The gift of joy: Lessons from a puppy


A veterinarian writes an apology letter to a former pet owner who couldn't afford to care for his dog.

Two winters ago, clients of mine found a man dressed in several layers of badly worn clothing wandering up and down the dog food aisles at a local pet store. He held a tiny, emaciated black puppy in his arms. He was muttering to himself that he couldn't afford dog food.

The young couple asked the man about his puppy. He said he needed someone to take her because he didn't have the money to care for her. They asked if he would take $20 for her—which they had planned on spending, but probably not quite like that—and he did. They brought her to my clinic where we examined her. Other than the puppy's thin body condition, we didn't find any other physical problems. The clients didn't know if they were adopting or rescuing—they just saw a puppy in need and a man in distress.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Shawn Finch

Turns out they were rescuing—and I was the one doing the adopting. Two days later, the puppy came to live with my family and me. After much discussion among family and friends, we decided to name her after a dear friend who had recently passed away.

The perfect name

Joy. What an odd choice of name during what was such a sad time for many friends. But Joy has more than lived up to her name. When I first met Joy, I was so angry with the man who had almost let her starve to death. I couldn't see straight. Then one of my friends said, "He took her to where he knew she'd get help." That stopped me in my tracks.

Having probably very little for himself, the man who first owned Joy did everything he could for her. Maybe the reason he held on to her as long as he did was because he didn't want to give up his puppy. I feel as though I owe him an apology and a thanks even though I've never met him. So I'll write one here, and though he will almost certainly never see it, I hope it serves as a reminder to let my first reaction be one of compassion, not one of judgment, no matter who I'm dealing with: strangers, clients, co-workers, family, or friends.

Dr. Shawn Finch works at Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion, Neb. To discuss this article, go to

A letter from the heart

To the original owner of Joy the puppy:

Thank you so much for the gift of Joy. She's been a wonderful addition to our family. She's so gentle and playful with our kids, and she fits right in with our other two dogs. She's loved and warm and fed. I pray you are as well. I'll keep an eye out for you and try to make sure you are.

If you had been in a different time of your life, with a home and resources to take care of the two of you, would you still have Joy? I bet you miss her. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you giving her up so that she could have a healthy life. If things have turned around for you, and there's room in your life for a puppy again, I'll do everything I can to help make that happen.

Forgive me for being so initially angry that she was such a skinny thing. I know that when you ran out of puppy food, you shared your own food with her, and you probably gave up a meal or two so the little bottomless pit wouldn't have to. She has the cutest bug eyes—I would've held on to her until the last possible moment, too. I'll remember that the next time I'm getting worked up. I'll not judge someone who's probably doing the best that he or she can.

Be proud of your dog. She turned out great. She started off cute and grew up to be gorgeous. If you hadn't protected her from the streets in her first few bitter cold weeks, she may not have survived. If you hadn't taught her a person's love right from the start, it would've taken us years. Thank you so much. If this doesn't reach you directly, I'll try to thank you indirectly every way that I'm able.


Shawn Finch, DVM

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