The Puppy That Came For Christmas

By Kathryn Matthews

“I’d been taking some herbs, agnus castus and black cohosh….I had changed my diet to take more foods rich in folic acid…  I’d also contracted a charity called Baby Makers, who support people having difficulty getting pregnant….” writes Megan Rix who shares her hopes, disappointments and fertility travails in The Puppy That Came for Christmas (Plume 2011).

When I first received a review copy of this book, the cover, featuring a sweet-faced puppy (a golden retriever – Labrador cross), struck me as gimmicky.  Was this a children’s book?  Was this a story told from a dog’s P.O.V.?  I’ll confess: it took me a while to get around to reading it.

But once I began turning the pages, I was hooked.

Rix, a British children’s author (who goes by the pseudonym Ruth Symes), was a happily single woman, north of 40, when she met Ian.  They quickly fell in love, married, and began trying to have a baby.  For Rix, who was 43 at the time, trying to conceive was an uphill struggle from the get-go—requiring the couple’s constant preoccupation with temperature-taking, eggs, cycles, scans and fertility drugs.

The meat of this story, however, chronicles Rix’s personal journey toward discovering another kind of motherhood—one that has since brought her boundless satisfaction, joy and peace—as a puppy parent.

To distract themselves from their fertility struggles, Rix and her husband volunteered to become “foster parents” for a canine charity that trains helper dogs—dogs that assist the disabled.

The couple fell hard and fast for their pup charges.  First, there was beautiful Emma.  A quick study, Emma advanced to the next stage of training after just three months, leaving behind, in the wake of her departure, puppy parents with broken hearts.  Then came Freddy, whose big personality antics captivated the couple.  They grieved, too, when he left after six months.  Their sadness is tempered by their parenting pride: we eventually meet the people who Emma and Freddy go on to help.

I chuckled.  I sympathized.  I learned.  It’s an eye-opening book to the helper dog training and placement process; the patience and devotion required to be a puppy parent; and the extent to which these dogs can change lives of the people they assist.

Most importantly, Rix’s memoir is a heartwarming reminder that a couple’s capacity to love and to nurture need not be limited to—or defined by—their ability to conceive.

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