What does fairness look like?

My beloved posts a lot of photos of our terrier puppy on social media: shots in the backyard, in the car, on the beach, or in random acts of naughty terriorism. In fairness to Declan, Penelope Pumpernickel is very photogenic. (Have I mentioned she's a puppy?) But the photographic abundance comes from a deeper place than mere aesthetics. The pictures are silent gasps of gratitude Declan can't help but utter; each one a thank you because Penelope was such a gift to us, and Declan is damned grateful.

Social media friends know we have two dogs, and people sometimes comment about our other pup (Phillip) not being with us on adventures. The questions seem to hint that we aren't being fair to him. So I wanted to talk for a moment about what fairness looks like.

We lost our Rumplepimple six months ago. He was a one-of-a-kind dog of high intellect and determination mixed with gentleness of spirit. He had all the makings of an alpha creature, but was too soft-hearted to step into the snark and snarl of the role, letting the dogs we fostered across a handful of years pretend they were in charge rather than taking them down a peg or two as they frequently deserved.

He was such a sweet, sweet boy.

It's not easy to bear the brain and stubbornness of an alpha canine but the heart of a lover, so when we heard about Phillip 8 or so years ago, we thought he might be a good companion for Rumple. Phillip was neglected for some time before being picked up by animal control, and was scheduled for euthanasia when a terrier rescue got him out, cleaned him up, and loved him into readiness for our family. The rescue knew what we were looking for in a new family member, and Phillip fit that bill; energetic but submissive. And so he came to live with us.

The match was remarkable. Rumplepimple got to be alpha without having to be a brute. Phillip had a brother, leader, and friend; regular meals; and lots of love. They made a brilliant team.

In many ways Phillip is a simple dog, with simple desires: to eat as often as possible, to cuddle, to occasionally perform astonishingly fast zoomies. He's not a deep thinker, nor is he demanding, but the rough start to Phillip's life left emotional scars. He doesn't like having wet feet, being cold, or being hot. He wants the mailman to be fired. He wants all dogs to be banned from the streets near our house. He wants joggers to just... not. He wants horses on television to stop being horses, and cartoon monsters to evaporate. And he makes these desires known physically; leaping at windows and knocking over lamps in response to passers by, jumping at the TV and bashing it with his nose, panting, pacing, and trying to tell us that SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT IS GOING ON.

Our attempts at training him to not freak out didn't work. Xanax didn't work. Cannabis oil didn't work. Trazadone didn't work. Anti-depressants didn't work. We've simply had to accept that he's an anxious little guy and give him lots of love to balance that out.

Prior to Phillip, Rumplepimple went many places with us. He loved car rides, meeting new people, and checking out the world. Phillip, on the other hand, becomes dangerously unhinged in the car. He's chewed through multiple kinds of restraints, barks in the driver's ear, and tries to climb on the driver's lap, crying as if the world is on fire. Taking him places isn't safe and doesn't make him happy. And so, out of fairness, we thought we should leave Rumplepimple with him when we went out. It didn't seem "fair" for him to get to go when Phillip couldn't handle it. Fairness, in our minds, meant treating the two creatures the same way.

When Rumplestinky was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, the ticking of his life clock pounded loud in our hearts. The pain of that timeframe isn't something I'm going to delve into now, but one of the things we eventually did was resume taking him places. Water therapy was the start, and then it morphed back into the kind of travels he used to experience. And Phillip stayed at home, away from windows so he couldn't hurl himself through the glass in a bloody blast of unhingedness. 

We don't have a lot of regrets related to our time with Rumple. Our love as a family was grand. But one thing we do regret is that our idea of fairness to Phillip created an unfairness for his brother. Rumplepimple missed out on a lot of joy during those years. And so did we.

Now here we are with a silly, headstrong adventure dog named Penelope Pumpernickel, who loves car rides, watching people, and experiencing new things. And Phillip remains the creature he's been from the beginning; a dog who longs to be an indoor cat.

Fairness doesn't mean serving peas as the sole vegetable every day because it's the only veg one child will eat. Fairness isn't spending the same dollar amount on Christmas gifts for two children, when the heart's desire of one of them can be purchased for a quarter of the amount of the other. Fairness isn't doling out the same thing across the board. 

Fairness is evaluating the wants, needs, and anxieties of individuals, and responding to each with the same level of attention and care. The "fair" action for one creature might be the very definition of torture for the other.

If you're a contact on social media, you'll continue to see photos of our fur babies in a variety of settings. They spend hours playing, napping, and sniffing around the yard together every day. They love each other and bring us all joy. But you'll also see pictures of Penelope on car rides and beach adventures, with Phillip nowhere in sight. He and Chicken the cat will be at home where the boundaries are known, the food is available, and the bed is comfortable. The place where mom, dad, and Penelope always return for hugs, treats, and playtime.

Because that's what fairness looks like.


  1. You're BRILLIANT! It would be nice if people would actually learn about "who" their dogs are and not try to create a dog that isn't there. We have had a 95 lb. Airedale terrier, then a 35 lb. Welsh terrier, then a 15 lb. Wire Fox Terrier, and now a 19 lb. Wire Fox terrier--all different, all terriers, but all the same--lovable.

    1. You are both kind and insightful. Your pups are lucky to be part of your family.


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