Sometimes the thing you want least is the thing you need most.
After the sudden death of my husband and a company relocation that took me 150 miles away from my friends and the comfort of familiar surroundings, the only thing I wanted to do was come home from work and crawl into bed.
“What you need is a dog,” my sister suggested.
An added responsibility was the last thing in the world I needed. But my sister is a person whose determination is on steroids. Once she decided that a dog would lift me out of the doldrums, she simply did not give up.
After two months and countless explanations of why I didn’t want or need a dog, she showed up at my house one Saturday morning.
“I think I’ve found the perfect dog!”
She explained that a breeder nearby had a litter of Bichon Frise pups that were 8 weeks old and ready for adoption.
“I’m not ready for a dog, and I really don’t think—”
She stood there, hands on hips. “I’ve already made the appointment!”
Sometimes it’s easier to give in than argue. She assured me there was no obligation to buy.
“We’ll take a look at the puppies, then go to lunch,” she said.
Lunch sounded good.
When we arrived at the breeder’s house, a little girl opened the door.
“Are you the lady for the puppy?” she asked.
My sister nodded.
The girl led us to the kitchen and pointed to a large cardboard box. Inside were six squeaking, squirming balls of white fluff. As they scrambled around for attention the pups stepped on top of one another, but it seemed to be an acceptable behavior. The girl’s mom joined us.
“There’s five males, one female,” she explained.
Snatching the opportunity to eliminate 5 dogs in one fell swoop, I said, “I’m not interested in a male dog.”
The girl scooped one bundle of fur from the lot and handed her to me.
“This is Betsy,” she said.
I suspected the dog having a name so similar to my own was a sneaky tactic arranged by my well-intended sister.
The mother laughed. “The puppies were born on July 4th, so Sara named all of them after American patriots. The female’s name is Betsy Ross.”
Betsy burrowed deeper into my arms. I felt this dog’s love and a smile taking hold of my face as this one-pound puppy covered me in kisses.
The thing is, puppies are a lot like little kids; once they come at you with all that unabashed love and you feel the dog’s love, they are impossible to resist.
My sister and I never did get to lunch that day; instead we stopped at the pet store and loaded up on supplies. Betsy was renamed Brandi, and we settled into a life of togetherness.
Instead of falling into bed after work, I took my furry friend for long walks. We met new friends and neighbors. Everywhere I went, she went. She rode in the car, tagged along on a leash or got carried in a tote. I pampered her, spoiled her and loved her to pieces.
Brandi was with me for almost 18 years. During that time, I met and married my second husband. We moved from my tiny town house to a three-acre ranch in the Watchung Mountains; then we moved again and again.
Brandi was fourteen when we moved to Florida and I began writing novels. Her hips were arthritic, so morning bike rides replaced the walks. She sat in the basket as I pedaled through the streets of our neighborhood. In the afternoon, she napped beneath my desk as I wrote, both of us happy with our lot in life.
Then came that awful day—the day I lost her.
She was almost 18 years old and I knew it was inevitable, but I still wasn’t ready. The loss was devastating. I cried for days on end, couldn’t work, didn’t want to eat and was inconsolable.
After a month of gut-wrenching heartache, my know-it-all sister said, “You need to get another dog.”
“Absolutely not,” I answered.
Replace Brandi? I thought. Unthinkable! Brandi wasn’t just a dog; she was a life partner who had been with me for 18 years.
“Get a rescue,” my sister said. “The shelters are overcrowded. A lot of those dogs will be put to sleep if they don’t find homes.”
While the thought of any puppy being put to sleep weighed heavily on my heart, I still wasn’t ready to love another dog.
Replacing Brandi was something I couldn’t even consider. And I didn’t. But after I thought enough about the homeless puppies, I came to the decision that even though I could never love another dog the way I’d loved Brandi, I could give a needy dog a home.
I began to search rescue sites like Small Paws, and before long I was looking at an 8-month-old Bichon who was underweight and as scraggly-looking as they come. The rescue farm was a three-hour drive from our house; we picked Katie up that weekend.
For months afterward I compared her to Brandi, never favorably. I went through all the motions of being a good dog mama, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Whether or not I loved her didn’t seem to matter to Katie; she was determined to love me. Everywhere I went she followed right at my heels. If I made it into the bathroom before she got there, she’d wait outside the door. When I sat down at the computer to write, she jumped up in my lap.
Although it took a few months, I came to love this little rescue every bit as much as I had Brandi.
Dogs seem to know something we humans are slow to learn: love begets love. It may take a long time but love someone unconditionally, and sooner or later they’ll love you back.