Almost exactly two years ago, we put our "trial child," a beautiful black lab, to sleep.
You'd think we'd be over it, but we're not. Twelve years is a lot to have someone be such an intimate part of your life. He came to us when he was barely eight weeks old. We were newly married, and had just bought our first house. He was our house-warming gift, all warm, fuzzy ball of fluff and over the top personality.
Over the years he grew to over 100 pounds. He was the smartest dog I ever knew. Loyal, eager to please, able to shift easily between the rough play with my husband to gentle love with my children.
When he arrived in our family, we were two, and the thought of children far, far away. When he left us, we were five. When he arrived, we lived in Southern California. When he left us, he'd been cross country twice, lived in more than six homes in three states. He loved swimming in the Pacific Ocean, chewing on sticks, chasing cats, riding in the truck with his head hung out and his ears flapping wildly and his tongue lolling in the wind. He loved eating Taco Bell on long car trips, for which we paid dearly. More than once we had to roll the windows down to try and diffuse the toxic fumes.
He loved creeks but hated baths. He loved people and music, but hated fireworks and lightening. When he was a puppy and my husband traveled often, I sat with him on my lap to feel safe at night. When he was old and it stormed, I stayed up all night with him so he felt safe.
When he came down with cancer, we kept him around too long. We couldn't say goodbye. Is there a good time for that? It was my son's birthday... we didn't want him to associate his birthday with the death of our dog. It was Halloween... could you cast that kind of shadow over a holiday? But before Thanksgiving came, and the rest of a holiday season we knew he'd never live through, we had him put to sleep. We held his head and cried our eyes out and rubbed his ears the way he always loved.
We'd heard stories of other owners who took their dogs to be put to sleep and their dogs walked in practically prancing, defying all outward appearance of being sick. Not ours. He seemed relieved. Slow, and old, and very relieved. And when he closed his eyes, he just went to sleep.
Our youngest, who was only three at the time, tells people we took him to the vet and he lives there now. All three children, even now, two years later, when asked to draw a portrait of the family in school draw our dog in the picture too. They write stories about him. My husband has kept his collar under the front seat of the truck he drives each day. And I.... I feel empty.
When I tentatively suggested getting another dog, my husband countered with the statement that he needed a "year of grieving." That year has stretched into two. He tried to remind me how much I have on my plate, and when in the world would I have time for a dog? He likes to point out how we can up and leave at a moment's notice, can sleep through thunderstorms, can juggle five very busy schedules without having to figure out how to fit in walks and feedings and play time with yet one more family member.
The truth is, he doesn't want to go through it all again. Because, inevitably, it comes. The end.
But, despite three children and a very, very noisy house, it feels quiet. It feels empty. It feels like something is missing. And I know it's the love of a dog - that unconditional, full-bodied, tail-wagging, no-holds-barred kind of love that only a dog can give.
So tentatively, we've begun to discuss rescuing another dog. Which is why, when I should be writing, should be cleaning, should be cooking, I am scouring the local rescue groups, perusing lists and photos of dogs in need of homes, and picking out my very favorites. I've got the kids on my side. Just not quite the husband. But I'm getting close.
He was beautiful. He was smart. He can never be replaced. But there's more room in our house, and our lives, and our hearts. I'm ready to move on.