A few weeks ago Loy’s pal Emily came over for some summer-is-almost-over-let’s-hang-out time. Since it was such a beautiful day, I figured they’d walk down to the lake or go meet some friends up on Church Street. Instead they chose to hide out in the dark recesses of Loy’s room, Snapchatting their brains into oblivion.
“Hey guys. Let’s go do something outdoors,” I prodded. I would have preferred to continue writing, but the guilt I felt over not spending enough time with my child during her summer break motivated me from my desk.
“Like what?” Loy asked, without bothering to look at me.
“Yeah, like what?” Emily echoed. “I have field hockey practice at 3:00 so there’s not a lot of time.”
I’d forgotten that fall sports began before school did. “That sucks.”
“Yeah, so since Em has to be outside for the rest of the day,” Loy said, finally glancing in my direction, “why can’t you let us just do nothing?”
“Because we need an outing. That’s why. Pick something to do. Now.”
Okay, so shopping at TJ Maxx wasn’t exactly a healthy summer activity, but at least it got them off their phones. After fifteen minutes of browsing around the aisles, both girls declared that they were bored and wanted to leave. We had about 45 minutes left to kill, so we decided to go pet the cats at the Humane Society down the road.
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to touch the cats through their cages. “You can transfer diseases,” the young shelter helper warned. Undeterred, Loy and Em continued wandering by the many cages, cooing and awwwing, and surreptitiously touching a soft face or two.
Instead of staring forlornly into the eyes of the cooped-up felines, I flipped through the picture book of dogs available for adoption. There was an ugly black pup named Victor
and another named Phil.
Since I am married to Victor and his BFF from childhood is named Phil, I immediately determined that it was a SIGN from the dog gods that it was finally time to adopt a dog.
We’ve been dog-less for going on nine years now. Nine years since Rivers, the best dog in the world, died. He’d woken up one morning with a cough, and four days later he was dead. Hemangiosarcoma. Blood cancer. He was eight years old.
We’d rescued him from a family of boys who’d dragged him on a rope wherever they went. At night their parents locked him in a garage because they were afraid he’d kill their precious $5000 exotic bird. Rivers, the black-and-tan mutt who was there when we brought Loy home from the hospital and then never left her side. He let her decorate him with ribbons and socks. She leaned on him for balance as she learned to walk. He was fiercely protective, barking at anyone who came near her. He walked with us, ran with us, hiked with us, slept with us.
We buried him in our front yard and planted a butterfly bush over him.
But his ghost followed me. I often thought I saw him racing around the yard or heard him lapping water from his bowl in the middle of the night. As I sipped my morning tea at the table I reflexively reached out my foot to rub him, but hit only space. After a year of grieving we went to the pound and adopted Scooter, a dog that looked exactly like Rivers, but he wasn’t Rivers—he growled at Victor and hid from Loy—so we found a better home for Scooter and decided not to get another dog for a while. Loy canvassed for a pet crow, but that was out of the question.
Now, all these years later—often when I’m stuck on a sentence or having trouble moving a scene forward—I click open Petfinder.com and scour the photographs, searching for a dog that looks exactly like Rivers. Or one that embodies his spirit. I stare into their eyes and wonder if maybe he’s been reincarnated into a pug from Plattsburgh or a pitbull from Jericho.
As I read through Victor and Phil’s sad histories, I got the feeling that these pups were reaching out to me, as if I—
“MOM!! Stop looking at the dogs. We’re not getting a dog!”
“What?” I broke out of my dog trance.
“Mom. We have two cats and no back yard, and there’s no way you’re gonna make me walk a dog in the snow. No dog. Not now.”
She was right. It was neither the time nor the place to add another egg into our scrambled life. I’d already been feeling as if I didn’t have enough love and time and attention to go around—from my ailing mother in Florida to a teenager who was suddenly interested in boys to my over-worked husband to the two books I needed to rewrite to this blog to exercising to fretting over not yet signing up to volunteer for the Food Shelf to all that gooey sticky STUFF of existence.
But, like Loy says: that’s a first-world problem. She is correct. Would I want my life to be any other way? Would I want to not be in the thick of it, working and trying and thinking and hugging and meditating and wondering and wanting, with a few whines thrown in for good measure? Heck no. I want to be doing exactly what I’m doing.
And sure, getting a new pet to take care of, freeing one of those needy creatures from their cages, would probably not have been too big a deal in the grand scheme, but, for that moment anyway, I realized I had enough.
I sighed, closed the book, and drove Emily to her practice.