Moving On…with a Dog’s Help

In the three months since my sweet dog Olga passed, I’ve gone through the usual and expected process of grieving. I miss her presence on the hallway carpet near my front door when I arrive home from work at night. My trips into the kitchen in the dark used to be cautious excursions in which I stayed close to the walls to avoid stepping on her; now I walk more carelessly as I know she isn’t there. I miss our slow forays to the park in the evenings. The house seems cleaner but more sterile without her. Quieter. Empty despite all the people. I kept her collar and bowls out until my daughters decided they needed to be put away, for my sake.

Olga was an exquisite animal. She walked only on your left. She didn’t jump on people or sniff crotches. She never got up on the furniture. She didn’t bark or bite. She leaned. She sometimes sat on my feet and stretched her head straight up so that I’d rub her neck. When I sat at my desk, she put her nose beneath my elbow to lift my arm for a pet. She loved to swim, but loved holding still and hiding under a towel even more.

Now as I walk in my neighborhood I miss the old camaraderie of dog ownership. I stop and pet other people’s dogs much in the way that other people once stopped for Olga. Our dog walker Will was a sweet and popular man. He let himself into my apartment every morning at 5:30 to take Olga for her first walk of the day. When I had houseguests I had to remind myself to inform them that a 6’5” African American man with dreadlocks and a British accent would come in early for Olga, not to worry. He came back in the afternoons, fed Olga lunch, and walked her again. She stayed at his house when I had to go out of town.

I decided not to get another dog after Miss O died. I work too much, long hours, and had grown dependent on my kids’ help. I think living in a condo in the city is hard on a dog as well as being expensive for a dog owner. And it’s not as though you can just replace a pet that has been an important part of your life for over fifteen years.

But Sunday I met Athena.

She is a smallish boxer, a rescue dog that belongs to my nephew Jack and his wife Katie. They came to stay with me for the holiday weekend. Then they went off with Liz to the beach and someone’s house for a party. Athena and I stayed home. We took a nap. She got into my bed with me. She doesn’t snore. She woke me up when she wanted dinner. So we ate dinner together. We read the newspaper on the porch. Or rather I read the paper while she took a nap on the sofa. And now she’s sleeping beside me while I type. I think she’s a little large for a lap dog, but she doesn’t seem to know it. Over the course of the day I realized I could love again. I still miss Olga the Magnificent. But it turns out there is room in my heart for another dog. My heart just needed to be pried open a bit.