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Man's Best Friend

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Stiles has been in charge of naming all of the dogs in the K-9 unit since he was three years old.

It happens because Deputy Stilinski brings in his young son on the day that the department gets a new puppy. Stiles is absolutely over the moon about the little thing, and the handler—keeping a careful eye and steady hand nearby—hovers over while the two get to know each other. And when he suggests that Stiles be the one to name the puppy, the deputy is pretty sure his son is going to vibrate himself through the floor in his overexcitement.

The little boy takes the job very seriously. He sits down in front of the puppy, who is sitting down as well. They both stare at each other, still and quiet with matching brown eyes. It’s a bit impressive, and the deputy wishes he had a cam-corder. He’s never seen his son not moving for such a long period of time.

Finally, after a full five minutes, the little puppy lets out a tiny yipping noise. Stiles begins to giggle and promptly names him Hiccup.

It becomes a thing in the department. When they get a new dog, Stiles comes in and provides a name. It’s sort of amazing to watch, because apparently there is something about his son that dogs just love. Maybe it’s the way that Stiles immediately runs for them, how he sneaks them treats, how he’ll rub their bellies or behind their ears until they’re completely blissed out, or how he’ll never get tired of throwing the balls for them to chase. But the dogs all love Stiles.

It makes his wife nervous the first time she sees him in the middle of the pen. The dogs are all around Stiles, running and jumping, licking and nudging, and Stiles is shrieking with laughter. By now, the handlers don’t really need to hover over them.  Not a one of the dogs has ever shown any behavior even remotely tense around the boy. They just can’t get enough play time with Stiles, and they whine pitifully when it’s time for him to leave.

The handlers joke that the dogs seem to like Stiles more than them.

It’s not really a joke. It’s probably completely true.

The first dog to retire that Stiles knows is a stocky Shepherd—really, the only breed the Beacon County PD uses—named Barron. Stiles is five years old, and he’s full of questions about what happens to retired K-9s. Barron’s handler has all the answers, patient even in the wake of the hyper little boy’s onslaught. And Deputy Stilinski isn’t sure how it happens, but before the day is out, he’s calling his wife to let her know that they’ve adopted Barron while Stiles rolls happily with his new pet on the floor of his father’s office.

His wife is concerned about the whole arrangement, not because she’s worried about a German Shepherd in the house with such a young child. She’s become just as comfortable with the police dogs around Stiles as the rest of the department. She’s worried because Barron is almost eight years old, and the average life expectancy for a Shepherd is a little over nine and a half years. So they’ll likely only have this dog for about a year, and she’s not sure she wants Stiles introduced to death so soon.

Having the dog in the house is good for everybody. Stiles has a permanent playmate, someone to keep his attention when his little friend Scott can’t come over. It’s good for Barron to keep active, something he wouldn’t get to do as much if his old handler had taken him home. And the deputy feels much better taking the night shifts knowing that Barron is at home to protect his wife and son.

Stiles is almost six years old when Barron gets sick. The vet thinks that it’s best to just put him down rather than draw the process out. They make an appointment to do it that weekend, and Stiles only leaves Barron’s side for the few hours a day that he’s in kindergarten. It’s strange to see Stiles sitting so still for so long, but he knows that his dog is sick and can’t be made to run around anymore. So they sit on the floor of the living room, curled up against each other, Stiles laying his head over Barron’s shoulder, his little fists holding tightly to the dog’s thick fur.

Mrs. Stilinski takes pictures and knows she’ll cry when she goes to get them developed.

Stiles insists on being in the room when the dog is put down. His parents are very wary of it, even though the vet assures them the process is very peaceful. But Stiles says that dying seems like it would be very scary, and that Barron would want to have the people he loves around him when it happens. So they allow him in, and Stiles hugs his dog tightly, burying his face into the thick fur as the vet administers the shot.

It is quick, and it is peaceful, and the Stilinskis are surprised by how well their young son handles it. He’s sad, certainly, and he misses his dog, but he moves on. And somehow, it sort of becomes a thing. They don’t take every retired dog from the department, but if Stiles gets wind about one of them ready to hang up their badge, he bats his eyes and Mrs. Stilinski finds herself adding dog food to the grocery list.

Stiles is eight and is on his third dog—Blue Bell because of her unusual eyes—when his mom gets sick. Stiles might have a hard time focusing without his medications, but he’s a smart and very observant kid, and he knows very early on that this isn’t just a flu or a bug. His mom is always tired, and even though she tries to keep up a smile around him, Stiles can see just how hard it is for her. He tries to help out around the house more, and sometimes he causes more trouble than good without meaning to, mostly seen in his efforts to cook.

She gets sicker and sicker, and she’s in and out of the hospital a lot. Sometimes Stiles has to go stay at Scott’s house, and even though he loves Scott and Mrs. McCall, he hates Scott’s dad. Not only is he a jerk—Blue Bell, who is an excellent judge of character, growls at him every time he comes to drop off or pick up Scott from the Stilinski house—but he never lets Stiles bring Blue Bell over when he needs to stay.

And when his mom is like this, Stiles just really needs the comfort his dog has to offer.

The doctors put his mom on more aggressive medicines, and she finally starts to get better, even though she’s still tired all the time. Unfortunately, Blue Bell’s stomach turns, and it’s time to put her down. Stiles is heartbroken, but if he had to choose, he’d rather have his mom alive than his dog.

His mom goes into remission for about a year before the sickness comes back. It’s worse this time, and she’s almost always in the hospital. Stiles is scared to death, because his dad is never home, either at work or the hospital, and if he is at home, more often than not, there’s a bottle of Jack on the table in front of him. His grandparents come to stay so that Stiles doesn’t have to be a burden on the McCalls, and Stiles doesn’t really know them all that well—they live in Chicago, and he only really sees them on Christmas—so he spends his time when he isn’t at school or visiting him mom locked up in his room. Scott is over as much as he can be, and when he has to go home, Stiles just climbs into bed and holds on tightly to Woodrow as the dog lays his head soothingly over Stiles’s.

Woodrow goes right before his mom does, and the house is just so, so empty, and Stiles can’t handle it. The panic attacks start, and his dad doesn’t really know what to do, because he’s just as lost as his son, and he drinks like he’s going to find the answers in the bottom of those bottles.

It takes time before they start to move on. Stiles gets fewer panic attacks, and his dad cuts back on the whiskey. They never stop missing her. The hole in their hearts never fills up again. Everything in the house is a constant reminder that she isn’t there and never will be again. But, eventually, they start to move on some.

Stiles still names all of the dogs in the unit—the puppy that comes right after his mom dies he names Bojangles because his mom used to sing that song when she was making waffles despite that there was absolutely no connection between the two things, and he had had waffles for breakfast that morning—but they stop bringing home any retired dogs.