Wonderful Wilfred: How One Dog Helped Her Through the Loss of Another

She didn’t think she could love another dog, but this particular spaniel-poodle mix called to her.

Posted in , Apr 25, 2022

Illustration of two dogs playing outdoors

Our cockapoo Murphy wasn’t the easiest dog. He was grumpy and demanded attention. He would ensconce himself on my lap and refuse to let me stand up. When my husband and I got another cockapoo, Maddy, as a companion for him, he ignored her. Still, Murphy had been an integral part of our family for 10 years, a constant presence through some of our toughest struggles, and I loved him—perhaps even more than I realized.

After Murphy died, I took him to be cremated. They handed me his collar, and grief hit me so hard it nearly brought me to my knees. Murphy’s death left an emptiness not just in our house, but also in my heart. A void not even sweet Maddy could fill. Friends encouraged me to get another dog, a young pup whose antics would make me smile, but I couldn’t bear the thought of it. Loving and losing a dog hurt too much.

Murphy had been gone two years when I found myself looking through dog photos and bios online. None of them tugged at me, though. After a few weeks, I gave up. Maybe I wasn’t ready after all.

One morning, I went to my computer and absentmindedly opened Craigslist. I clicked on the tab for pets. The photo in the first post caught my attention. A Cavalier King Charles spaniel-poodle mix with big eyes, sitting on a wicker chair. Wilfred.

He wasn’t a cockapoo, our favorite breed, and he was larger than the dogs I’d looked at before. He was already seven years old. His original owner had moved into a nursing home, and he’d bounced from foster to foster. Who knew if he could settle down with a new family? Yet something about Wilfred called to me.

I contacted the foster family and set up a time for me to visit Wilfred. I arrived at their house and rang the doorbell. A dog started barking. Uh-oh. Maybe Wilfred was yappy. Unfriendly. Had I made a mistake coming here?

The foster mom answered the door, a little dog barking in her arms. Not the dog I had come to see. She led me to the living room. I saw Wilfred, sitting quietly in the corner. His fur was a curly blend of white and light brown. He peered at me timidly.

“Go ahead and take a seat,” the woman said. “He’s very shy so it may take a while for him to warm up.”

The second I sat down, Wilfred ran up to me, his tail wagging. He hopped right into my lap and settled in with a contented sigh.

“He’s never done that before,” the woman said, laughing. “I think he just chose you.”

We filled out the paperwork, and Wilfred came home with me. As soon as I opened the car door, Wilfred trotted inside the house. Maddy came to meet him. One curious sniff, then another and that was all it took for them to hit it off.

Over the next seven months, we fell into a comfortable routine. Wilfred and Maddy ate their meals together, like two peas in a pod. We’d go on walks, then relax on the couch—all four of us—and watch TV. My grief at losing Murphy finally began to fade. Sadness would still come over me from time to time, and Wilfred seemed to sense it. He was always up for a walk, his tail wagging and chasing away the blues.

One morning, I took Wilfred to our vet. He hadn’t seemed as energetic lately, and we wanted to get him checked out. After a few tests, the vet came in. She put her hand on my arm.

“I’m so sorry, Anne,” she said. “Wilfred has cancer. It’s already spread. He doesn’t have much longer to live.”

This couldn’t be right. His foster mom said Wilfred chose me, but really, I thought God had chosen him because he fit so perfectly into our family. He was supposed to help me come to terms with losing Murphy. And now I was losing Wilfred too, after only seven months! I was angry and confused. Lord, why did you bring this dog into my life if he was going to leave it so soon? I wondered.

I went home and broke the news to my husband. There was nothing we could do except make Wilfred comfortable. He slept in our bed. We gave him lots of treats and for dinner, the tastiest steaks. I invited our grandkids over and they ran around the house with the dogs, laughing. I had never seen Wilfred this happy.

Just two weeks after his diagnosis, Wilfred passed away at home. I took him to be cremated. Afterward, they handed me his collar. I was immediately brought back to the moment I held Murphy’s collar and grief had hit me like a brick. But this felt different. It hurt to lose Wilfred so soon, yet the grief could not overshadow the joy he’d carried into our lives.

On the drive home, I thought about how God had brought us together. At the perfect time and, I realized, for the perfect reason. Because we needed each other. Yes, Wilfred filled the emptiness in our house and in my heart. But we helped him too—by giving him a home in his final days, a home where he was happy and loved. And if I had the chance, I would do it all again.

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