Replacement

On any given day, I’ll open my e-mail to find a message from daughter, link included,  The Daily Puppy. Hard not to be charmed by pictures of puppies, with or without the subtext, this one needs a home. The photos that cut to the heart are the ones that bear a resemblance to our dog, now gone. How we came to her (or she came to us) has risen to the level of family legend. She had a good life, and it’s taken some time for the sadness of her passing to give way to the laughter at what she brought to our family. The puppy pix my daughter sends are her not-so-subtle way of suggesting maybe I need a replacement. Or maybe she needs a dog to come home to.

It’s almost the first question anyone asks when you tell them your dog is gone: Are you getting another? The question, in a way, holds its own answer. There’s no replacing a pet. Nico the Rottweiler Mix may have those irresistible eyebrows and other similar markings, that same begging-to-be-loved-and-fed (and played with) expression. But he’s Nico, not Maggie.  Another is simply another.

One friend tells me she can’t imagine living without at least one dog (she has two). Another friend, disconsolate as she was after putting her cat down, admits she doesn’t have the heart for another at this point in her life. A woman I stop to say hello to on a walk (mostly for the encounter with her dog, a strong resemblance to mine) says one word, ‘healing,’ with its power of suggestion, a puppy licking your face. Or making a plaything of a sock. Or just being there.  I nod, say nothing much, except that, for now at least, I’m appreciating something I haven’t had for a very long time, namely, that sense that I can go out without worrying about what I left behind. “Dogs are a responsibility,” says her husband. That’s for sure. And yet,  responsibility strikes me as too reductive an explanation for my not taking that leap, again. At least not right now.

The fact is, I miss my dog now more than I knew I would. It was a tough winter in the Northeast. Just the thought of having to take her out, ailing as she was, could bring me to tears. Now it’s spring, and I’m running into all her friends, a quick hello and good-bye.

Which brings me to the pair of swans usually on the lake down the road, taking up residence in the pond over the waterfall a little closer to home, a reminder that a thirty-minute walk can be so much better for the heart than pumping away on an elliptical machine at the gym.  Sometimes a break from a walk can do more for the heart than all that spinning. I inch closer to the pond. One of the swans is snapping up something from the water, or maybe the water itself. How much trust it must take to do that, I think, with me no more than five feet away.

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