Twenty years ago I adopted Maya. It all happened quite spontaneously.
While living in Lake Tahoe, I told my friend Jackie how much I loved dogs. Jackie volunteered at the Humane Society and convinced me to come look at a dog she was sure I would love. Reluctantly, I stopped by after work to check him out.
Quickly, I knew this dog wasn’t for me. I just didn’t feel that sense of bonding I had hoped for. But my visit did not go for naught. Instead, I spied a petite looking Calico cat. Something about her black face with the orange stripe going down her nose made me think of Halloween.
Very suddenly, I blurted out, “I’ll take the cat.” Before I knew it, I lugged a cardboard box to the car with a 6-month old kitten inside. I can’t even take credit for naming her. A Forest Service co-worker said she looked like a Maya, and it stuck.
The timing could not have been worse. In three days, I planned to move to Grants Pass, Oregon. I had no job and no place to live. I had no experience with cats (having grown up with dogs). But somehow we worked it all out, and Maya was mine for the next 15 years. And so began my lifelong love affair with pets as an adult.
Soon after came Zuni, another feline companion (also adopted on a whim), and then Simon, the dog. I was in pet heaven.
Unfortunately, cats and dogs don’t live as long as human beings. We all know this when we adopt them. We know that day will come when they will become old and arthritic, they will become sick, and they will cross the Rainbow Bridge. But we choose not to think about it in those first moments of being smitten with their cuteness.
The last three years brought the passing of my first generation of pets, and with it unspeakable grief and heartache. I’ve lost family members, but for me, nothing brought the amount of sadness that came with losing my beloved furry companions.
And it wasn’t just me. Our one cat wandered the house, sniffing the air, looking in each corner. She seemed to know a member of the family was missing. Shawnee and Simon did everything together including sleeping back to back on the dog bed. In the days following Simon’s passing, she hung her head and seemed to have lost her perkiness.
At the same time, many of my friends and neighbors have also lost their pets. So inevitably, the question comes up, when is the right time to adopt a new one?
I don’t have the answer, because while we have gone on to adopt new pets, the timing and reasons for doing so varied. We used to be a one dog household, until seven years ago, when Simon came up lame. I knew he was part retriever, and worried he might have bone cancer or ligament damage. Being ever the worry wart, I thought it might be the beginning of the end for him.
Our dog sitter’s mother told me a funny story about dogs. “Dogs are like tires, you always need a spare.” Fearing being dogless, I went on Petfinder.com, and found a “spare” — a cute little black and white puppy. We named her Shawnee.
Shockingly, Simon made a complete recovery, and the two of them went on to become best friends and hiking buddies for seven years.
Simba came to our house as a replacement for Zuni. Zuni became ill with a pancreatic tumor. Even though the vet told me she had just a few weeks to live, she soldiered on for 10 more months. But the grief poured over me in waves, causing me to sob for three days straight. It felt like someone had shot a hole in my heart.
After a week of profound depression, I wondered into the Humane Society to find a dozen new kittens. I sat on the floor of the room, with blurs of black and brown fur zipping over my lap in a frenzy of play. Suddenly, the world felt a little bit better.
Finally, I asked to spend time with brown tabby kitten, who loved to play. I tried to take a photo of him with my phone, but couldn’t capture his face because he was constantly in motion.
“Do you want him? Because someone just called on the phone and wants to put a hold on him. But you were here first, so if you want him, you can have him.”
I hadn’t planned to actually adopt a new kitten. I called Bryon. “There’s a cute kitten here, can we get him?”
I think Bryon just wanted me to get over my bouts of sobbing, so instantly said yes. He later told me he didn’t realize I would bring him home that night. Bryon walked in to find a kitten in the bottom of our straw waste basket. We named him Simba.
Strangely, I felt immediately bonded to Simba. I think because Zuni had been ill so long, I had grieved her loss all that time, and so even though it seemed quick, I felt ready to love another cat.
Then last year, at the ripe old age of 16, Simon suddenly stopped eating. I knew that 16 was old for a dog of his size, and though I tried valiantly to “heal” him, after three weeks, it was time. I had dreaded this day as Simon had become my heart and soul. Books refer to these canine companions as your “heart dog.”
I didn’t want to feel the waves of grief that constantly washed over me. Not having a job at the time made it worse, as I had nothing to distract myself with. Shawnee and I both struggled to find the energy to go for walks. Back to Petfinder.com, I found a cute black puppy with a speckled nose from a local rescue group. I filled out the application, and I had no sooner clicked “Submit” then I regretted it.
We weren’t ready. Wanting to fast forward my way through the grief process, I jumped the gun. I sent an email to the rescue group telling them to ignore our application. Unfortunately (or fortunately), they didn’t get it.
The phone rang early the next morning. “Leslie? Did you apply for a dog with Farfels Rescue?”
Bryon sounded annoyed. I felt defensive.
“Yes, but I wrote them an email to say I wasn’t interested. ”
“Well, they are on the phone and want to talk to you about Logan.”
The rest, as they say, is history. They convinced me we were the absolute right home. We should come and just meet him. Bring our other dog, they pleaded. I knew it was over, when he climbed into Bryon’s lap and started licking his face.
Unfortunately, for Logan, I didn’t want him there those first 2-3 months. He wasn’t Simon. I wanted him to be Simon. I resented him. It had been too soon.
I’m happy to report that Logan and I have now bonded, and I love him wholeheartedly. I love his speckled snout, and his plumey tail, and his sneering grin. But looking back, I wish I had waited longer to process my grief.
I’ve always thought we get far more than we give when it comes to adopting a pet. They teach us what unconditional love feels like. Our hearts grow a little more loving with each pet we adopt during our lifetimes.
So don’t wait too long. People will say things like, “Oh, we want to travel, and we don’t want the hassle of finding someone to care for the pets.” The weeks turn into months and the months turn into years. Years you could have spent healing your soul with with warm brown eyes and a wagging tail greeting you each and every day.