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.
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.