It came to me that every time I love a dog, they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with pieces of their heart. If I live long enough all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.
Two days ago my dog, Layla, walked across the rainbow bridge to be with her momma, Lynzeebear. In her absence, I realized that for two decades I’ve been fortunate to have pets and dog(s) in my life. Our dogs, Liesel, Socks, Lynzeebear, and Layla woofed, wiggled, and wagged in our life as a family. Layla became the bridge between my old life in Columbus, Ohio, and the creation of my new life in the mountains of North Carolina. She stayed ever-present to the move from the family home to my Red Cardinal House, then to the House of Joy. She remained by my side as I grieved through all the losses, the moving away of my son, my daughter’s high school graduation, her college years and graduation, the visits with my adult children, the creation and launch of three books, the hot summer journey with a moving van, during days and nights with the trees, bunnies, black bears, and walks on trails at Mount Mitchell and Craggy Gardens along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Layla arrived as a surprise gift for both of my children. They had been joking with me about my lack of spontaneity, which happened to be very accurate at that time. I remember thinking I’d show them how I could be spontaneous! Of course, for anyone who has planned a surprise, there’s often a number of advanced logistics to implement.
I picked up Layla during a dramatic thunderstorm of falling branches, booming thunder, rapid flashes of lightning, pounding rain. I’m grateful both children felt much surprise. Yet, delight mixed with some disappointment when Layla showed her fears with incessant fierce barking at my daughter and then-husband for about a week or so. Once Layla realized that these two people loved her, that her pack had altered, she bonded beautifully with them.
A few weeks into our routines as a family with both Lynzeebear and Layla, Prom Day of my daughter’s junior year arrived. In the late afternoon, her friends entered our home, the gathering spot before photos. The door opened and closed many times on this gorgeous day in May. Guys in tuxedos, shiny shoes, girls with their hair, make-up, jewelry, flowing, colorful beautiful dresses, high heels walked into the house along with parents wanting to take photos of their sons and daughters.
I noticed Lynzeebear began following me. Within a few moments, I wondered where Layla was.
I ran through the house looking for her and yelling her name. No Layla in sight. My son and I ran out of the house calling “Layla!” while jogging up and down streets in our neighborhood. My heart pounded as I imagined the worst, which included a phone call to the breeder, who adored Layla and trusted me to take care of her as a pet.
I returned to the house knowing that we needed to leave for the park to take photos. My daughter, her friends, and parents had gathered outside on the porch. “Mom, didn’t you find her?” my daughter asked. I shook my head. Then I heard someone shout. “There she is!!” I turned around. Proudly prancing up the driveway came Layla with “What is that!?!” in her mouth.
The colorful, coiffed gathering of people screamed, squealed, and moved quickly inside the house, closed the glass storm door behind them as they turned around staring at Layla. She carried a decomposed carcass of some kind of animal. Was it a possum, a squirrel, a groundhog? Gross, putrid. Nasty. Foul-smelling. She dropped this prize at my feet, looked up with eyes filled with joy, tongue wagging. I scooped her up, opened the storm door as people made a wide path. I walked swiftly and placed her safely in her crate with a latch. “I don’t believe you’ll ever be a hunter, Layla.” My then-husband begrudgingly removed the carcass from the porch.
Now that that excitement passed, people walked to their vehicles to drive to the Park of Roses for photos. I climbed in the backseat of my then husband’s car with our daughter and son. My daughter’s date rode shotgun. With relief, we talked and laughed hysterically about Layla’s catch. “Stop talking about that God Damn Dog!” my then-husband roared from the driver’s seat. We continued looking at each other with twinkling eyes, shoulders, and bodies shaking with suppressed laughter.
Dogs, pets of all kinds, teach us about patience and care in this interspecies dance of love.
They become part of the rhythm and cycles of our lives inside what seems like mundane tasks, routines we do, and yet, weaved in all these subtle moments of feeding, walking, scooping poop, petting, putting a harness on their bodies, talking to them, training them, playing catch, snuggling, we learn about tiny acts of kindness. We notice the gentle nuance of being present with their facial expressions, body movements, their joy, and their pain. Pets teach us a great deal about being humane, about unconditional love and loyalty. With few words, we bond with these wonderful sentient beings, forever a gift in our experience of being alive.
May you know the joy of having a pet or of loving animals of all kinds. May you know that the daily small tasks done with much care, tenderness, and mindfulness weave into a rhythm, a cycle of a life of unconditional love. May you experience the simplest moments linking together, creating a beautiful tapestry of a life worth living.