The problem with our new dog? He was nothing like my old one
Woof! I jumped back. I’d never heard such a bark. The huge brown Lab pressed himself against the wire caging, wagging his tail, his tongue lolling from his mouth.
“Isn’t he great?” my husband, Joe, asked, shouting over the dog.
“He’s awfully big,” I said. “And loud.”
“Well, I think he’s perfect,” Joe said. “I really miss having a dog around.”
No argument from me. Our beloved beagle, Bernadette (Ben for short), had died of cancer 10 months earlier. With her sweet nature, Ben had made her way into our hearts and stayed there for 13 years. I’d actually gotten Ben as a Christmas present for Joe. She was supposed to be his dog. But I was home with her most of the time when she was a puppy. She became my best furry friend. We’d walked a path through the woods in every season, rain or shine, side by side. I still couldn’t bear to think of that day we’d taken her to the vet when her suffering had become too much.
Joe worked maintenance at the airport and the county dog pound was on the same property. Lately he’d been bugging me to come look at the dogs. I’d hedged, not sure if I was ready. If I’d ever be ready. But I thought maybe God would lead us to another beagle—compact, cute, with a pleasant personality. Another Ben. And that suddenly I’d be ready to welcome another dog into our lives. The hole that Ben left behind would be filled.
There were no Bens. Only this overgrown, overexcited Lab.
Woof! Woof! Woof!
Joe reached through the wire and patted his big head. “Sure is a nice-looking fellow. I bet he’s a full-breed chocolate Lab. Looks a lot like Buck.”
Buck, his boyhood Lab. I’d heard many a story of their adventures. Like the time Buck devoured the entire Sunday roast right off the dining room table when no one was looking. How he yanked the blankets off Joe every morning to wake him up. How he’d grab clean laundry off the line and roll around with it in the garden.
“Well?” Joe asked, like an excited kid.
“He is really large,” was all I could say. “And loud.” I’m not even sure Joe could hear me. His eyes were pleading. So were the spectacular copper-colored eyes of the giant Lab. As if they were ganging up on me. How could I say no?
“You’re going to love him! We’ll call him Sam,” Joe said, filling out the paperwork. I had a feeling the shelter was happy to let him go.
His second day with us, Sam slipped his collar and took off. He raced across the field next to our house and disappeared. We drove around calling his name until we found him charging down the highway, where he almost got run over by a snowplow. Then we chased him through the woods until he finally decided it was time to come home. He hopped into the cab of our truck, collapsed on my lap and pressed his wet, sloppy muzzle against my neck.
Ben had never run away. She liked nothing better than to walk at my side. She came when she was called. Not Sam! He chased everything that could run or fly, usually with me desperately hanging on to the end of the leash.
“From now on, you’ll have to walk him,” I snapped at Joe one day after Sam had yanked me to the ground yet again. “He’s too much dog for me.”
“He just needs to get used to us is all,” Joe said. He gave Sam a rub behind the ears. How could he have gotten over Ben so easily?
I tried praying for Sam to get used to us, not to run away anymore, to behave. Sam—or maybe God—wasn’t listening, though. Sam was a canine escape artist. He figured out how to push against the latch on the back door to open it and would take off, ignoring our calls, returning only when he was good and ready. No wonder he’d ended up in the pound!
It was all a game to Sam.
Until one snowy day, about eight months after we got him, when Sam took off in the apple orchard by our house . . . and didn’t come back.
“Sam!” I yelled. Nothing. “Sammy!” I wandered the orchard, clapping my hands in the cold air. Silence. For a split second I saw him. He looked right at me. “Sammy boy!”
But just like that he was out of sight. My frustration mounted as I slogged through the snow back to the house.
“Did he come home?” Joe asked.
“No,” I said, sighing. “He saw me, though, and I swear, Joe, he laughed at me and ran.”
“Relax. He’ll come back,” Joe said. “He always does.”
I wasn’t so sure. I thought about Sam in the pound. His eyes pleading with me from his cage. What if he got picked up again? The temperature was dropping. “I’m going to get in the car and look for him,” I said.
Lord, why doesn’t Sam want to be here with us the way Ben did? I thought, driving around. I caught a glimpse of brown fur flashing across the road into the woods. I jumped out of the car and stood in the middle of the road, calling Sam’s name. He either didn’t hear me or didn’t care. I couldn’t live like this. Not after having a perfect dog like Ben.
I drove home, cold and discouraged. Not discouraged. Defeated. By a dog.
“Leave the back door open,” Joe suggested from his chair by the woodstove. “Sooner or later, he’ll get hungry and tired and come back. He always does.”
How can Joe be so nonchalant? I wondered. Doesn’t he care?
I sat down in a chair next to him and checked my cell phone to distract myself. I swiped the screen and there she was. Sweet Ben. One of my most treasured photos of her. It was as if she were looking right into my heart.
“I’ll never love another dog the way I loved Ben,” I said to Joe.
He reached for my hand. “Monica, you don’t have to. There will never be another Ben. But there will be other dogs for you to love.” Other dogs . . . like Sam. Why was I so worried about him if I didn’t care? Was it fair to compare him to my perfect Ben?
To be honest, Ben was not always perfect. We’d had to newspaper the entire kitchen floor when Ben was a puppy, because if there was one square inch that wasn’t covered, she’d find it and pee there. We went through so many papers we were asking friends for theirs! Sometimes she’d cry at night until we let her get in bed with us. And she always had to be the center of my attention. Ben was wonderful, but she wasn’t perfect. God doesn’t make perfect dogs any more than he makes perfect people. We have to learn and love and grow. To move on.
I put on a fresh pot of coffee.
Suddenly, there was a rustling at the back door. I tiptoed closer. Sam! He tilted his head, staring at me with those copper eyes: “Should I come in or go back outside?”
“Oh, Sam!” I said, kneeling down and holding out my arms. “Come inside, buddy. Come in and get warm.”
He wiggled into my grasp, almost knocking me over.
That night I didn’t just let Sam inside the house. I let him inside my heart, where he’s been ever since. Because God always has another dog for you to love.