My daughter recently bought a puppy who has captured her heart. Since my grandchildren are back in school, this little darling has become my daughter’s constant companion, making the empty rooms not so empty. Now that I’m retired, my quiet days are almost too quiet. I pounce on my husband when he comes home from work, eager to have conversation and companionship. I’ve thought about what my life would be like if I added a puppy to it, but I don’t have enough patience to start that business over again. I remember a friend’s warning from years ago, when we were contemplating getting a dog, “Big dog, big problem. Little dog, little problem. No dog, no problem.” We didn’t listen, and Abby came into our lives.
Abby was a big yellow lab, and there never was a sweeter dog in the world. We bought her from a rancher south of town after finding an add in the newspaper. There were still about five puppies left in the litter, and they were nine weeks old by this time. The rancher kept the puppies in a stall in the barn. We saw the momma, and she was a beauty. Abby was the biggest and most rambunctious of the litter, and she chose us immediately. She yapped and struggled all the way home, and we knew we were in trouble.
As Abby grew, we learned something we didn’t know about labs which everyone else in the universe seems to know: labs love to roam. She could be in the farthest reaches of the house, but as soon as she heard the front door open, she was out that door before you knew what happened, a blur of yellow fur streaking by. One day shortly before Christmas, when Abby was nearly a year old, the kids and I returned and found our chain-link fenced back yard empty. We walked all over the neighborhood, calling her name. Then we got in the car and drove in the near and far vicinity, but still no Abby. When my husband came home, we searched some more and then rested on my husband’s assurances that she would return before the night was over, when she got hungry or cold. When that proved to be false, we made posters and nailed them on telephone poles all over the area. None of us felt like eating dinner and the children dragged their feet about getting ready for school. Maybe Abby would return that day, and no one would be home, they reasoned. But Abby didn’t return, and the days dragged on. Every night the children’s prayers were all the same: Please, Lord, bring Abby home. Sadness permeated the house.
Then late one night, I was awakened by a dog barking. It had been two weeks since Abby had disappeared, but I knew that bark. A mother knows her babies. I woke my husband up. “That’s Abby’s bark,” I said. I think she’s on the side of the house.” My husband said I was imagining it, but then he heard the barking dog, too. We threw on our robes and went outside to the gate on the side of the house. There was Abby, dirty, thin, ears laid back, and that seal-faced grin she always got when she knew she had done something wrong. She greeted us heartily with face washes. We brought her inside and cleaned her up. She had a nasty scrape on her belly from where she had caught herself on the top of the chain-link fence during her escape. We put her into the crate she slept in at night and went back to bed, not wanting to wake the kids up just yet.
That morning, once the sun had come up, my husband went into the boys’ room and woke them up. “Matt, you need to get up and feed your dog.” Matt struggled to open his eyes and make sense of what his father had just said. When cognizance took hold, Matt jumped out of bed and went screaming into the kitchen. Now all the kids were awake and in the kitchen crying and hugging their dog. My husband and I had plenty of tears of our own. What a happy reunion! “God answered my prayer,” Matt said. “All I wanted for Christmas was to have Abby back.
I’d like to say she never wandered again, but hey, she was a lab. At least she never wandered very far and was never gone for more than an hour before we found her and enticed her back to the house with treats or a ride in the car. She was a true family dog, loving every one of us with true devotion, though I know she loved her kids the most. She would sleep in my daughter’s room for part of the night, then in the boys’ room for part of the night, finally ending up sleeping in the hall between their two bedrooms. This was a nightly ritual, never deviated from.
After our children all grew up and moved away, Abby’s days were very lonely. Both my husband and I worked long hours, leaving her alone from early morning until dinner time. Since the children were gone, she slept every night on the floor next to my side of the bed. This became her new nightly ritual. Until the night before she died. That night I woke up to check on her because she had been very ill. When I didn’t find her by the side of my bed, I got up and searched for her. I found her sleeping in my daughter’s room. I went back to bed and slept for awhile and then got up to check on her again. This time she was sleeping in the boys’ room. Of course, you know the rest. In the morning, I found her asleep in the hall between the two rooms. She was saying goodbye to her kids.
No, I don’t want another dog. I want that dog.