When our dog, Lucky, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, I wondered if she would hang on long enough for our daughter to get home from college to say goodbye. Lucky stayed with us for three more months, passing away less than twelve hours after our daughter returned to school from a long weekend at home.
After Lucky died, our home was petless for a year. We adopted Kimo, a Cocker Spaniel like Lucky, when we decided we wanted another dog to love. We’ve had Kimo for almost two years now. It took some time, but my brain now floods with dopamine whenever I look at Kimo, the same way my brain used to flood with Lucky.
We’ve often wondered if Kimo would be happier not being an only child in a home where the first two human children were already out of the house. After a few flirtations with the idea, we recently began fostering a Cocker Spaniel named Sam to see if adopting him is the right thing for our family.
Sam is a handsome, smart, energetic, confident, and entertaining bundle of dog. He’s more independent than Kimo and not as much of a cuddler or kisser. Having him in our home has made me see my husband, Kimo, and myself a little more clearly in terms of our personalities, our energy levels, our rhythms, and our dynamics.
Unlike falling in love with another human being, falling in love with a dog feels one-sided. Another human being will tell you in overt and subtle ways whether he or she is “not that into you.” With dogs, it’s even more of an art. Dogs can’t ask themselves whether they’re up for the challenge of working through behavioral issues and whether energy levels match up. The onus is all on us humans to figure out whether to commit and get married or just date and eventually go our separate ways.
And yet, the heartache feels very similar. When you open yourself up to take in a dog and possibly love him for the rest of his life, you open yourself up to the pain of things not working out. You also loathe the idea of being the next human being to inspire bonding only to let him down again. If you’re reading this and not understanding what emotional craziness I’m talking about, I respectfully suggest that you not be a dog owner. Dogs feel us. That’s why they’re our best friends. In a perfect world, all dogs would feel loved, because that’s how they’re wired.
So here’s the ending you might have sensed was coming. I’m not – we’re not – sure that our family is the right fit for Sam. In my head there’s a scene that needs to play out: The three of us on one side of a table saying to Sam on the other side, “You’re a wonderful guy. Any family would be lucky to have you. It’s not you, it’s us.”
Pass the Häagen-Dazs. And the tissues.
© Living off Island, writingwahine, 2015.