When Good Intentions Backfire

Like most pet owners, I try to be conscientious about my dog’s health. A few days ago I took Buddy to our vet for a routine checkup. The doctor noticed unusual streaks of white throughout the back fur on his back. She pointed out some broken hairs and a couple of red lesions on his skin. “Has he been biting himself or rubbing on something?”

“Not that I know of,” I responded. “I thought Buddy’s white hairs were a sign of aging. He is twelve years old now.”

She continued to run his fingers through Buddy’s fur. “Well, I’d like to give him an injection for allergies. His skin looks irritated.”

“Sure.” I nodded.

A few minutes later an assistant whisked Buddy to the back room. I heard a doggy “yelp” followed by a human voice, “Poor Buddy.”

The assistant led Buddy back to me. I reached down and gave him a pat on the head. “I’m sorry, little guy.” After some brief instructions, I checked out at the front desk and we went home.

When I walked through our front door I suddenly realized what might have contributed to Buddy’s problem: enthusiastic brushing! Beagles shed like crazy. Over the years I’ve frequently complained about the amount of fur on our floors. My husband, Herb, thought brushing Buddy more often would help.

Beagles have a double coat of fur. In Buddy’s case, the excessive brushing removed the black top coat, revealing the white under coat. The American Kennel Club recommends weekly brushing with a medium bristle brush.

We felt like such bad pet owners. Herb was brushing him every day, and sometimes twice a day in order to help. Clearly the excessive brushing was irritating Buddy’s skin. Sometimes our best intentions can lead to bad results. Buddy paid the price for Herb’s good intentions. (And so did we when I gave the cashier my credit card.)

“I was only trying to help.” This sentence echoes through my mind as I recall numerous incidents when my altruistic nature backfired. One time I emptied the dirt in my daughter’s vacuum cleaner and couldn’t get the machine back together. Another time I dusted Mom’s shelf and broke her favorite knick-knack. I think the greatest gift we can give one another is a big dose of forgiveness when good intentions fail.

What is it about people that make us want to help others? Dr. Michael Tomasello, a developmental psychologist, studied the helping behaviors of toddlers. When an adult pretended to be looking for a lost item, toddlers as young as twelve months old pointed at various objects to help the adult find what he was looking for.

So our good intentions are a touch of the divine within us. Our desire to help is part of human nature and something we are blessed with at birth. Sometimes our good intentions end badly. Even so, bad results can lead to lessons learned, which might not be so bad after all.

When have your good intentions led to bad results? What did you learn in the process? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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