We pulled out your crate this week, unused for the last three years, and brushed off the cobwebs, only we didn’t do it for you. Another four-legged creature joined the family and needed a place to sleep. I think you would have liked her. She’s a mix of Lab, like you, but Boxer too, which was always your favorite playmate. But she’s not you.
Then again, you might find her strange. She doesn’t chase after cats, or squirrels, or stare at a mysterious nothing in the corner of the room making my neck hairs rise. When we go on walks, I don’t worry my arm might be torn from its socket due to the strength of her pulls. She doesn’t jump on arriving guests, or feel the need to defend the household from the threat of the evil vacuum. Nor does she enjoy running in front of my shins as I attempt to descend the stairs just to ensure I’m paying attention.
People we meet keep telling me she is perfect. But she’s not you.
You would be proud of the boys. How well they’ve adapted to an animal in the house once again. They grin and tell me how happy they are to have her. They’ve helped me bathe her, comb her fur, and brush her teeth. They’re teaching her fetch and sit and shake. She’s so patient with them too. The boys have draped themselves over her body and used outside voices near her ear, and yet she still she wags her tail at their arrival.
We tried to make you proud of us as well. She is a rescue like you were once, but an older pup. We estimate she’s around four years old, but with signs that suggest those years weren’t always easy. When we met her, Kiddo announced proudly that we hadn’t found her, she had found us, echoing the words I once used myself to describe our first encounter with you.
Your dad tells me our family feels complete once again. But she’s not you.
She’s smaller than you were, but only just slightly. She is tall enough that I can scratch her head with my fingertips without bending over but light enough for me to carry when she is feeling particularly stubborn. She has a pink leash and collar, which would have appalled you were you not color blind, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She just seems happy to have found a family.
The other night, after the boys had gone to bed, she hopped on the spot on the couch next to me and laid her head on my lap the way you used to do. Soon I found myself growing tired as I listened to her rhythmic snore. I glanced over and saw tan fur where there once lay black and I had to blink away the tears of my surprise. In my weary state, I’d almost forgotten it wasn’t you. I thought I was ready, but it hit me so hard, just then, how much she’s not you. In that moment, I realized how different a brain’s readiness can be to one’s heart’s.
I felt so guilty. Guilty that I was enjoying her warmth by my side. Guilty that we couldn’t do more to keep you there longer. Guilty I am happy to once again see a bowl on the ground.
But she really is a good girl and I was the one to suggest we bring her home. In fairness to her, I am trying to remember all your flaws as much as I recall your virtues. How you could clear the room after a meal. The books of mine you destroyed. That incident with the bunny.
The trouble is, I loved you with your flaws as much as you loved me with mine.
I remember those early puppy weeks before you were house-broken and the pain inflicted on my arms by your needle sharp teeth and all the reasons we chose not to adopt a puppy this time. I remember wondering if we’d made a mistake back then, injecting your brand of chaos into our lives as I surveyed the damage that once was my living room. But mostly I remember how much we grew to love you over the years that followed. If the decision to bring you home back then was a mistake, it was the best mistake we’ve ever made.
She’s only been with us a few short days and is getting to know us as much as we are getting to know her. She’s not you, true, but she’s herself; a dog who is sweet and mostly well-mannered. A dog who deserves to be loved for who she is rather than considered somehow flawed for who she’s not.
So please forgive me if I eventually allow my heart to stop comparing, as difficult as that seems now. When I scratch her behind her ears or throw her a ball to chase, it doesn’t mean I miss you any less. It will just mean I’ve finally allowed my heart to grow more.