People sometimes ask me if I am going to get another dog. Even people I don’t really know have stopped me in the supermarket or the post office to ask. They know about my dog, Teddy, since I have written about him, described his antics and, at the end, the pain of losing him. Those who ask probably have pets of their own, and they understand the deep relationship we humans have with our animals. They also know what is coming for them because beloved pets die. We are lucky if they keep us company on our journey through life for a decade and a half. And we mourn them as we would mourn the death of any beloved family member.
Initially we wouldn’t consider replacing him. Every night, when we arrived home and opened the front door there was no four-legged furry bundle fishtailing with joy to welcome us. The house was just dark and empty. We needed time to grieve. “Just get another dog,” said those who didn’t understand that dogs are not like widgets, one replaceable with another.
So we went through the spring and didn’t see him sniffing at the crocuses and daffodils as if in wonder at how they had gotten there. After all, they hadn’t been there yesterday. In summer, he wasn’t here to dash across the sand and fling himself into the water for an instant cool-down. As the fall came and the beach grass turned russet and gold, he did not run happily along the beach with us, perfectly camouflaged by nature’s backdrop. And this winter, with the first snow, he was not here to roll ecstatically on his back and make snow angels on the front lawn.
It’s coming up on a year now since we have been without a dog. It has also occurred to us that no one has had to get up early to walk the dog on the weekends. We haven’t had to go out in the wind and rain, or the cold and dark for that last walk of the night. There were no elaborate plans that needed to be made for dog care when we left for vacation or a weekend away from home. We didn’t need to dash to the vet for an emerging “hot spot” or note the time on the calendar for a rabies shot. There has not been any sudden despoiling on the most treasured rug in the house. And we have not had to deal with the frantic teething that puts clothing and window sills at risk as a new puppy settles in.
We have thought briefly of different possibilities. We have a friend who has a golden retriever puppy named Chewy with almost identical coloring and inquisitiveness as Teddy, and we have offered our services as sometime babysitters. So far we have done so once. After loving up the pup, the rest was just work and it wasn’t the same. Substitute dogs are like substitute teachers: Happy to have them come and happy to see them go.
It has been 45 years since I have been without a dog in the house, and there is a void that won’t go away. One of my sons and daughters-in-law are thinking of getting a dog. If so, they would come often to visit and bring the dog. Would that replace what is missing? I have my doubts. That would just mean more work without the primary connection.
So profound is that connection that the latest trend in employee benefits for large corporations is “pawternity leave.” That means a couple of days paid time off for an employee to bond with a new four-legged family member or to mourn the death of a beloved pet. Some companies are even encouraging their staffers to bring their pets with them to the office when at work.
So, will we get another dog? There have been four dogs sequentially in my life already, and there is certainly room for more. I just don’t know if l can bear the loss of yet another. As my mother used to say, “We’ll see.”