Let Them Surprise You

By Terry Golson

We all have expectations of those around us. Spouses, children, friends. Since no one can ever completely meet one’s expectations we set ourselves up for frustration and sometimes anger. It’s true of our pets, too. The dog that was supposed to be your running partner is too fearful to jog. The horse that was supposed to carry you over fences knocks poles.

My expectations so often lead to disappointment. When I feel myself in that closed box, I try to find a way out. I ask questions. What is it that I want? What do you want? What can we do together? It’s a conversation and the response changes with time and circumstance. Open yourself to that and what you get can surprise you.

Ten years ago I decided that Lily needed a sidekick, and that I could use an energetic small farm dog, like a terrier. Via Petfinder, I found a litter of just-whelped pups. The mom was 25-pounds and looked to be part Corgi. I arranged to adopt the male.


Scooter never matured into that farm dog. He’s a 10 ½ -pound toy mix. I’ve never particularly liked small dogs. I like brilliant working dogs.

But it turns out that Scooter has work to do. He keeps Lily company when she is vigilant.



When we sit on the couch, he keeps us company.



Scooter practices these jobs all day.


I’ve come to realize that Scooter is perfect at what he does. He meets all of my expectations. It turns out that I like small dogs. Surprise!

When I purchased Tonka, my plan was that he would be a trail horse. He’s built croup-high and his neck came straight out of his shoulder. My expectation was that he would carry me slowly and safely through woods and fields. He did that.



But it turns out that when I started to ask questions, he responded. Yes to fine-tuned communication. Yes to getting fit. Yes to cadence.



It’s still yes to the walks in the woods.


Have you had an animal in your life that changed or exceeded your expectations? Surprised you with what they wanted to do? Tell me about it in the comments!

9 thoughts on “Let Them Surprise You

  • Louise

    Our cat, Angel, was adopted as an 8-week old kitten the same day as George (another girl kitty from a different litter). We thought they’d be like sisters, fun companions to each other, but they hated each other from day one.

    George became my heart cat: loving, snuggly, talkative, soft and sweet. Angel was always beautiful, but aloof. Sadly, we lost George to kidney disease two years ago and miss her terribly. We learned in that final year that George had actually really bullied Angel her whole life.

    Now with George gone, Angel is slowly learning how to be a loving companion to humans. She’s incredibly awkward on our laps, but I chalk that up to learning how to “lap” at the advanced age of 15! Her purrs are almost silent, but I’ve learned to touch her throat gently to feel them instead of listening with my ears. She rarely talks, but is always near us.

    She seems to know that she can never fill the George sized hole in our lives, and instead is carefully creating a brand new, Angel shaped space. I’m grateful for this second chance to love a cat that was always second string, to see who she is now that she’s a healthy, happy “only cat.”

    • Terry Golson Post author

      What a sweet story. The first year that I had Pip and Caper I felt guilty because I enjoyed Pip so much more. Pip was the cuddly one. It took that long for me to see Caper for the very clever goat that he is, and once I learned how to interact with him on his terms. I fell madly in love with him.

  • Chicken Carol

    It is so lovely to see Scooter and Lilly again. Scooter is just so cute. I think some of my chickens have a huge cuteness factor too. They have more character and endearing ways than I ever could have imagined. I have two seramas as the latest additions to my bantam flock and they are more cute than you could imagine and really friendly too.

      • Chicken Carol

        I forgot to say (just in case you are not familiar with seramas) that they are true bantams and are the smallest chickens in the world. They are about pigeon sized. Like Scooter their very small size comes with extra large helpings of cuteness. I call them my “little girls” and the other bantams “the bigger girls”. Seeing Scooter once more is a reminder of what huge eyes he has. How could anyone not melt when looking into those eyes.

  • Tracy

    Terry, I would have to say that one of the horses that surpried me the most often was my little ‘mascot pony’, Boo Boo. Because I bought him when he was only months old, and he had been feral before that, he had had zero experiences that had created fear, anxiety or resistance. He was so tiny and one of his front hooves was so damaged (he had been stepped on by a much larger horse in the auction pen, splitting his tablespoon sized hoof all the way to the coronet band) when I got him, I took great care with him. Even the blacksmith who banded his split hoof did it while sitting crosslegged on the ground with Boo Boo in his lap. Knowing walking was tricky for him early on, I never pulled him on a lead shank or halter, instead always letting him set his own pace and picking his own footing. He was so ridiculously small, (and insanely cute, which shouldn’t matter…but…), I also took great care with who handled him, and how. And because his little rider weighed almost nothing and was an old soul with very gentle hands, he just never had a disagreeable time when it came to people or being ridden. As a result, he assumed everything he was asked to do was not only possible but likely to be fun. While I was rushing to get him his 1/2 cup of daily grain, he was unlocking his stall door to come and see what was taking so long. While I wringing my hands over how his little rider would navigate him over and through various obstacles, they had agreed together that he would figure it all out if she would just stay very still and trust him. It never occured to either of them that the other would be disappointed, and I don’t think they ever were. While I was trying to figure out how to trailer him safely (so, so small…), he was busy climbing into a visiting plumber’s panel van all by himself, absolutely unafraid of confined spaces and awkward step ups, certain that there might be treats hidden under all those pipe fittings.

    Until he died, he remained curious, willing and friendly, optimistic, even affectionate. While I didn’t then, nor do I now, have anywhere near your skill in understanding horse behavior, I did learn that kindness and purposeful but very gentle handling results in a kind, willing and happy little pony. I don’t have any fantasy that Boo Boo was an unusually ‘smart’ pony, but I do think he –perhaps like Scooter– was a very clear communicator. He certainly made me a better listener. And I’ve always thought Scooter was a bit of a genius.

  • Durbin Goodwin

    I love Golden Retrievers and have always had one or two for over 35 years now. But my first, Tuffy, was the best. He would stay where you commanded for long periods of time. He never left the yard and it was not fenced in. His kindness and generosity for love was outstanding. When he died, it took me months to get over his death. All my Goldens have been unique in their own way but he stands out in the pack.

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