When the dog that is your everything; the one that carried you through life changes, the one that grew with you, the one that slept heart-to-heart with you amidst loss is gone, you are left with an irreparable hole. There is absolutely nothing braver than opening your home and your life to another dog after losing one that was the oxygen in your air. When to do so is personal; sometimes it takes years. Other times mere days.
For me, I flew across the country to get Felix with a gaping wound in my chest. I had lost Kelso just months prior, and I was still regularly crying myself to sleep, bursting into tears at random throughout the day, and struggling to find the joy in my work or my hobbies. When I unzipped the sherpa bag at my gate in the airport and Felix crawled out, up onto my chest, and snuggled into my neck I knew with certainty that my healing was about to begin. I am not sure how I would have survived that loss without the bright spot, the angel, that is my Felix. He seemed to say, “I know you’re hurting, Kelso sent me to help.”
My sister and I got dogs at the same time a decade and a half ago; hers a lab mix named Yoda and mine my beloved Kelso. She lost Yoda almost three years ago, about a year before I lost Kelso. We have shared in a deep, deep grief for some time. Finally, just a few days ago, she saw a puppy posted on Facebook by a local shelter and something stirred inside her. That puppy is now in her home, taking over her life, and stirring things up, indeed.
Loving a dog is an infinitely vulnerable venture. When we give our hearts over to one of these creatures we agree to losing them. In all likelihood we will experience a devastating grief as the price for this experience. To sign up again, to get a new dog while your heart is still aching from this inevitable loss is the kind of bravery this life must be made of. It’s the fierce refusal to be destroyed by the pain that is the price of the only thing worth living for.
So if you’re grieving now, know how many people share in the ancient pain that is losing a dog. If you have a puppy or new dog, know we also recognize how brave it was of you to sign up for this experience, yet again. For me, I’m giddy with joy because my sister has a fuzzy little miracle in her life. I’m proud of her because we share in our stubborn gladness, as poet Jack Gilbert puts it:
We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world.
Welcome to the family, little one. I’m so happy you’re here.