If my last year had a one-word theme, I figured it would be “loss.” The loss started with our dog with cancer, a cat of old age, my distant stepbrother passing, a sister in law dying and then my daughter moving away to college. It seemed as though our daughter leaving was this grand culmination of grief and suddenly I could no longer pretend that I was okay. Buddy and Cheyenne, our rescue dogs, could sense the struggle and behaved accordingly.
Cheyenne came to us about 8 years ago from a neighboring humane society. I never pick the adorable pups; they have to be a bit quirky, edgy and a dog that doesn’t win any beauty contests. Cheyenne is half Cairn terrier and half Schnauzer. My nickname for her is princess and she has an abundant heart. Her soul brother passed away from cancer a year ago and she refused to move, eat or exhibit any other habits that would indicate that she could contemplate moving on. People thought it was too soon to adopt another dog, but two weeks later out of sheer grief I drove to the shelter and adopted Buddy. His name was actually Wallace, but he was no Wallace. I have no idea what what mix Buddy is made of, but he must be of Chewbacca’s ancestry line because both have matching underbites. He had been in the shelter for quite a spell so he approached our relationship with a healthy balance of hesitation and equal parts gratitude. Cheyenne loved Buddy instantly.
Our family is close so when our daughter, Ella, moved away for her first year of college, I knew I had discovered the end of my proverbial rope with a fixed knot on the end. The knot represented the grand finale of our year of loss and if I utilized the right survival skills then I could possibly name the next year’s theme something positive like “brave, redemption or hope.”
Buddy and Cheyenne knew that they had to step it up and be my personal nostalgic void fillers. They hung out in the garden with me, and while gently pulling off the raspberries, they pretended to pay me no mind. I knew they stole sideways glances and were never more than an arm’s length away. They insisted on running on the mornings when I just wanted to lay still and forget time. When I was a weepy mess making dinner because Ella wasn’t there to talk me through her day, the dogs insisted on getting me outside and walking me. I would meander with my head down and commiserate with all the neighbors because they too had suffered a loss of their steadfast babysitter, my Ella.
I suppose in the beginning, I dragged those dogs alongside me more places then they were used to going. Ella and I would go down to see the hot air balloons in the park and I swear the dogs insisted on taking me so I wouldn’t have to go it alone. People stared when I positioned them for a photo shoot as if they were human. When I wanted to just cry, Cheyenne would let me shed tears in her fur. When I read books, they would sit at my side. They became perfect placement cards for my loss. I began to relish in their little antics, take them for more walks, and I was grateful for another sentient being just being present with me.
I know the saying is when we rescue dogs they actually end up rescuing us. It occurred to me that the rescuing doesn’t just happen the day we bring them home from the shelter. But, I believe rescue dogs know where they come from, have bore witness to a lifetime of hard knocks in a short span, and are fully aware that love is the reciprocal act of throwing each other a life raft.