Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Joy Berry’s Parenting Advice: My Amazing Dog-Walker

An 18-year-old Hispanic girl who lives in my neighborhood saw me transporting my two dogs in special carriers that enable people to take their pets with them on the subway. She needed a way to transport her pet rabbit to the vet, and she approached me about borrowing one of my carriers.

During her pick up and return of the carrier, I noticed her outstanding connection with my two dogs and asked whether or not she was open to taking them on their daily walks. She jumped at the chance. So we negotiated a price for her services, and she began her new job the very next day.

Before long, the girl picked up several other satisfied customers, and as a result she currently has a full-fledged dog-walking business.

Over many months I discovered a lot about my amazing dog-walker. For starters, I found out that she comes from a very large family in which her two parents work several jobs in order to meet the family’s financial needs. By her mother’s own admission, and as often is the case in situations such as these, little time is left for providing the parental guidance and encouragement that the children in the family desperately need and desire. Such was the case with the wonderful girl who walks my dogs.

One day, upon her return home with the dogs, the girl and I began talking. During our conversation, I asked her, “What are your hopes and dreams for yourself?” The quizzical look on the girl’s face made me feel like I was speaking a foreign language.

I attempted to clarify my question. “What do you want to be?” I asked.

“A wife and mother?” she said tentatively—as though there could be a right or wrong answer to my query.

With no lifetime partner on the horizon, and with the potential need for her to support herself, I suggested that, given her gift and her passion for animals, she might want to consider some kind of work in the field of animal care. It was obvious that, even in spite of her thriving dog-walking business, she had never considered turning her love for animals into a vocation.

“But what would that mean? And what would I have to do?” she asked earnestly.

To the best of my limited understanding and experience, I shared with her a variety of options that she might want to consider. Some of the options required formal schooling while others required on-the-job training.

The girl returned the next day to pick up the dogs, and while she was attaching the leashes to their collars, she announced that she was going to a local junior college to find out about its program for “people who want to work with animals,” as she told me. Before long, the girl was fully immersed in the program and performing at an extraordinary level that no one, including herself, expected.

I believe that had I not been the one to turn my dog-walker on to the profession that she is currently pursuing, she would have gotten there on her own. I am sharing the story as a reminder of how important it is to pay attention to the passions and gifts of the young people who surround us, and how important it is to encourage those gifts and passions in every way possible.

Indeed, nothing that parents do is more important that helping children discover and direct their passion and gifts. At the very least, children who are fortunate enough to have this kind of guidance and encouragement are far less likely to get into the usual trouble that kids with no direction get into.

It’s hard to stifle my delight every time my dog walker comes to walk my dogs. This is not just because my dogs adore her. It is because she serves as a constant reminder of the pure joy and satisfaction that abounds when a child is in sync with his or her natural-born gifts, and when those gifts are being used to make the world a better place for everyone.

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