Two weeks before a meticulously planned cross-country move is typically not the time most people make life-changing decisions, but my husband, Roger, and I have always tended to go against the grain.
In the midst of tying up last-minute errands before our big push from Fort Hood, Texas, to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Roger and I stopped by the mall's jewelry store. It was eight months into our marriage, and my ring was long overdue for sizing.
My dear husband must have had an agenda that November day as he preyed upon my greatest weakness, leading us on a detour into the pet store not once, but twice.
My heart did jumping jacks when I saw the passel of tiny, chocolaty siblings playing and napping behind the glass. When an associate asked if I would like to hold one, I turned to Roger and he gave me his signature smirking smile.
Of course rescuing a dog from an animal shelter was my first choice, but we fell in puppy love with a barely eight-week old chocolate lab and Brittany spaniel mix. He wasn't destined to live in that store forever.
Roger and I tried to continue with our moving chores that day, but we had puppy on the brain. Despite useless, commonsensical attempts to snap out of this love spell, we sat at the kitchen table that night rattling off names, and that is when we hit the point of no return.
Instead of sticking to our own well-developed plan, my husband and I became proud parents of one Casey Behringer, tossing another variable into our already complicated situation.
Now fully responsible for the life of a sweet, needy critter, we adjusted fire to accommodate him into our hectic dual-military life. Casey became the center of our universe. The sun rose and set over him. He was our baby.
Roger and I kicked off our new chapter in life by taking shifts. Our love bug had to be constantly watched and occupied. When mommy was packing, daddy was playing with Casey. When daddy was running to the store, mommy was walking Casey.
Taking shifts blended into our sleep schedule as well. Roger and I took turns waking up with "the baby," taking him out, comforting him when he had hiccups and the other usual sleep depriving tasks associated with puppies.
We discussed strategy a lot. Roger and I constantly went over our training and parenting approach, the adjusted packing and moving plan and how we would keep Casey occupied on the upcoming two-day driving marathon.
With challenges looming in the distance, Roger and I attempted to mitigate potential problems by conditioning Casey. Daily driving trips to the park and a short road trip for Thanksgiving a few days before the big move helped our Casey boy become accustomed to car rides.
On packing day, we juggled loading the U-Haul trailer with entertaining a demanding, energetic fuzz ball while still managing to stick to the timeline.
Before we knew it, we were on the road on the first day of December. Our convoy consisted of Roger's truck with the rented trailer, followed by Casey riding with me in my little Honda Civic.
Our original plan for the cross-country trek did not make it past three hours. In theory, Casey's free reign over the back seat of my car allowed him to sleep in his open cage or stay busy with the number of toys available.
In reality, Casey was dangerously distracting. If I wasn't turned around keeping him from climbing into the back window, I was on the walkie-talkie asking Roger to pull over because I found a puppy in my lap again.
We had to adjust on the fly. It crushed my heart to hear that sweet dog cry in his cage for the remainder of the drive, even though we stopped for him every two hours. To offset his time in lock-up, we allowed him to sleep in the hotel beds with us during the trip.
Upon arrival, the three of us moved into the apartment I reserved right away. We repeated the first half of the moving process in reverse while brainstorming ways for Casey to be home unsupervised when the time came for us to report for duty again.
Guilt flooded our hearts at the thought of leaving Casey alone all day, five or more days a week. Roger and I did not bring him into our lives to lock him in a cage for the majority of his life.
The next phase of our life adjustment was easing Casey toward independence while simultaneously spoiling him. My husband and I would leave him home alone for longer periods each day after letting him run and explore for a few hours at local parks like Raven Rock State Park or Smith Lake Recreation Area.
Steadily, Casey gained more freedom in the house. In a few weeks he graduated from his cage to the hallway and kitchen area, complete with a window view, doggie bed, radio and plenty of toys.
Although I wish he could have access to the entire house during the day, our now four month-old Casey still possesses destructive puppy tendencies. Daily doses of our own "puppy school" training have pointed Casey in the right direction when it comes to behavior.
The most recent challenge in puppy parenthood since returning to work has been managing the energy storm inside our critter. We found the best release to be mommy rescue trips home during breaks in my day.
Since Roger stays exceptionally busy in 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, I do my best to come home after physical training and for lunch every day to kick a soccer ball around with our lonely little guy.
For the most part, Casey has adjusted to our work schedule, but it shows when he's not getting the attention he needs. His telltale sign is stealing socks from the bedroom expecting to be chased around the house for his naughty behavior.
Though the constant running around can be tough at times, I wouldn't give this life up for anything. The greeting full of wagging excitement I get from Casey when I come home is worth the lost sleep, skipped lunches with my team, and other sacrifices that came with this responsibility.
No matter how good, bad, terrible or extraordinary the day, there is no better feeling than wet kisses after a full force tackle from all 30 pounds of Casey's love. When I come home, I'm the most important person in the world to the most important puppy.