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Animal Attraction

We were running late, as usual. No one was dressed yet, the beds weren't made, and I kept tripping over the dog while I crisscrossed the kitchen, trying to cook breakfast and pack three lunches at once.

"Bed, Scout," I said crossly, pointing the dog to her space in the family room. When 8-year-old Sam climbed up on the counter to get to the cereal cabinet, I shooed him away too. "Wait, honey. The oatmeal's almost ready."

"Mom, I'm starving," he wailed. "Can't I just get myself some cereal?"

So I wasn't exactly thrilled when, five minutes later, I plunked down three bowls of oatmeal and starving Sam wasn't at the table. His two little brothers dutifully dug in, but Sam was headed out the door, skipping and giggling while Scout bounded alongside him.

"Sam!" I ordered. "You get in here right this minute and eat your oatmeal!"

He stopped, turned, and looked at me in astonishment. "But Mom, Scout's hungry too. It would be cruel to eat in front of her when she hasn't had breakfast herself."

And it dawned on me that Scout is far more than just another beloved creature in my house who needs something from me. Scout is one of the chief reasons my sons are becoming good human beings: She's teaching them empathy, compassion, and responsibility. She's teaching them what it means to put another's needs before their own. And in a world of report-card grades and ball-game scores and bad-behavior time-outs (and, it must be admitted, stressed-out mothers), her unconditional love is teaching my children that they're real heroes, no matter what. {C}