Why do we love our pets so much? Or maybe the better question is: Why do we think that we love our pets more than anyone else loves theirs? It is something you hear all of the time when talking to someone about their beloved dog or cat, that notion that their pet is the best in the world.
People have a bevy of reasons for believing what they do regarding their pets: “Bosco is so smart and great with kids,” or “Shadow is so loyal and never misbehaves,” but few can say that their dog saved their life by simply existing.
Call it what you will: fate, serendipity, the guidance of a higher power, or maybe just plain old coincidence. The fact of the matter is that if I had not crossed the street on October 11, 2008, my heart would not be beating right now.
The year 2008 was a tough year for a lot of people, and I was certainly no different. I graduated from college that spring, and as the days wore on I became increasingly aware of how terrified I was to be outside of the safety net of a school setting. Aside from that, finding a job with a degree in the dying field of journalism offered little hope or encouragement.
Not long before I was set to graduate, my dog Brandy, a beautiful Golden Retriever, was diagnosed with lymphoma and given no more than a few weeks to live. She made it nearly two months before she passed, with me staring straight into her eyes.
Those two months were brutal, filled with ups and downs, playful hops and painful limps, glimpses of hopes, and cold slaps of reality and inevitability. Even through all of that, I would not give back those two months for anything. I became even closer with Brandy, although few around would have thought that was possible. From sleeping next to her on the cold basement floor because that is where she was comfortable to cooking her special meals of ground beef, turkey, chicken, lamb mixed with eggs, cheese, carrots, and olives, I felt my heart swell with each passing minute.
Maybe I went a bit overboard, but anyone who knows me well knows that ours was not your average dog and guardian relationship. It was because of how much I loved her and how badly it hurt when she passed that I vowed to never get another dog. I made it four months before I found Luna.
I was in Pentwater, a small town about halfway up the lower peninsula of Michigan, with my family for Columbus Day weekend. We are what has been termed “leafers,” or people who travel north to see the leaves change color during autumn.
The weather was unseasonably warm, hovering around the mid-70s, so we decided to head about a half an hour north to Ludington, but were coaxed into going to the main part of Pentwater by my younger sister Alyssa, who was craving a chai tea latte.
We were surprised when we turned the corner onto Hancock Street to see that a number of sidewalk attractions had been set up along the main drag with a car show and moon jump as well. Deciding that it couldn’t hurt to spend an hour or so taking in some of the local culture, we parked the car, and the four of us (my mom, dad, Alyssa, and myself) hopped out.
The first shop we came by was one selling young women’s fashion, and suffice it to say that after that only my dad and I were left to wander the sidewalks and browse at the products the shops had taken outside. We walked a few blocks, and as I looked around I saw that the Oceana County Animal Shelter had a display across the street. I turned to my dad and told him I’d just be across the street.
Even before my foot hit the pavement of the street, guilt had already crept in as I was sure I was betraying the memory of Brandy and even Brandy herself. Yet I continued on, and as I reached the crowd of about 20 people gathered around the seven or eight cages I found myself lingering in the back and forcing myself to not be taken in by the baby talk and pleading cries from children of “Can we pleeeeeease get a puppy?” making up 90 percent of the current conversation.
Somehow, before I even realized it, I had made my way to the front and found my eyes locked on this small ball of black fur in a cage that was resting on the grass in the shade. Still forcing myself not to let my guard down, I hung back and watched as two children put their hands in the cage and tried to coax the little puppy to them. No luck. The pup just lay there showing little interest, but not walking away when they reached further in to pet her.
Before Brandy had passed, I was one of those people who would stop you on the street if you were walking your dog to talk to you and pet your precious pooch. After she passed, I found that I did not even consider it; the thought never crossed my mind.
This time, however, that curiosity was coming back and that love of dogs I had denied for a while was breaking through. With my arms crossed and keeping my distance, I walked around behind the cage for some reason that I can’t recall (maybe to get a better look?). What happened next is the first of many moments that seared this dog into my heart.
No more than 8 weeks old, this tiny, furry and shiny black puppy lifted up her head, looked straight into my eyes, rose to her feet, and waddled over toward me. Unconsciously, I moved closer and put my hand through the square wires as she started to wag her tail. Before I had a chance to pet her, the embodiment of adorableness standing in front of me began to lick my hand.
I was hooked and knew right at that moment that I was going to take this dog home, and so did my dad, who unbeknownst to me had followed me across the street. While I may have known it, I certainly was not ready to admit it, although all of my actions would seem to say otherwise. I had what would be described later by my dad as something he hadn’t seen in a long time, a giant smile on my face and a lighter air about me. Standing up, I walked toward my dad, and he said, “We’re getting a dog, aren’t we?” I didn’t acknowledge him, not out of rudeness, but because my mind had been shut off and I was focused on only one thing. I honestly don’t know why, because the thought of our family getting a dog did not seem like a possibility at the time, but I ran to find my mom and Alyssa to show them this dog. Up and down the streets I looked for them before finally spotting them leaving one of our favorite shops about 100 feet ahead of me.
I moved through the throng of people on the sidewalk, sliding through and past couples holding hands, moms pushing strollers, little girls eating ice cream, and little boys showing off their new toy plane. As I reached my mom and Alyssa, I remember feeling different. Maybe it was the warm weather, the bright sun, and the fresh air, but when I opened my mouth and said, “You guys have to see this,” I knew that my life was forever changed.