This was printed in Chicken Soup for the Soul What I Learned from the Dog, © 2009.
Years ago, I owned the very best dog in the world.
I was a child when we got her. She was a graceful brown hound, a foundling who taught me that our pets are not purchased, but ordained.
She romped when I did and knew how to smile in that funny way that only some dogs have. She grew up with me, always there when I needed her. My grown hand still remembers the sleek bump on the top of her head and that gentle divot just past her nose that fit my index finger just perfectly.
She passed away during one of my college vacations. My heart broke then, and I knew that there would never be another dog like her, and there hasn’t been. I was sure that I could never love another dog as much as I’d loved her.
Fortunately, I was wrong about that part.
My next dog came into my life when I was married. My husband traveled for a living, and I was often lonely. This dog grew into a lumbering wolfhound/sheepdog mix who taught me patience. He was a large, grizzled sentry, that dog. He rarely left my side until the children were born, and then he became their guardian, too. I can still feel that swirl of fur along his back and the weight of his chin when it rested in my lap.
When he passed away, my heart broke. As much as I had loved that childhood dog, I had been wrong. This was the very best dog in the world. There would never be another dog like him, and there hasn’t been. I was sure I would never love another dog as much as I’d loved him.
I was wrong again.
We got the next one, a loping black lab-and-terrier mix, when the children were little. He taught me the importance of adapting. He was everyone’s dog from the beginning, and that was just as it should be. When he played tug of war with the children, he dragged them across the kitchen floor as they shrieked with laughter. He always seemed to sleep in the room of the child who needed his company the most.
These days his face is expressively gray, and he spends more time with me since the almost-grown children aren’t around so much. The other day my oldest, home from college, played tug of war. We all laughed—just a little—as the dog was gently pulled across the kitchen floor.
He is, of course, the very best dog in the world. I will never forget that exquisitely soft tuft of fur behind his ears or the tickly feel when he nuzzles. There won’t be another dog like him.
And that’s okay, because we will never be at this point in our lives again.
Sometimes I’ve wondered why two species that get along so well should have such different life spans. It just doesn’t seem right. And then I wonder if that’s part of the lesson: To teach us that love itself has a spirit that returns again and again and never really dies.
It’s amazing, in a way, how they bring to our ever-changing lives exactly what it is that we need at the moment. They make room for one another, this family of dogs who has never even met. And they fit—into our families, into our lives, into our memories, and into our hearts—because they always have been and always will be the best dogs in the world.