When Buddy, our previous dog, died in March 2010, I phoned my daughter Sabrina and asked her to call her brother and sister and other family members to let them know. “I can’t talk about it,” I told her between sobs. My husband and I took a couple of days off work, which we spent poring over photos of our darling boy, weeping and gulping whiskey. Then my dear friend Linda Nicholas came over and helped us craft a collage made up of Buddy’s photographs, celebrating his life from precious puppy to elder states-dog. Finally we were healed enough to resume our lives or, at least, to go outside.
But not truly healed. I understood that the desolation I was experiencing could only be assuaged by procuring another dog. This is because I am a Hardy and that’s what we do when presented with the gaping hole in one’s heart that is no-dog – get another as soon as humanly possible, notwithstanding the occasional disastrous consequence. (See my post on Crocapuppy.)
My husband, however, is not a Hardy. He is a Trevenna. He loved Buddy every bit as much as I did, but saw no need to replace The Perfect Dog. And he wanted the relative freedom that comes with no dependents. He prevailed upon me to wait for one year before getting another dog, figuring that by that time I would realize how liberating it was to go pooch-less. When Sabrina heard about this plan, she was skeptical. “He doesn’t know our family,” she said.
To heal ourselves . . . and because Buddy’s infirmity and our unwillingness to leave him in a kennel had meant that, for the past several years, we had gone nowhere we couldn’t drive to in a car with him in tow . . . we traveled to Hawaii. While there, prior to a hike through the jungle to a waterfall, we toured a taro farm and, together with a family of four from the States, enjoyed one of those slightly cringe-worthy cultural experiences wherein you are exposed to traditional culture and compelled, in front of other people, to admit the reason why you came to this remote part of Hawaii, so far from the beaches of Waikiki . I can’t remember precisely what the family said — something having to do with togetherness and adventure and being a family. Then it was our turn. “We are just trying to recover from the death of our dog,” we said, feeling pathetic. “We’re taking a year,” my husband added. “To mourn.” Later the wife pulled me aside and whispered, “Just get another one. Don’t wait. What’s the point?”
All in all, I lasted five months, during which time I spent my leisure hours immersed in puppy porn on the Internet. I knew where every golden retriever puppy within a one hundred mile radius of our house was at any time. Then one day I saw an ad on Kijiji – a four month old female golden retriever in Toronto looking for her “forever home.” The puppy in the photograph was adorable; I couldn’t get her sweet image out of my mind. For a week, I kept returning to Kijiji, returning to that photograph. In my head I named the puppy Nellie, after my mother. I fantasized about Nellie and our life together, of walks and swims and couch cuddles. Then on the seventh night I dreamed that she was calling me, crying for me to come and get her. The next morning I told my husband about my dream.
Then it happened: he had a moment of weakness. “Call the number and, if she’s still there, we’ll go and get her,” he said. Clearly he was counting on such an adorable puppy having a short shelf life. He was out of luck: she was there.
“If we go and get her, are you going to resent me going forward?” I asked.
“Probably,” he said.
I considered this for a moment, but decided that I would just have to find a way of making it up to him. We got in the car and drove to a downtown Toronto address, two hours away, and a young Chinese woman named Kathy buzzed us up to an apartment in a high rise building. She explained in broken English that she and her husband had never owned a dog before and hadn’t realized how much of a commitment it was. They worked long shifts and the puppy was left alone a lot. “She is lonely,” Kathy explained. “She needs to be somewhere with people.”
No sooner had we walked through the door than a ball of fur and legs came hurtling through the air as though shot from a cannon and began to maul us in frenzied greeting. We were later to learn that this is how Nellie greets everyone; at the time we thought it was because we were special. To our great surprise, this puppy didn’t look like any golden retriever puppy we had ever seen and certainly not like our Precious Boy. Rather than being soft and furry and pudding-y, she was all sinew and nerve — leggy and thin with a crooked tail and a narrow muzzle. It didn’t matter. She was a puppy and I had her in my arms; there was no way I was going to not take her with us. Tucking her, squirming and thrashing, under one arm, we summarily forked over the cash and headed out, Nellie in tow, poor Kathy, waving and tearful as the car pulled away from the curb. In my haste to make off with the goods, we had, I realize now, not given her time to say goodbye to a puppy she loved enough to want a good home for.
And that is how it came to pass that today, when once again I took the now four year old Nellie, with whom I am, incidentally, utterly besotted, to Fingal Wildlife Management Area and she, once again, rolled in shit, compelling me to bathe her for the second time in so many days, I do not complain, but am only grateful that she is our dog and that ours is her Forever Home.