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Published April 19, 2009, 12:00 AM

ANN BAILEY: Daughter’s friendship with dog proves to be the best medicine

I won’t deny that dogs and boys can be great pals. But I have to say that the friendship between dogs and humans is not limited by gender. No boy could have a stronger bond with his dog than my 6-year-old daughter, Ellen, does with her puppy, Rosebud.

By: Ann Bailey, Grand Forks Herald

An avid reader as a child, I especially liked books about animals and my Scholastic book order often listed requests for paperbacks about horses and dogs.

While most often the human characters in the horse books were girls, the fictional owners of the dogs were boys. “Shiloh,” “Where the Red Fern Grows” and “Old Yeller” are a few that come to mind. But it’s not just in books that boys and dogs seem to be often paired. It’s also mirrored in real life where we have sayings such as “A dog is a man’s best friend.” Meanwhile people often talk about the special relationship between a boy and his dog. For example, Berton Braley is quoted as saying “Give a boy a dog and you’ve furnished him a playmate.”

I won’t deny that dogs and boys can be great pals. But I have to say that the friendship between dogs and humans is not limited by gender. No boy could have a stronger bond with his dog than my 6-year-old daughter, Ellen, does with her puppy, Rosebud.

From the time Ellen met Rosebud a few months ago on the set of Santa Buddies, the Disney made-for-DVD movie that was being filmed, the two have been best buddies. Ellen a dog lover from the time she was old enough to understand what kind of four-legged creature it was, chose going to the movie set as her wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. While many of the children with life-threatening illnesses, such as Ellen’s leukemia, choose to go to Disneyland for their wishes, meeting the five golden retriever puppies that star in the Air Buddies movies was her first choice.

Dog lover

Ellen, a big fan of the Buddies movies, didn’t choose visiting the movie set because she was awed by Hollywood film making. She chose it because she loves dogs and wanted to see the puppies in person and pet them. Since Ellen was tiny, she has spent countless hours playing fetch with our family dogs, Maggie and Minnie, and brushing them. She never has been afraid of strange dogs, no matter how big, and always has asked the owners if she could pet them.

When Ellen was granted her wish last fall my husband, Brian, and I were delighted and Ellen was ecstatic. Her brothers, Brendan and Thomas, who also have watched the Air Buddies movies many times, also were excited about the prospects of meeting the canine stars.

Before we left for Vancouver, B.C., for the wish trip in December a few people teased us that we would be bringing back a puppy with us. Brian and I scoffed at the idea, pointing out to them that two dogs were plenty, thank you very much.

Our attitudes changed, however, after spending a few hours with Rosebud on the set of the movie. While Ellen had a ball playing with Rosebud’s puppy brothers, Mudbud, Bud-ha, Budderball and B-Dawg, it was clear there was something special between her and Rosebud. While Rosebud was fierce when it came to playing tug-of-war with her brothers and snapped and growled at them when they took her toys away, she was extremely gentle and affectionate whenever she was with Ellen.

And though Rosebud was frisky and full of energy when she was on the floor playing, she was motionless when she laid on Ellen’s lap using the arm that cradled her for a pillow. By the end of the day on the set, I knew that I had to find a way to make Rosebud hers.

Coming home

I didn’t have to convince the animal trainer or movie producer. They could see how much Ellen loved Rosebud — and vice versa — and were happy to figure out a way to get the puppy from Vancouver to our farm near Larimore, N.D. Fortunately one of them talked to a person at WestJet Airlines who, though, hadn’t met Rosebud or Ellen, was intrigued by their story. The WestJet employee, who lives in Alberta, flew to Vancouver so she could accompany Rosebud on her flight to Winnipeg, then flew back home to Alberta.

Thanks to the kindness of strangers and what I believe was a large dose of divine intervention, Ellen became Rosebud’s owner on Dec. 17. Brian and I went to pick her up that day and delivered her into the arms of Ellen that evening. Ellen couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw Rosebud and, at first, thought she was only visiting and would have to go back to Vancouver. When she learned Rosebud was hers she looked stunned, then quickly recovered and hugged her new puppy.

While sometimes the excitement of owning a puppy wears off and it starts to get ignored, in the past four months, the bond between Rosebud and Ellen has only grown stronger. Ellen brushes her, plays with her and simply spends time petting her, daily. Most of her journaling during the past few months most often includes something about Rosebud.

A girl and her dog

As a kindergartener, Ellen still is writing phonetically and doesn’t follow grammar and spelling rules, her journal entries are easy to decipher. For example, Ellen recently wrote:

“I am standing with my Dad and my Mom, Brendan, and Thomas. Rosebud is gitting big. She yisd (used) to be smol.” The words are illustrated with a pencil drawing of five smiling people and a puppy, colored yellow with crayon. The puppy is smiling, too, and the smallest person in the picture is holding on to it with a pink leash.

Though Rosebud likes everyone in our family and people, in general, she clearly is Ellen’s dog. Every morning she jumps over the puppy gate, runs through the house, gallops up the stairs and leaps onto Ellen’s bed. When I later arrive to wake up Ellen I find the two of them cuddled up on the bed, Rosebud’s head on Ellen’s curled-up body and her owner’s body around her.

Chemotherapy has effectively put Ellen’s cancer in remission, but it’s also difficult to endure at times. During those times when the chemo drugs are taking a toll on her energy and making her feel ill, Rosebud is the perfect medicine, lifting her spirits and providing a diversion.

The late Charles Schulz once said “Happiness is a warm puppy.” When I look at my little girl and Rosebud I think “Amen to that.”