I used to have these dreams. I used to dream that Beluga was alive, and he ran to me, so happy to see me, wagging his tail emphatically, tongue lolling out. Then my puppy Sophie came out from behind a wall. Beluga would look at me, his dark, almost-human eyes filling with sadness and confusion, asking me without words, “Who is this stranger who has taken my place in your heart?”
And then I’d cry out, “No! No! Don’t leave me!”
But he would turn around, tail between his legs, and walk away. Then I would wake up.
Beluga, my beautiful black Lab mix, was diagnosed with cancer when he was only nine years old. They told us there was still hope. They did an operation on his leg. In a later operation, no cancer cells were found. We were in ecstasy. There was a chance! Then one morning, my mom came home from the vet with a gray, ashen face and eyes red with tears.
“The cancer spread,” she said. “They can’t stop it. He won’t live out the year.”
I remember the day we put him to sleep so, so well, a memory locked in my brain like a bad dream that just won’t go away. I hugged Beluga one last time, trying not to look at his swollen, cancer-filled leg, not believing it would be the last time I ever saw him.
After Beluga was put to sleep, we didn’t even consider getting another dog for a long time. We noticed his absence in every corner, underneath every table. After a while, though, we started yearning, not for a replacement, but for a new, quirky, individual dog that we could love just as much.
My mom, my friend, and I started going to different shelters looking at dogs, but nothing measured up. This dog was too old, this one might not get along with our cat, this one had too much energy.
I voted strongly for getting a puppy, but my dad just wanted a calm, loyal dog, and my brother insisted that a puppy would chew up his socks. My mom started calling breeders, just in case. Finally, she found a breeder she liked. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t have another litter for months, so all we could do was wait.
Then one day, a couple of weeks later, we got a phone call. I was at a friend’s house playing with her guinea pig when my parents called, excited. “I think this is the one,” was all they would tell me. I heard that line too many times, though.
“Dad, I’m busy. Call me if you come home with a dog,” I said sarcastically.
About two hours later, my dad called again. “Nope, no luck on the puppy. Someone got there before us, but you’d better come home anyway. It’s getting late.”
On the way home my dad started talking about how disappointed my mother was, and how I should be sensitive. I was almost to the point of believing him when we pulled up in front of my house. I got out and waved at my mom, ready to be sympathetic. Then I looked down. Following behind her was an adorable, glossy, splay-footed, rambunctious, little PUPPY! I absolutely screamed with delight. Breathless, my mom explained, “Well, youseewegotacallfromthatreallygoodbreeder andhehadthispuppythatwassosweet-temperedhesavedherforafriendbuttheyjust foundoutthefriendisillandcan’traiseadogsohe’sgivinghertoUS!”
I was thrilled. I reached down and picked up this wonderful bundle of joy. Wriggling and writhing in my arms, she immediately began licking my face, my neck, my ears, my hands. I put her down and smiled. I knew we were going to be best friends.
That’s when I started having those horrible nightmares. Every time I ran my hands over my new puppy’s soft, velvety ears, every time I scooped her small black body into my arms, every time I laughed at her odd, lopsided walk, I felt a pang of guilt. I simply couldn’t love Sophie without feeling as though I was betraying Beluga.
Then one day I couldn’t stand it any longer. I went up to my room and pulled out a blank journal. I sat on my bed and started writing. Slowly at first, then faster and faster still, I started writing page after page about Beluga. Every thought I’d ever had about him, every characteristic that belonged to him alone, everything about him went into that book. Then, ever so slowly, I closed the book, and right there and right then I knew that I’d never forget Beluga. I carefully placed the book high in the corner of my bookshelf and walked down the stairs, leaving Beluga behind, but a part of me now. I bent down to greet my puppy, and for once nothing held me back.
Puppy by Thoughtful Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at k12.thoughtfullearning.com/assessmentmodels/puppy.