The first dog lasted less than two weeks. And by “lasted,” I mean, “lasted.”
Four days after he became ours, Benji (short for Benjamin Franklin) ended up at the vet hospital. He had been vomiting and unable to eat since the moment we brought him home. For the next six days, we visited him almost every night in a place between touch and go. When the vet called one afternoon to say that Benji had sepsis and wasn’t going to make it, I picked up the two older boys after school and raced to the hospital, praying that we could usher this dog out of the world wrapped in love. We arrived just in time.
We’d been talking about getting a dog for years—well, mostly it was one of our middle boys talking/begging—but I knew we’d eventually say “yes” because when you grew up with dogs adopted from shelters or plucked from the streets and now you live in a big house in the suburbs with four boys who aren’t allergic to anything under the sun, then the laws of the universe will eventually deed you a dog.
I’m going to acknowledge now that my thoughts about adopting a dog from a rescue—for that’s exactly what we did and what I believe we were meant to do—are completely linked to my own adoption. You may counter that plenty of people who know nothing personally of people adoption choose animal adoption or that people who were adopted buy animals from a breeder. That is also true. There’s no judgment here, only a firm belief that for me, historical cause and psychological effect are inseparable. I came into this world in a state of suspension, and so I am drawn to the animals who are dangling, too. We caught Benji at the very end of his life, but we caught him.
After Benji, came Grace Kelly, and let me be honest, Grace-Kelly-the-Beagle is a tough dog to love. No, that’s not right. Grace Kelly is loved. But she is a tough dog for us to handle. We are in over our heads. Every time I catch myself wondering what the heck we were thinking when we said “yes” to Grace, I am flooded with guilt and a deeply personal understanding of what it’s like to be given up and taken in. I don’t care that Grace is a dog. What does that mean anyway? Grace needs a family who will love her unconditionally and will not abandon her again. Grace also needs a family who will patiently deal with the behavioral and house-training issues that make living with her such a challenge. Grace needs a family who knows a lot more about dogs than we do, with the flexible schedule (and cash) needed for rigorous training. Oh, God, maybe it was Grace who got the raw deal after all.
The truth is, I see Grace’s life the way I used to see my own: as a transparent window into what-if’s and might-have-been’s and if-only’s. What if Benji hadn’t died? What if I had said “yes” to the Chihuahua the rescue offered after Benji died? What if I hadn’t messaged back, “Is Hope available instead?” (It’s not lost on me that the shelter had named our dog Hope before she became our Grace.) What would Grace’s life be like if somebody else had adopted her instead? I can’t imagine that a cute purebred beagle with a sweet-as-pie disposition would have been hard to place.
But adoption doesn’t work that way. Or it shouldn’t. Unless someone or something is in imminent danger, there aren’t do-overs. Sure, Grace is a dog, not a child, but all that means to me is that she doesn’t stay awake at night worried that if she messes up, we will send her back.
On difficult days, my husband and I ask each other, “What do we do? What do we do?” We really have no idea what to do other than to keep trying our best to make things work for Grace.
Because that’s something I understand about adoption, too. There are always far more questions than there are ever answers. Grace is the salvation that comes even when you don’t understand it or don’t deserve it.