Happily exhausted, I rocked my newborn in her nursery for the very first time. We had just gotten home from the hospital and through the whirlwind of a C-section, learning to nurse and lack of sleep, I hadn’t had much time to think about you… my 10-year old, sweet, spoiled, Papillon dog. Dad had gone to pick you up from our dog-sitter’s and it wasn’t until I heard the familiar sound of your tiny paws tapping through the house that I began to get nervous … Will you not like the baby? Will you be jealous? Will you resent me? You quickly rounded the corner and spotted me in the rocking chair with the new baby in my arms. Confused, you tilted your head and paused briefly in the doorway before eagerly soaring right up onto my lap. I watched nervously as you performed a long and thorough sniffing session on our new baby girl. After what seemed like forever, you gave her one quick lick of approval on the top of her head and quickly snuggled down right next to me as if nothing had changed. It was an unforgettably perfect moment.
It is hard to believe that 4 ½ years have flown by since that first introduction. Life with a baby (now preschooler) is often chaotic and even though you were our only baby for ten years, you sometimes get lost in the shuffle these days. But, in the evening, when the house becomes quietly still again, you snuggle into your spot on my lap as you always have and I pet you until you’re fast asleep. During these peaceful moments, I often find myself thinking about all the chapters of life we have experienced together and all you have taught me along the way.
It’s funny how people say their dogs find them exactly at the right time. Though I had just turned 19 and had my first year of college freshly under my belt, I felt lost. I was struggling to recover emotionally and physically from a life-changing car accident where I had nearly died from a ruptured spleen. I had since spent the majority of my life sick as my body adjusted to its new normal and this pulled me into a gloomy place. Then, I found you. You instantly filled the emptiness in my life and healed the pieces of me that were broken. You were my best medicine.
Those college years with you were fast, fun and filled with adventure. You nestled next to me during long study sessions, were my sidekick on road trips back home and waited patiently at the door for me through late nights out on the town. You taught me responsibility – for the first time in my life I had to take care of someone other than myself. I had a purpose. But, before we knew it, college was over and it was time for me to start my career in the real world. Those big, sad puppy eyes broke my heart each morning as I left for work but coming home to your happily wagging tail could erase even the worst days at the office. You had my heart and I had never before loved anything like I loved you.
Soon our world became filled with bridal magazines, floral arrangements and guest lists when I was lucky enough to marry a guy who loved you just as much as I did. And even though you broke into our wedding favor chocolate boxes a few days before the big day (which required a vet visit), it only seemed right you make a quick appearance at our wedding for a few pictures. The wedding photo of the three of us is still one of my favorites and was the first hung on our wall when we moved from our first small apartment into our first home. Our lives were happy with evenings spent on long walks where you listened to endless discussions about our dreams of one day having a family of our own. But, when life didn’t go as planned and four years of infertility left me brokenhearted, you never left my side. On those days where I couldn’t get out of bed and there was nothing anyone could say or do to lift my spirits, it was your silent devoted companionship that pulled me through.
With the long-awaited news that I was finally pregnant, you changed. You seemed to be calmer but also became more protective of me and my growing belly. It was almost as if you knew exactly what was happening and just how much I had waited for it. When the baby arrived, you adjusted to the change immediately. You became a constant fixture in her life almost as if you felt that you were also her Mom. You snuggled next to us during every feeding and waited patiently as I spent hours rocking her. In the middle of the night as I stumbled half asleep to the nursery, I could always count on hearing the pitter-patter of your feet right behind me. You watched in curiosity as she began to roll, crawl and eventually walk. Never missing a bath or a bedtime story, you have been a constant playmate for her. You have become her best friend, her companion and her sibling.
Today we celebrated your 15th birthday. Like every birthday since you hit the double digits, I spent most of the day in tears, as I know our story together is nearing an end. One evening I’ll sit down and you won’t be there to snuggle into my lap. I don’t know how I’ll move on from that… how I’ll ever fill the hole that losing you will leave in my heart. But, when that inevitable day arrives and I’m holding you in my arms for the very last time, I won’t say goodbye… I will say, thank you. Thank you for coming into my life when I needed you. Thank you for teaching me about responsibility, sacrifice and unconditional love. Thank you for never leaving my side during times of heartbreak. Thank you for teaching me that the best way to comfort is just being there. Thank you for showing me that no matter what changes life gives us, all that really matters is that our family is together. Thank you for helping me be a Mom. Thank you or being a “sister” to our daughter when we couldn’t give her one. Thank you for bringing so much joy and comfort into our lives. But most of all, thank you for being my FUR-st baby.