The Dog Trainer & The Fax Machine: Teaching Our Children What is Right

ImageWhen I started to think of Mother’s Day this year, I immediately though of my dog trainer. It may seem like a strange correlation at first. I can explain. Half a decade ago, Jamie Casale came recommended to us to train our second dog. I was told that she is called the ‘Dog Whisperer of Basking Ridge’, a name she has earned, as she works miracles with dogs that have been abused, and dogs that have been deemed impossible to train.

Over the years, Jamie worked with our 3 shelter dogs. She was there on the very days that I brought each of my three daughters home from the hospital. She helped introduce our dogs to our newborns. She helped with setting boundaries, consistency in setting limits, and developing behavioral strategies. Her techniques were as applicable to pet owners as they were to parents. Over time, I discovered she was not only a gifted trainer but an amazing mom and an incredible soul.

One day while we were at the park, she shared the following story with me to illustrate a lesson. Over the years, I have often thought back to the story and the lessons within it. I asked Jamie to recount the story to me once again (at my request, she typed it and emailed it to me), and I am sharing it with you below. I left it in her words; the way I heard it a few years back.

ImageI believe there is not a more fitting tribute as Mother’s Day approaches than to honor mothers who embody what great parenting is. Jamie is one of these moms. Here is her story of her son and her fax machine:

When my son was five or six, he and I were living together in a house I had rented after my separation from his dad.  Financially, things were very tough, and there had been times when I had to choose between paying the phone bill or the electric bill, knowing that whichever I didn’t pay that day would likely be shut off before my next paycheck.  Through all the difficulties, Dan and I knew that we would get through it all, and that we would be just fine as long as we were together.

During that time, I needed to buy a fax machine to have at home for my job.  Although I couldn’t really afford it, I had to have it, so Dan and I went off to the electronics store.  I looked at all the machines they had, and chose the least expensive one.  Back then, even a cheap fax machine was around $400.  I didn’t have the cash, of course, so I put it on my already strained credit card.

When we got home, I hooked up the fax and discovered that it didn’t work.  So I packed it up and off we went back to the store.  I brought the fax machine back to the customer service counter, where they refunded the money to my credit card.  I picked out a slightly more expensive machine and took it to the register to pay for it.  I handed the clerk all my paperwork from the return, along with my credit card.  After she finished ringing everything up, she said, “Your total is $11.45. Sign here.”  I looked at the receipt and saw that she had given me credit for the return that had already been refunded to my credit card and had charged me only for the difference in price.  I was, in effect, getting the new fax machine for free.

I paused for a minute, thinking about how much I could use that $400 to pay a daycare or electric bill.  Then I looked down at my son, and said to him, “Danny, pay attention to what I’m about to do.  I want you to remember this.”  I then told the young woman that she had made an error and had given me the second refund.  She thanked me profusely and re-rang my purchase, and I signed for the $400+ total on my credit card.  I took my package and took my son by the hand and walked outside.  I knelt down in front of him. “Did you see what just happened, Danny?” I asked.   “Sort of,”  he said.

“I’ll tell you what happened.  When I gave back the broken fax machine, the man gave me back my money on my credit card. But when we went to pay for the new machine, the girl got confused and didn’t know that I already got my money back, so she gave me my money back a second time by mistake.  I could have just not said anything about it, and I would have gotten the fax machine for free. That sounds pretty good, right? A free fax machine?”

“You got it for free?” he asked.

“No,” I said.  “If I didn’t say anything and took the fax machine, it would have been stealing, even though the girl made a mistake.  It would be the same as reaching into the cash register and taking money out because she accidentally left the drawer open.  If you take something you should pay for, without paying for it, it’s stealing, no matter how it happens.  And know what, Danny? We don’t steal. Not ever. Because it’s wrong, even when no one knows about it and we’d never get caught. ”

 I tapped him on his chest over his heart. “You know right here inside whether it’s right or wrong, because I’ve always taught you to know. Just always do what you know is right, even when it’s hard to do the right thing and easy to do the wrong thing.  That’s when you really know you’re a good person. And I know you’re a GREAT person.”

We started walking to the car, and as my son took my hand, he looked up at me and said, “You’re a great person, too, Mom. That’s why I’m like you.”

In the course of the 20 years since that day I have seen countless examples of my son making choices to do what’s right – from chasing after a woman to hand her money that she had dropped on the ground to becoming a volunteer EMT at the age of 17 and a volunteer firefighter at the age of 18.  He has developed into a fine young adult who is dedicated to public service, graduating Summa Cum Laude with a BS degree in Fire Science for a career as a professional firefighter.  He is working as a professional EMT as he works toward a firefighter position, and he continues to serve as a volunteer EMT/Firefighter in our community.

There have been many times over the 25 years we have lived in this community when I have encountered someone who knows my son but has never met me.  Invariably, the conversation goes something like this…

”You’re Dan’s mom?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Oh my God, we just LOVE Dan! He is such a great guy. You did a great job raising him – he helps us so much with…. (fill in the blank).”

“Thank you. I kind of love him a lot, too.”  I could not be prouder of the man he has become.

Jamie Casale resides in Basking Ridge and continues to train pups of all ages. She can be contacted at 908-672-0473.

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