The questionnaire asked me about the best dog I ever had and what could be improved. That felt a little like someone asking me to choose my favorite kid. My favorite dog and what would make him better? I listed my dogs and what I loved best about them. Each was a miracle in their own way. All simply wonderful, beautiful, extraordinary, and loving.
And then Sophie Stella came out of her transport crate, wanted to run along the park to investigate. She didn’t care who was holding her leash. She pulled. She pulled so much I felt that inkling of fear that I also experienced when Scout came to me—that I would somehow lose him, and he’d be gone, in the worst way that he could be gone. She glanced at me. Was I just another one in the line? Who was I? Why should she care?
The first dog I ever wanted to adopt I was too late for. She was a dusky collie-looking dog who was listed as a stray. I put my name down and was number one on the list. Unless the owner showed up or I was late for the adoption day, this beautiful dog would be my mine.
On adoption day, it was icy, and I overslept by probably twenty minutes. Those two factors were all it took.
I arrived at the shelter not realizing that the couple first in line wanted the same dog. When I said I wanted to meet this dog, the clerk pointed and said they’d already adopted her.
Disappointed, I waited outside for the shelter visiting hours to begin. Maybe there was another dog I could befriend, love, even though this one seemed like a soulmate. I watched the couple emerge with the dog on a leash. The dog looked back. I could swear she looked directly at me. Maybe that was my heart talking. The man opened the back door of the car, the collie jumped in, he removed her leash, and she bolted across six lanes of traffic. On her way back, she was hit by a car that kept on going, as if hitting a dog was an everyday affair.
I sobbed because that was going to be my dog. I felt I let her down. I was too late to be there for her.
A shelter worker picked her up off the road. The couple drove off in their car. That was the end of my collie story
And so, I come to my fear naturally. The park where I was picking up Sophie Stella was near a busy road and things can happen to dogs. I know this. I’ve seen this, and I wanted to get Sophie Stella home. My paranoia comes naturally.
Once at home, her need to run waned. She wanted snuggles. She wanted hugs. She wanted to lean and kiss and be “the one.” She wanted to eat everything edible in smell, forget sight, we’re talking about a dog.
To be honest, the past few years have been hard. I once had four dogs and people looked askance at me. I told them truthfully: that was the happiest time of my life. The happiest house. The happiest me. Four dogs who were so different and compatible. The one true thing was they all had heart. They had my heart.
A dog’s heart is worth so much, so much more than we humans easily understand. They give love unconditionally. Yes, we hear that ad nauseum, but until you are around them, live with them every day, you don’t understand or begin to believe. They don’t barter. They don’t deal. They love. They understand so much better than we do.
Love doesn’t depend on what you do or who you are or how much money you have. Love is. Love does. Love becomes.
Unfortunately, the fact is that dogs get old quickly. You blink, and your two-year old dog is 11. Your bouncing pup is smelling more and running less. You hug more, expect less. You give as much as you can because you know they’ve given all they can, every day they’ve been with you. It’s their nature, and after enough time, you find that it becomes your nature as well.
On her first night in the house, I realized Sophie Stella seemed to be a mash-up of the first two dogs I owned as an adult. In murky lighting, she is the spitting image of my Cha, my first English Shepherd, freckled face and discerning eyes. In behavior and play and when I walk behind her, seeing her thin red sable body, she is the spitting image of Shevy, the energizer dog, constantly moving, tail wagging, having so much fun with every movement, every breath of life. It’s disconcerting, unexpected, and does strange things to my heart and mouth, which, even after more than three years after they’ve passed, find their names springing to my lips accidentally because my brain recognizes, and my lips move. But she is herself. She is Sophie Stella, with more freckles than Cha, a little more laid back than Shevy. And she’s smart, so smart that I know she’ll keep me on my toes to keep her on hers.
I’ve heard it said that the right dog comes to you in the time in which you most need them. Scout came to me when I needed calm but also when he needed understanding and comfort and perhaps a belief that not all humans are bad. Has Sophie Stella come to me to bring me joy, to remind me how glorious life is, and that each and every moment is worth living? That it was serendipity when, after not visiting the rescue page for so many months, I visited and saw this girl, who would immediately be the light in my life with so much heart and soul that she is so, so very eager to share.
She’s tired now, and she’s worn me out. It’s the end of a day. Another begins tomorrow with a plush toy that will be tossed until it’s soggy, with a walk where leashes become tangled and noses meet, with me finding joy once again in simple things. And she’s easily reminded me that smelling things in cold air is joy, touch is joy, hugs are joy. Joy, easily shared, easily given, here. We just need to open our eyes and, yes, our hearts to: Joy.