There are times when interviewing an 8-year-old can be far more intimidating than carrying on a meaningful conversation with a multi-degreed nuclear physicist. The 8-year-old can throw up a stack of roadblocks, such as…not talking.
You can understand why I felt a bit nervous when the knock came at my front door. I opened it to an attractive set of parents, Zach and Esther Smith of Denton. Then my eyes dropped lower to 8-year-old Emmalyn and Harvey, a 5-month-old golden retriever bred by Jonathan and Meg Bassett at Ebenezer Goldens in Big Sandy, Texas. Both Emmalyn and Harvey were beautiful. They had just come from a Christmas brunch at a downtown hotel, and each was dressed appropriately for the season – Emmalyn with a plaid red and green Christmas bow in her long, brown hair and Harvey with a matching bow around his neck.
Emmalyn accessorized with a doggie treats bag anchored across her chest for easy access for whenever a teachable moment arose between her and the soft-eyed golden. Oh, I forgot to mention one other detail — Emmalyn was born with a left arm that ends just before the elbow. And just as the two of them matched with their festive bows, Harvey mirrored Emmalyn’s uniqueness with a front leg that stops at about the same point.
Emmalyn needed just a few minutes (very few) to find her voice. While she was locating it, her mom Esther (MS, LPC-Associate, NCC, EMDR) who is a play therapist, trauma therapist and counselor for Harvest Counseling and Wellness in Argyle, opened the narrative. “A friend of ours knew about Harvey’s breeders and said they were very reputable,” Esther said. “He told us they were looking for a home for Harvey, and it might be something for us to look into for Emmalyn.” The fact the breeders recognized Harvey’s value and his right to life was rock-solid evidence of their integrity.
Esther was online immediately with the idea, but Zach needed some conversation before reaching that page. “We had dogs when I was kid,” he said, “but they were always outside and not in the house. I can’t deny that I didn’t have reservations.” He did, but it didn’t take long for him to begin seeing the same possibilities as Esther. It’s sometimes uncanny how the Universe manages to get its messages and its guidance across to humans. Emmalynn was unaware of Harvey’s existence at this point. His breeders placed him on social media, asking those interested in adopting him to please send an application telling them why they would provide a good home.
“They received hundreds of responses,” Esther said, “and Emmalyn was chosen.” That’s about when Emmalyn found her voice.
“The day before I got him, my teacher showed a film about a kid who had a problem, sort of like me,” Emmalyn said. “He got a dog and it really helped him. I told Mom about it that afternoon. I didn’t know the same thing was about to happen to me.” Harvey stood up just about then and began tracking the unmistakable scents of my three dogs. Ah! A teachable moment at its finest!
Emmalyn popped out of her chair, pulling herself to her full height. Shoulders squared. Back ramrod straight with a note of authority in her 8-year-old voice. “Harvey,” she said. “Look at me.” He did. Their eyes locked. “Sit,” she commanded. A few seconds later, “Down.” He did but then bobbed back up within a second. Emmalyn rolled her eyes, looked to me and conspiratorially whispered, “Sometimes he gets on my nerves when he does that.”
In the next breath, she said, “I really think we know what each of us is thinking. I like that, and I can tell him anything.” Travis McFadden is Harvey’s professional trainer, but he also visits Emmalyn’s house once each week to work with the two of them. I asked Emmalyn if she felt “different” from the other students when she started school. Uh-oh! Was that a slight eye roll? Probably, since it was a dumb question!
She looked at me sideways and said, “Well, I was the only kid in school missing part of an arm.” I got the message. “And I did get tired of being asked over and over, ‘What happened to your arm?’ One boy asked if it had been bitten off by a shark!” Anatole France once said, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Without a doubt, Emmalyn’s soul is fully awakened. As for me, Emmalyn Smith was one of the most beautiful interviews I’ve ever done, and I sincerely hope there’s a follow-up in my future.