Emily, my dog, had died of a brain tumor one month before I went looking for a new dog. The lack of dog-ness in the house was killing me and I had waited as long as I could stand it. I knew I wanted to rescue a female, adult, small greyhound. The rescue organization said they had one they thought would be good fit.
My friend and I arrived to see cages and cages of these majestic animals who had once ran for a living now waiting for the next chapter to begin. Many looked at us with hope as the volunteers pulled out Lola, the one they hand picked for me. Lola was a beautiful 8 year old female who had no interest in me whatsoever. I felt no connection to her and actually, she seemed to be giving me signals that she might bite me. I pulled out plenty of other dogs, changing my criteria: I looked at males, young dogs and big dogs. None of them felt right. None of them "clicked".
I kept asking about the blonde 11 year old female with the big brown eyes but was told she was spoken for. Right before I was about to leave in defeat, the owner came in and said the 11 year old was, in fact, up for adoption. When we took her out of the kennel, she stepped her graceful feet on the concrete floor and did something no other dog had done before her: she ran towards me (not the door), her head was up, her eyes were shining and her tail was wagging. Jen greeted me and it was immediate, pure love. Thanks to Jen, I do believe in love at first sight.
I took her home and our love grew. I had never known a kinder soul. I had never felt so connected to a dog. I never knew her presence in my life could provide such joy and peace. She became my rock, my anchor and the center of my universe. She went to work with me and I took her everywhere a big dog could go. When I left her home, I could hardly wait to see her again. When my car pulled into the parking spot outside my house, I bounced and smiled all the way to the door because my Jen was there and I couldn't wait to greet her. Our relationship was perfect. (Ok, she did pee on the carpet but with that kind of love, that seems hardly worth mentioning!)
Last week, I woke up before Jen. This was unusual because she usually got me up promptly at 7:30. It was 7:20. I was feeling rested and happy. We went outside for a walk at about 7:30. Jen did not walk with a leash. This gave her the opportunity to have few jogs here and there. Almost always, she ran home from her morning walk. That day was no exception. Before Jen got to the front door, however, she fell and screamed out in pain. She was in so much pain, in fact, that she bit me when I went to help her. She calmed down after a few minutes and I hoped she would get up and brush it off. She didn't. I knew what it was. I had seen it before with other dogs.
The next part of this story includes many details about how we got her up, got her in the car, and got her to the vet. These are not worth going over but, suffice to say, it was difficult and heartbreaking. Thank God for my neighbors and my two good friends who came to our rescue. During this time, Jen and I had some privacy and I begged her to not leave me. I couldn't imagine how I could live without her. I knew that was selfish and wrong to say but I also knew she would understand.
Upon getting to the hospital, my fears were confirmed. Jen had bone cancer. She hadn't fallen, her shoulder bone had broken and that caused her to fall. According to my vet, the activity was irrelevant, the bone would have broken that day no matter what. The cancer had just eaten it away. I screamed and cried and knew what I already knew: this was goodbye.
My friend stayed with me and my mom came to see her one last time. My mom's heart was breaking just as much as mine was. My mom likes dogs but Jen had really stolen her heart. Before the euthanasia, Jen had time to indulge in the pleasures of life on earth. Jen was one of those "high maintenance" babies that could only eat very special (an expensive!) food or else she would be sick. This was not a concern anymore. Jen ate 4 large cans of dog food that day and was thrilled by every bite. She probably would have eaten 4 more if we'd given them to her.
By mid-day she was getting restless and it was time to proceed with the injection. I wrapped my arms around her head as our wonderful vet found her vein. For some reason I was calm. I cried softly and told her how much I loved her. I was overcome with peace. It was a very specific peace: it was a peace that said "She knows how much you love her. You've made that clear." I'll admit, even in the midst of grief I can find room for my ego! I felt good about myself and saw images of when I had poured my love onto Jen crossed my mind's eye. As we lay there together, Jen left her body. My best girl was gone and, as sad as I was, I still carried that peace with me.
Over the next few days, I had an amazing realization. It was not my ego that gave me that peace. It was not my memories. It was not holding her as she died. The peace that washed over me that said "she knows you love her, you made that clear" came from Jen. She was telling me that, filling me with that understanding. As the days passed, I had to work harder to hold onto that peace. Now that peace is mostly replaced by a deep longing to be near her again.
Jen taught me so many things in the short time we had. The two I wanted to share with you now are these:
1. Love at first sight is real
2. When it comes time to say goodbye, the best we can ask for is that those we love know how deeply we loved them. Anything beyond that is just details.
To me, this is love in it's purest form. At the beginning and at the end. I can only strive to remember this and know this kind of love is possible. Pure love leaves us with a purity in the loss. How beautiful my girl was and will always be. I can never thank her enough for picking me.
When we lose such a pure love, we may not want to love again. I now understand this with humans and with pets. I am making the choice to look for love again and am willing to hurt again. I don't look forward to the pain but I can't deny it was worth every minute. I will be looking at dogs this weekend. I know Jen will be there guiding me.