in my tracks.

Having probably very little for himself, the man who first owned Joy did everything he could for her. Maybe the reason he held on to her as long as he did was because he didn't want to give up his puppy. I feel as though I owe him an apology and a thanks even though I've never met him. So I'll write one here, and though he will almost certainly never see it, I hope it serves as a reminder to let my first reaction be one of compassion, not one of judgment, no matter who I'm dealing with: strangers, clients, co-workers, family, or friends.

Dr. Shawn Finch works at Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion, Neb. To discuss this article, go to