The Heart Thief
“Heaven is a place where all the dogs you’ve ever loved come to greet you.”―
Arleigh died last summer.
It’s not that I didn’t think she would ever die but she was only four years old. Tibetan Terriers are expected to live 12 years. Some live longer. She was the first of my dogs I thought might outlive me. It turned out that was not the way things ended up for Arleigh and me.
I picked her up from doggie day care on a summer afternoon and she burst through the door a bundle of Tibetan Terrier energy, thrilled as she always was to see me. Twenty-four hours later she was admitted to one of the premier critical care veterinary hospitals in New England.
For three weeks we fought a pitched battle we began thinking we had a chance to win. “It’s treatable,” the neurology team told us.
She never stood again and grew steadily worse. Until the senior neurologist sorrowfully told us that she was suffering and we had to help her go. And of course we did.
It was only much later when the results of the autopsy came in that we learned we had been fighting the wrong enemy. Arleigh died of an infection so obscure that it was not on the panel of infectious diseases they tested her for that first night in the ICU. The neurologist told us in practicing medicine in New England for fourteen years he had only seen one case. And that was Arleigh.
I have read there is really only the first death. All those that come after, painful as they are, never hurt you quite the same. That sudden searing pain never catches you by surprise again. Not quite. The first death for me, one sultry summer morning, also with no warning, was that of my father. God’s small gift was the last thing I ever said to him was “I love you, Daddy.” I thought of that morning when forty-five years later, once again on the twenty-sixth of July, I watched them wheel Arleigh into the ICU.
She was my thirteenth dog if I count Teal, the dog who came for dinner one night with my daughter and left four years later. I loved them all and grieved when I lost them. But Arleigh’s death was different. Arleigh’s death tilted my world and took my breath away.
I kept only her collar and leash, and two toys. All the rest went —to friends, to the Humane Society and to the landfill. OUT. But at every turn, she was still there. Waking in the morning, before remembering, I would reach for her, seeing for just a moment her sweet fuzzy face on the pillow next to me. Passing the living room, if I looked quickly, I would see her perched on top of the sofa, vigilantly guarding the street. And then when I blinked she was gone.
People tried their best to be kind. I was told it would get better. I was told to remember how much fun we had and how happy she had been with us. I was reminded of how much joy she gave us.
I was told she was only a dog. I have lost both my parents and my first husband. So I knew she was a dog. I understood the difference. But…I explained to my sister, “I feel the same.” And she said, “Of course you do. Love is love.”
I said loudly to everyone that I would NEVER have another dog; rudely cutting off anyone who suggested I should at least think about getting one. I had a list of reasons all very logical as to why I felt that way, but mostly I was afraid.
I drifted. I stared at the pages of my unfinished third book and found myself unable to add more words to the story. I started projects only to leave them unfinished. I was sad.
I began to furtively look online at the available dogs at the Humane Society and other shelters exiting the sites quickly in case I was caught.
In early November, I corresponded with a breeder in Maine located about sixty miles south of the Canadian border. I told her I might be looking for an adult dog in the spring. Maybe.
Shortly before Thanksgiving I visited the site again. And there I saw a dog available for purchase. She was born the same year as Arleigh. Her name is GCH Trisong’s Always After Me Lucky Charms. Her call name is Dublin. I asked my husband to have a look. “Buy her,” he said. So I did.
On New Year’s Eve, we met the breeder’s husband at the Portland Jetport. He was there to pick up a dog and offered to bring Dublin with him. We were delighted because picking her up in Portland shaved over four hundred miles off our trip to the northern reaches of Maine.
“You’re going to love this dog,” he said as handed her over to me. “She’s an angel.”
She really is. And we already do, love her that is. I wonder… Did Arleigh looking down from heaven send me an angel to heal my broken heart?