I loved watching Lassie re-runs as a kid. I dreamed about having a beautiful, noble dog like Lassie. I have always been a dog person, always craved feeling tufts of fur between my fingers, wet noses pressed into my palm. Few things can cheer me more than soft brown eyes and a frenzied tail.
I am jealous when I hear about my husband’s experience being raised among collies from infancy. Growing up, my family didn’t get a dog until I was nine. Not a bad age to get a dog, but it meant that she would be the only dog our family would have, since my dad was adamant: just one. I loved her, but she was not Lassie. She was the anti-Lassie. Prone to fear biting and that most charming of cocker spaniel traits, defecating when nervous. But most of all, she was my mom’s dog, thoroughly devoted to one person and one person only.
Yet I loved dogs, and I loved her. I trained her and showed her during junior high school and it became clear when her limits were reached. At which point I begged my dad for another dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. After learning about all 250+ dog breeds, I had determined that was the one for me, and something about training and showing a dog made me come alive, even though it did nothing for Taffi but make her miserable.
That’s when I found Alfie. Or you could say Alfie found me. It’s a story like the best love stories, full of close calls, intuition, and pinch-me, too-good-to-be-true coincidences. That story cannot be done justice in a few sentences.
Suffice it to say, Alfie turned out to be my Lassie. He had a depth to him, the gravitas of an old soul. He sought connections with people in a way that inspired me. But what was most humbling was that he chose me as a companion. Because it was clear that I didn’t just go buy a dog. He was meant to be with me.
Alfie saw me through the rocky years of high school and college. When I was most unsure of who I was or who my friends were, Alfie was constant. His friendship was a blessing given to me before I could ever earn it, and it was it was offered to me anew each day. His devotion continued past college and into a new marriage and, finally, new motherhood.
The timing of his passing was no accident. It was exactly when he meant to go.
I got another dog, Butter, several years after I got Alfie. A couple months before I became pregnant with my son, Butter was diagnosed with a heart murmur. Her heart failure rapidly progressed, until I had to put her down two months to the day before I gave birth to my son. In her final months, I was incredibly emotionally fraught. I hadn’t seen it coming–her previous heart checks were totally clear and she was the younger of my two dogs. I constantly monitored her medications and her food and water intake, even taking her to work with me so that I could give her medications and give her the frequent potty breaks she needed on diuretics.
There were many sleepless nights spent listening to Butter’s labored breathing in the corner of our bedroom, wondering how I would know it was time to say goodbye and whether she or I would be the one deciding when it was time. As my due date neared, I also wondered how I could tell whether I was making a decision for her sake or for mine, because I couldn’t imagine how I would manage my emotions and attention, split between my dying dog and my first born baby.