What I Learned During a Year Without a Dog
When our beloved pets died, my husband and I made a pact and stuck with it
Unloading the dishwasher, I dropped a plastic cup and watched it roll across the floor. For a moment, I expected our golden retriever, Teddy, to come bouncing into the kitchen, grab the cup and challenge me to a game of chase. He didn’t.
Last year, Teddy passed away. A few months after his death, we also said goodbye to Jasper — our bichon frisé who maintained his puppy-like personality for 17 years. The dogs were more than pets, they were adopted family members and sibling substitutes for our only child, who is now in grad school.
Throughout our 35 years of marriage, my husband, Jim, and I have raised numerous kittens and puppies. After Teddy and Jasper died, we made a tearful pact to refrain from getting any more pets for at least a year.
Immediately bringing a new pet into your home when one has died can be a regrettable choice. According to the HumaneSociety.org, “Rushing into this decision isn't fair to you or your new pet. Each animal has her own unique personality and a new animal cannot replace the one you lost. You'll know when the time is right to adopt a new pet after giving yourself time to grieve, considering whether you're ready, and paying close attention to your feelings.”
Before our furry friends went to canine heaven, I never noticed how many TV commercials feature puppies or dogs. Have you seen the one with a parental dog driving a car in an attempt to lull his pup to sleep?
Every time I log onto Facebook, I’m forced to scroll through the cute images of my friends’ dogs or even their “granddogs.” Jim and I see dogs everywhere we go. If we take a morning stroll in our neighborhood or on the lakefront, people are out walking their dogs. At the Farmer’s Market, well-trained dogs patiently wait while their owners inspect the vegetables with one hand and hold leashes with the other. Even on vacation, the hotels have become pet-friendly and guests march through the lobby with their dogs stopping at the reception desk for a treat.
All it takes for me to want another dog is a brief encounter with one. I promised my husband I would wait 365 days before bringing a puppy home, but I never promised I wouldn’t look.
When my longing becomes intense, I pick up my iPad and begin a wishful hunt. I’ve secretly spent hours searching the rescue sites and Petfinder for the perfect pooch. With a few clicks, I can peruse the shelters in my own county or even those in bordering states.
I’m torn between a puppy, whom I can train and know has been properly socialized, or an older dog — hopefully housebroken and well-behaved. As I flip through the mug shots of unwanted dogs, I’m tempted to break the pact and persuade Jim we need a dog now — right now.
Jim would crack the moment I show him some soulful-eyed, shaggy dog desperately in need of a home.
But I don’t.
Nor do I tell him I have been driving by Petsmart where once a week, local shelters bring dogs in hopes they will be adopted. I’m so tempted to load one up in my car.
First Months Living Without a Dog
The first few months of our self-imposed dog embargo, I grieved for Teddy and Jasper. I missed the constant parade that followed me throughout the day.
The first time our son came home for a visit to a house without dogs was hard for him and us. We were all accustomed to his arrival being enthusiastically acknowledged with a tail-wagging and face-licking greeting. Our son would obligingly roll on the floor and administer tummy rubs to his furry brothers.
As month after month has passed, I’ve adjusted to a quieter house. Jim and I are traveling more. When we want to go out of town, we just leave. I can plan a holiday trip and do not need to reserve a spot at the kennel.
For the past 12 months, we have not been to the vet. Nor do we buy heartworm and flea medicine. The monthly groomer appointments were cancelled.
When we shop at the grocery, we no longer go down the pet aisle picking up 17-pound bags of dog food, bones, treats and breath mints.
The hours we used to spend cleaning the house, brushing fur and picking up poop have been replaced with new pursuits. Jim reads more and tends to our garden. I’m writing and painting.
Without dogs to care for, Jim and I can spend an entire day and evening in the city and never experience the nagging need to rush home.
For the first time in three decades, we are pet-free. We lived through a year without pets and I am starting to like the freedom. Having a pet, especially a dog, is akin to always having a toddler.
I am glad we gave ourselves a year to grieve and permission to wait.
Jim says losing the dogs means we are experiencing an empty nest for a second time. He’s right. However, it is different. Dogs, unlike children, never become independent.
Loving a dog is a long-term commitment. After our year without dogs, Jim and I decided now is not the time for us to have a pet. Maybe when Jim retires and we aren’t traveling as much, we will be ready to open our hearts again and embrace the responsibility of raising another family member.