Loving a Dog after Losing a Dog

This past November my brother James lost Dutch, his German Shorthaired Pointer, to cancer. Dutch was not a dog for James, Dutch was the dog for James. They first embraced as a wide-eyed puppy and a boy eager to love. They last embraced as a faithful dog and a man with a broken heart.

We are taught to guard our hearts from the perils of false love but we are seldom warned of the dangers of pure love. When Dutch died, James lost a reservoir of selfless love which nourished him for over a decade. How do you measure the scope of that loss?

When surveying loss we look to pain to guide us. The places in our hearts which hurt most are where we say we feel the greatest loss. By this measure, James’s loss is most succinctly captured in the deafening quiet each time he opens his front door and Dutch is not there.

There is another way to measure loss. And that is to consider the newly barren space in our hearts and ask how to best fill it. The wrecking ball of Dutch’s death swung through my brother’s heart and  left him in ruins. The temptation he felt, and we all feel, was to simply wall off that emotional desolation and move on.

But in the past month I have watched James consider what to do with the void in his heart. I know he looked into that emptiness when he pet my dogs with a distant look in his eyes and a crack in his voice.

There will always be a Dutch-shaped hole in James’s heart. It cannot be filled, but it can be a well of love to draw from. Amidst the rubble, James decided to draw from that well and rebuild himself. In January, James submitted a preliminary adoption application to Illinois Shorthair Rescue.

After the application and a home visit, James quickly received approval to adopt any of ISR’s available dogs. There was no timeline, James could adopt whenever he was ready. My family traded photos and offered suggestions on what dogs might be a good fit but James remained noncommittal.

Until he came along. Around eight years old and given up by a family no longer able to care for him. Like my brother, he was an old guy looking for another shot. His name was Dot (after the circle on his back) but he’d been rechristened Ted and he was living with a loving ISR foster family not far outside Chicago.

I can’t say for certain why James made the decision, but I can say he made the decision certain. When James drove to “visit” Ted for the first time it was clear he didn’t plan on making the drive back alone. And so they returned together, two guys adrift in space and time, lashed to one another by fate.

Neither Dot nor Ted seemed a fitting name for James’s new companion. He may not have shown up in a DeLorean, but world, meet Doc Brown!

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

I’ve only just met Doc, but he’s sweet, playful and affectionate. Most importantly, he’s with James. Each one making the most of a second chance.

James finds a smile he lost with Dutch

All Dutch ever asked of James was love. Dutch is gone, but James keeps his promise to Dutch through Doc. I can think of no better legacy.

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98 Comments

Tears spilling down my face. What a beautiful story. We got our chocolate cocker spaniel when she was 8 wks old. That was 16 yrs. ago. She has been deaf for 2 yrs.(common in the breed) Doesn’t bother her and we still talk to her. Hard habit to break. LOL We can’t even imagine this little old lady gone from our lives. She eats less and her walks are much shorter. Oh, but she lives for her healthy treats. Just like my 96 yr. old Mom who eats less, uses a walker, and can’t hear well at all. Oh, but she loves her good chocolates. Two little old ladies that we dearly love. Can’t imagine life without these 2 girls. Bell is only my 2nd dog (Anna an Old English Sheep dog I had for 11 1/2 yrs as a young adult sobbed for a long time). This is my husband’s 1st ! Wasn’t at all sure about a dog but at 3 weeks he was in love for the first time in his life! House broken by then and he was amazed by that. We are in our 60s now and we will be a mess when she’s gone. We don’t even go there. Greatful for everyday we have with her. She’s still quite bright eyed and spunky when she’s not sleeping. Like the rest of you dog lovers we just love them. They are family. All the stories you all have shared are so warm and loving. Bless you all.

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