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A New Year, a New Hope

by on February 06, 2020 5:00 AM


“Money will buy a pretty good dog, but it won’t buy the wag of his tail.” –writer Josh Billings

In November my wife came to me just before heading out the door for a couple of hours and said “I need to talk to you. I can’t tell you what it’s about now, but we need to talk when I get back.”

Even after decades of marriage that is no way to leave someone hanging. So she let me know that it was about getting another dog. My initial reaction was that our current dog was enough for all of us. But I knew there would be further discussion.

For historical context, I did not have a dog growing up. In 1995, before we had kids, my wife and I got a beagle puppy. It didn’t take long to understand how great dogs can be. Our beagle, Rosey, died in February of 2010. When I wrote about that sad day the response from other dog owners was incredible. But we decided to wait and live without a dog for a while. 

Just under two years later, after my father was diagnosed with cancer, our veterinarian, Fred Metzger, decided that we needed a dog again. He even had one in mind that was looking for a “forever home.”

So we adopted a beagle mix that we named Penelope after the loyal wife of Odysseus. The other name possibility was Argos, Odysseus’ dog who even after 20 years of separation was the only one to recognize Odysseus upon his return. Even the ancients recognized the power of a dog’s bond.

Our lone dog Penny became a valued part of our family for the last eight years. But there was a movement afoot, a revolution brewing to change the number of dogs in our household. It wasn’t until November that I discovered the full plot against me. There were a number of pro-dog co-conspirators in the house. 

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln warned about “a house divided against itself,” but this was bigger than the future of our nation. This was about a dog. To quell the brewing rebellion in my own home I agreed to foster a dog the week of Thanksgiving, but only a fool doesn’t know how that story ends.

My wife and youngest son returned home from the shelter to successfully plead their case to foster a rescued miniature schnauzer before returning to get her. 

This dog was a shattered soul, her will broken by abuse. She cowered in fear, avoiding all eye contact. When we took her outside she hunched and shook. She never barked or whined or even wagged her tail.

There was no trust in humanity. It looked hopeless for her and for us. But hope is eternal and love conquers all. We kept the faith and kept hope alive that she could understand that this home and our family were a refuge, a place where she was cared for and valued.

Even years of mistreatment of this vulnerable animal could not hold back a new hope in a new year. Slowly, she began to trust us. She took on a new name, “Bonnie,” and made timid steps to become a part of our home, our pack. As Christmas approached she was responding. 

She was learning to be a family dog. After a few weeks she barked for the first time and started to play outside and wag her tail. She remains skittish at times but each day the bonds of trust pave a little more over the years of neglect.

As much as we’ve done for her, she has meant even more to our kids and to us. She is a sign of how even small things can bring happiness and hope. In this new year, helping this vulnerable little dog has lifted spirits and brought a ray of sunshine to our hearts.

Penny and Bonnie have begun to play together. And now in the mornings they gang up on me and bark to remind me that it is breakfast time. No matter how early a morning it is, that chorus of dogs being dogs brings a smile to my face.

Sure, a puppy would’ve been cuter. Sure, a dog that was ready to jump in with all four paws right away would’ve been easier. But in the end getting to be a new hope for her and changing that little dog’s life far outweighs the rewards of picking out a perfect dog.

And even though it took us several weeks of patience and care, eventually the hope we gave did earn us the wag of her tail.


State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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