There are people who want to shine a light on the things we do. They want us to be happy almost as much as we want it ourselves. Often times these people are our parents, our siblings, our partners and our friends. But no soul wants this quite as much as our dogs.
When we moved into this house, so full of hope, we were quickly taken down a few notches when two months into residence, our house was broken into. Gone was the laptop, the little jewelry I had, the tee-shirts my husband owned and the Homedics back massager we didn’t really have the $35 to buy at the time (try not to ever mention this to my husband, he still isn’t over that one). The fact that they stole the pillowcases off of our bed to carry our stuff out of our front door made me want to cry. Knowing that someone we didn’t know had been in our bedroom and opened all of our drawers broke something in me. Three things happened in quick succession after that; we realized that bargain-priced homeowner’s insurance left much to be desired, we expedited the plans to put up a fence and we seriously discussed getting a dog.
As the day approached that we would go together to “just look” at dogs at the Humane Society, my husband carefully explained that we would not be taking a dog home that day. We were only looking. We were not going to commit to a dog. Dogs required constant care, discipline, attention, vacuuming of our white carpets…We were simply going to see the dogs, and then we would take some time to really think things over. A lot had happened, we were emotional, and above all, we were just looking. We went into the dog holding area, I went right and he went left. We planned on meeting in the middle and pointing out any potential candidates. He made me promise not to hold it against him when we left without a dog. I saw a sweet golden retriever puppy with floppy ears and feet two sizes too big for him. I named him Amos in my head and envisioned tying bandannas around his neck. As I walked back toward the middle, I didn’t see my husband at first. I looked farther down and saw him crouched down in front of a cage. “I found our dog”, he hollered. I wanted to be mad, and remind him of all the chastising I’d received on the way, but I followed his gaze and I just knew he had found our dog.
Coco the wonder dog might have been “our” dog, but her heart belonged to my husband. As a puppy he took her everywhere with him. She wiggled so hard when she saw him, her tail building up so much momentum; she would vibrate in complete circles. A Rottweiler/Black lab/Shepard mix, she was completely oblivious to her strength and would regularly plow into him as a way of excited greeting.
As she grew, she recognized the markers of him leaving for work; she would stretch her body across the threshold of our front door, moaning in protest. She went on hunger strikes, refusing to even look at the food in her bowl until he came home. I often joked that it was not unlike a mail-order bride who is burdened with living in the same space as her mother in law, resentful but unable to take a stand. Sometimes in the middle of the night if I woke up and needed a glass of water, the motion would wake her. She would spring up in anticipation of my husband and sulk when she noticed it was still me, sighing loudly in exasperation before re-positioning herself at the front door, knowing she’d beat me to him when he returned.
She grew more accustomed to me, making peace by occasionally eating a mouthful (but never the whole bowl)of food after I had brushed her out or played with her. I talked to her as I cooked or cleaned, through good times and bad. She would shadow me both times I was pregnant, taking care to stay with me but out from underneath my feet. She walked alongside me when I got the hang of the stroller and then the baby carrier.
She grew older and got a little gray here and there. She needed surgery for an ACL tear and did her best to never show discomfort in a full leg cast. She started to get up slower and her gentle nature with the kids went from a huge appreciation on our part to mild concern. I never pictured a life without her in it. I know how ridiculous that seems but it’s true. She got sick and then she got sicker.
On her last day, we held her. We kissed her and we thanked her. The kids were in school, I had no idea how we would ever say the words they feared so much. The drive to the end was just the two of us, Coco and me. I had the windows down and there was a cool January breeze. Jack Johnson was playing and she was in my backseat on a pile of pillows and the softest comforter we had. I took a tee shirt of my husband’s from the laundry basket and folded it up right under her; she breathed in the smell of our guy and laid down her head.
I talked to her, just as I had for all those years we had spent together. I apologized for the sterility of the surgery center. I whispered in her ears and rubbed her shoulders, asking for forgiveness in hiccuped bursts. The staff was so gentle; I laid down with her, holding her in a hug, my tears wetting her head. We were all heartbroken. My husband didn’t even bring up the idea of getting another dog. In the end she had been so sick, she needed round the clock care and we’d been sleeping in shifts, usually two or three hours at a time.
One day my cries of self-pity turned into something else. She had taught us so much, broken winged and distrusting; we had wandered into meeting her for the very first time. Although I knew that we could never replace her, we could honor her memory by turning our grief into something useful. The loving her was still greater than the losing her.
No promises were made this time. The bar had been set so very high. So many dogs needed a good home. We went to one location and then another. I thought maybe we weren’t really ready, we needed the same magic and I wondered if that kind of lightning ever really did strike twice. At the last minute, we tried one more place. I watched my husband walk inside, a movement that I am confident I could pick out of a crowd of people anywhere, then there was that pause…