Room in Our Hearts

Being a dog owner at this point in my life is very different, I’ve found, than the last time I was a dog owner.

Shelby came into our lives when our kids were one, three and five years old. We loved her dearly, no doubt. She was a playmate for the kids, and a comfort to whomever needed sympathy or a warm body to cuddle. She was our friend and protector. She was such a patient girl, never feeling slighted that attention might not come her way until my babies had all been taken care of. And she was always forgiving when after a long day of caring for children, my own and others, I might not have energy for her.

Shelby loved Mark’s dad. They had a very special bond. During the years when we took summer vacations in northern Minnesota, renting cabins at resorts where pets weren’t allowed, we never felt guilty leaving Shelby with Grandma and Grandpa. We knew she was having the time of her life and being spoiled beyond belief. Grandpa couldn’t resist giving Shelby (or any of his granddogs) a dog biscuit whenever the urge occurred, (which was often. He still has this habit!) We knew Shelby was probably putting on a few extra pounds when she was with Grandpa.

Shelby took care of us until she was fourteen years old. We saw her declining those last couple of years and it was hard to accept. She held on as long as she could. In the end, she had a stroke from which she could not recover and we had to let her go. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. My kids were devastated at having to say goodbye to their beloved Shelby.

Shelby at the lake where Grandpa's cabin resides. She loved it there.

After Shelby was gone, I swore there would never be another dog in our lives. We were too lucky the first time around. There was no way another dog could ever measure up to the sweet creature who had graced us with her love for all of those years. It just wouldn’t be fair to another dog. We could never love another the way we loved Shelby.

My mom is an animal lover to the fullest extent. I’ve lost track of the number of dogs she’s loved in her lifetime. Some of them became members of her family because she went looking for them. Some of them were animals who could no longer live in their own homes. My mom could never resist making room for one more dog or cat. Mom tried to tell me that the pain of losing Shelby would ease eventually. She said I wouldn’t believe her at the time, but some day I would be ready to make room for another dog in my home. I didn’t believe her. Her words came too soon after we’d had to say goodbye to Shelby.

It took a long time for the ache to let up. Shelby’s collar and dog tags still hang on a hook on the garage wall. Every time I saw them, tears would come. I would stop and think of her, see photos, stumble across her old toys, and the heartache would overcome me all over again.

No, I knew I’d never have another dog. Besides, it wasn’t so bad being dogless. My housework was easier without all that fur to vacuum from the carpets and furniture. It was certainly easier not having to go clean up the back yard every week. And I could sleep late again on weekends. It seemed like it was always me who had to leave the comfort of a cozy bed on weekend mornings to let Shelby out when she couldn’t hold it anymore. No, it wasn’t so bad not being a dog owner anymore.

But then it happened. They were just passing thoughts at first. I’d see people walking dogs in the neighborhood when I was out on one of my walks. I’d stop and pet any dog if I was given permission. I’d smile and coo over them like they were adorable little babies. I began to imagine that maybe there could be another dog in my life. Maybe. But that dog was going to have to fall in my lap. Going out and pursuing another dog just seemed like I was asking to have my heart broken again.

Then came the web searches. They just make it too easy these days. You can search online for dogs needing homes and there they are in all of their furry, cuddly, adorable glory. So many dog faces crossed my computer screen. I tried on each one in my mind, picturing them running in the back yard, or cuddling up next to me on cold nights.

And then one day, Lucy’s face appeared in one of my searches. Something prompted me to send an inquiry to the rescue group. (That something might have been my daughter, who had jumped on this dog bandwagon with me, with unabashed enthusiasm!) And the rest is history.


It’s different this time around. Shelby came last in line, behind my babies who needed my attention first and foremost. And she never complained. I loved Shelby and I needed her, but that need was different because of where I was in my life. Lucy doesn’t have to wait in line behind any babies. The babies are all off doing their own thing now. I needed Lucy to fill a hole in my heart and she did, so very completely. Now she is the baby of the family. When there are people at home, she’s the center of attention. We can’t get enough of her antics and silliness. Just yesterday, I bought Lucy a suede coat with a furry lining. She’s not been a fan of the other coat I bought her, nor the sweater we tried. This one looked like it might be just what she needed for these below-zero mornings when she’s reluctant to go outside but needs to do her thing. She doesn’t understand coats for dogs. She went out in the yard and circled her body to grab an edge of the coat in her teeth. Then latched on, then circled and chased in a spiral, round and round until I, standing at the door in my robe, was laughing so hard I thought the neighbors might hear! I called her back to me and removed the offending coat.

Now I don’t mind getting up in the morning to let the dog out. Lucy sleeps at our feet and keeps me warm on those nights when Mark is at work. And for the most part, she just waits until she feels me stirring anyway. And when we get up for the day, she acts as if I’ve been gone instead of just sleeping. She comes to me and leans into me (her way of hugging) and wiggles with excitement at the attention. And I don’t think I have to tell you again what a wonderful way she has of welcoming me home when I come back from a day at the office.

Lucy hasn’t taken Shelby’s place. I get it now. No dog will ever replace Shelby. No dog will ever compare to her. And no dog has to. Shelby has a permanent place in my heart. I just didn’t realize, until Lucy came along, that my heart had more room in it. I didn’t realize that some of the heartache I felt in Shelby’s absence wasn’t just that I missed her. It was need. My heart missed having a dog in my life.

Lucy is different than Shelby. She can’t and doesn’t have to measure up to the dog that Shelby was. Lucy is wonderful and loving and special in all her own ways.  It took me a while, but I’m so very glad I changed my mind. I get it now. Once a dog lover, always a dog lover.

21 thoughts on “Room in Our Hearts

  1. I imagine with your children leaving home out on their own, having another family member around for companionship is good, also. A pet can become a true family member, filling a need for a friend around when needed, who is never judgmental and is always true and loyal no matter what, and accepts you as their family and friend without question.


  2. I’m glad you and Lucy found each other too. And I think it was smart of you to wait and not get another dog right after Shelby. Our pets are special, not just interchangeable furry things.

    I’m kind of wanting a cat to replace Cookie, but I think we need to wait some more.


  3. I’m a dog lover, too! I thought I’d never get over having my Eskimo Spitz put down, but along came a Sheltie. And then another Sheltie. Each dog, much like each child, brings something special to a family. Not to take away from those who’ve passed on, but to continue the circle of love. Glad you’ve got Lucy to fill the void!


  4. Beautifully written; I agree, the heartbreak of losing one nearly negates our ability to reach out again but when we do .. it’s so worth it. I’m so glad Lucy found you. What a happy fit for you both :)


  5. You know, we have a dog – an extremely loving, well behaved (now, anyway) beautiful golden retriever. I love her, but I am not extremely attached. I think it’s because she came along soon after I had my 4th child, and because I had so many little ones to take care of, my husband pretty well raised Chancie. Those two are extremely attached – so much so that the dog gets jealous if my husband pays too much attention to me. Now that my kids are older, I have “puppy fever”. I am at the stage of looking at pics on the internet, and cooing over other people’s puppies, and I am craving my own little bundle of fur to love. Reading this post makes the desire even more prevelant. But I have to hold off for a little while yet. So until the time is right, I will live my dream through you. So keep sharing your Lucy stories! :)


  6. Yep! If you’ve ever had a pet that you really and truly loved, that was an integral part of your family, it is very difficult to go forward with your life then without a pet, be it dog, cat, bird, whatever, to share your joys and sorrows with. I’ve said on a few occasions that old line -“Never again!” with respect to having a pet, particularly a dog. Life is a lot easier in terms of the work involved as well as the worries and expenses too but you know who has a dog now too -besides you -don’t ‘cha? Granted, I didn’t go and find/bring Sammy home (Mandy was the guilty party there) but only on those occasions when he makes a little mess with an occasional accident do I grump about having him here and as I recall, I think I often grumped in that same manner about having my kids too on way more numerous occasions! Love the dog; enjoy the company. Be happy that you have a new family member because she won’t get anyone to share her pedestal with until you have grandkids, ya know! (And even then, odds are it will be a tight squeeze then, won’t it?)


  7. Beautifully written tribute to Shelby and Lucy. I remember how hard it was
    for you to let go of Shelby after so many years. I have the EXACT same story
    with Shadow. He came into our lives when my son was young and we grew up/old
    together. He was a part of the family for many years and became the furry
    adopted grandson to my parents. He had his own unique personality and we
    developed a bond together. In spite of the excessive hair, the early
    morning/late evening walks, picking up poop, getting sick on the carpet,
    having accidents in the dining room (later in life), having to deal with vet
    bills and take care of him when we go out of town, he was a part of the
    family. Was harder on me to let him go and I still miss him.

    Didn’t think we could take another dog but then we got lucky and adopted
    Grayson and we haven’t looked back. And just when we thought things had
    settled down, we go and adopt Claire. Life has definitely been interesting
    ever since those two have joined the tribe. Dogs can add a certain spark to
    your life, if you are willing to let them in. But don’t be fooled by those
    puppy dog eyes and slobbery kisses, they’re still squirrel chasing, flea ridden, shoe chewing,
    shedding machines that will steal your heart.


  8. Wonderful! She’s a beautiful blessing :). We had MANY dogs come and go throughout my childhood, and I now have a sweet Gatormouth Pit named Bella. Though my wife has a hard time with the clean-up sometimes, she still likes having her roam the house while I’m at work at night. They’re truly invaluable companions. And I’m sure Shelby is looking down from doggy-Heaven and is glad you’ve filled some of the void left by her passing :).


  9. Never having had a dog, I can’t completely relate, although I do now have a granddog that runs to sit with me when I visit my grandkids. We have had a succession of cats, mostly brought home by our son. I do enjoy having them around even though Elvis, a rescue, likes to be around people but won’t let you touch her.

    You’ve been quite prolific lately and I’m having trouble keeping up. Congrats.


  10. What a beautifully-written, heartfelt post! I never really had a dog to which I was really close in the way that you describe. I’ve always thought that it would be cool to have one, but I just never really thought I had the time to give it the attention it deserved. Maybe one of these days.

    I’m very glad that you found Lucy. You both are lucky to have one another.


  11. I’ve probably had 8 dogs in my life in one way or another. It’s always hard to let them go, but there are so many cuties out there that just want to give you unconditional love, it’s hard not to move on!


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