Normally, just after an election, I would write about politics. But the very thought made my hair hurt. So I wrote this instead.
It was my husband’s idea in January of 2019 to get a puppy to share the twilight months of our 15-year-old yellow lab, Ginger. Only flagging energy and arthritis slowed down Ginger’s sociopathy: running away at every opportunity, shredding and scattering garbage whenever we weren’t looking, and never, ever, coming when she was called. Now she creaked with age and could barely walk a quarter mile.
Pete found a breeder with one puppy left, a female golden retriever. We drove with son Tim to meet her at two weeks old and two pounds. She was smaller than our cat. We named her Molly.
We fell for her, hard
Molly was endlessly affectionate, instinctively retrieving anything thrown and (thank you, Jesus), was uninterested in trash. Ginger found energy she hadn’t exhibited in years, engaging in tugs of war with Molly and showing her the ropes. The dogs snuggled every night. When Ginger died 10 months later, her role as Molly’s adopted mom made up for a lifetime of delinquency.
Molly soon became my constant companion, the pal who would come with me to my barn office at 5:30 in the morning so I could make a fire in the wood stove, turn on the computer and get to work. Before trotting into the barn, Molly would engage in what I called the Morning Bark: She would circle our pond, barking her head off, before joining me upstairs. There, I would give her a biscuit and she would settle down on my couch, where she could keep an eye on me until I went back to the house to make breakfast at 7:30 am.
Then the pandemic hit. For nearly a year, Molly saved my sanity.
The need to stay in place for months made me feel like a prisoner. Molly seemed to sense when I was upset, which was frequent. She would sit next to me on the couch and put a paw on my shoulder until I petted her. Caressing her downy fur made me feel better. Sometimes, I would crouch down and Molly would put her arms over my arms, sitting on her hind legs, and just look into my eyes. It was the closest to a doggie hug I had ever experienced.
I had always laughed those who kept pictures of their pooches in their wallets or phones. I would always think, “Really?” Yet as I became closer to Molly, I reminded myself, over and over, “She’s a dog, not a person.”
I began to walk 4-5 miles every day, buoyed by Molly’s endless enthusiasm. We walked through fields, country lanes and forest paths. We crossed streams and climbed hills. We would watch hawks circle in the sky and look at each other. I knew she was saying, “Did you see THAT?” Birds were her weakness - when they flew low, she would follow them, looking up, barking continually although she had no hope of catching them, ever.
I told myself my love for Molly was due to pandemic isolation, yet I began to appreciate how useless was the phrase “only a dog.” One afternoon this past February, she got on her hind legs and put her arms over mine for her doggie hug as I crouched down. I smiled and said aloud, “Molly, you need to live until you are at least 16, like Ginger.” She wagged her tail and turned to leave the house with Pete.
But instead of turning right, with Pete, she saw a bird, began to bark, and raced down our driveway into the street, where a car slammed into her.
She was only 3 years old.
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As Pete drove our car 80 miles an hour to get help, I ripped off my shirt to try to stop the bleeding. Three days, two animal hospitals and $13,000 later, Molly could not survive the trauma of the accident. I knew that I would never laugh at her Morning Bark again.
I laid down next to her, whispered to her that she was perfect and that I would always be grateful that she was my friend. She wagged her tail, moved her battered body so I could rub her belly, and licked my hand before we sent her to the angels.
Pete and I sobbed together in the parking lot.
And then, Pete said, he wanted to get not one golden retriever puppy, but two.
Immediately. That very day. With a snowstorm coming.
There are moments in marriage when it is a coin toss as to who will attempt to kill the other first.
I was against getting the dogs because my heart was broken. Pete wanted the dogs because his heart was broken. We screamed at each other as we drove from ATM to ATM, me stalling for time, him trying to take out enough money to pay for the dogs.
The fraud alert team at Bank of America decided the erratic withdrawals meant we were being mugged and froze all of our accounts. I finally relented and got our accounts unlocked. Then we drove nearly two hours through ice and sleet where a litter of 11 puppies awaited us. I turned and faced a wall, so determined was I to not even look at them.
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Pete picked out two sisters, a big extrovert we eventually named Zoey, and her smaller, shy, insecure sibling, hiding in the corner, who we named Bella.
We brought them home. I began to text pictures of the puppies to girlfriends with the caption, “My husband is a lunatic.”
One responded, “Oh, honey.” Then, “LOL. It could be worse!”
After a day or two I left for a week, driving down the Eastern Seaboard, visiting friends I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. When I returned home, I admired the good care Pete gave the puppies. But I ached for my Molly.
Every morning, going to my now-silent barn office, before I got to work, I would put a biscuit on the empty couch where Molly used to curl up. I joined the AKC pet loss Facebook group with other heartsick pet owners, the kindest corner of the Internet. I read, over and over, an article by Annette McGivney, "How to Grieve for a Very Good Dog," published in Outside Online.
Pete and I both read the book, “For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend,” by animal behaviorist Dr. Patricia B. McConnell. In it, she described her love and loss of her beloved dog Luke, who she called her, “forever dog.”
It inspired me to enlarge a photo of Molly, taken on one of our walks, and bring it to a local frame shop. The owner, a friend, wept with me when I told her what had happened and framed the picture free of charge. I put it up over my desk and underneath, I attached a small plaque, which says, “Molly, Our Forever Dog.”
I let my houseplants die. I could not believe how sad I felt.
She was only a dog, after all.
But one day, about seven months after Molly died, I suddenly noticed how Bella, still so shy, would approach me, hesitating, wagging her tail and look up at me with her shining, soft eyes. And Zoey, so big, strong, and calm, was beginning to be a perfect walking companion.
And that’s when I realized that, completely and totally against my will, I had begun to love the puppies.
Now Pete is planning to get Zoey trained as a therapy dog. She is quiet and calm, with a perfect temperament to provide comfort.
And Bella? At night, she sits on the couch next to me with her shining eyes and she puts her paw on my arm, inches closer, then places her head against my shoulder.
I tell Bella that she is channeling Molly. She wags her tail and seems to understand.
This brought tears to my eyes. Maura. We have two dogs, Arab Salukis we rescued in 2011-13 and brought back from the Middle East with us in late 2017. We have been through a lot together. My son calls them his brothers. One is my soul mate. God willing, we will have a few more years with them but who knows? Your article is mental preparation for what's to come. Thank you.
Our dogs burrow deep into our hearts and never leave there. Along the way they teach us unconditional love. Our dog “Kula” in Sanskrit means “family of the heart”. That’s Molly’s legacy, too. 💕🐾 🐾