I’m at that sweet spot in my life when my time is truly my own. My children are young adults with their own homes and families, and while we talk almost daily, I see my son and daughter just a few times a year because of distance, work and other commitments.
But, this does not mean I am alone. Instead of living with two children, I now live with two dogs — a beagle named Buddy and an Airedale terrier named Travis.
Believe me, this was not how I envisioned my life after kids. In fact, I always believed after the family dogs that my children grew up with had passed on, I would live a dog-free life with no one depending on me for their daily existence.
I fantasized how luxurious it would feel to be out with friends and not worry about getting home to walk and feed the dogs. I relished the thought of sleeping late Saturday morning, without a dog’s cold nose nuzzling me to get up to feed him and let him out.
But, my fantasy was just that — a dream that fortunately was not meant to be.
My reality of a dog-free life lasted just two months after I lost Jonas a year ago. Jonas was my 10-year-old, much-loved Airedale that I had nursed through cancer treatments in the hope that he’d be with me for several more years.
But, when his cancer came back, it was just a few weeks before the tumors traveled to his brain, and I held him in my arms as he died.
If you ever lost a pet, you know how painful and empty that feels. And, you’ll understand why many people decide against getting another pet — because they don’t believe they can’t bear the pain of losing another four-legged companion.
Well, that was me.
After Jonas died, I had no plans to replace him. Instead, I wanted to give back to the Sunshine Airdalers of Florida — the rescue group that allowed me to adopt Jonas seven years earlier. I volunteered to transport dogs being surrendered, and offered to foster dogs for a week or two until their “forever” home was found.
It wasn’t long after agreeing to be a foster home that I was asked to take in Chomps, whose owner since he was a puppy was giving him up for adoption because of changes in his family.
Chomps was a handsome, 80-pound, 6-year-old who sat by my door patiently waiting for his master to return. After two days, Chomps finally refocused his attention on me, and within the week we had fallen for each other.
And, that’s how Chomps became my “foster failure.” I changed his name to Travis (could there be any worse name for a dog than Chomps?), and a year later there isn’t a sweeter, kinder, happier dog.
Except for Buddy, that is.
Two weeks before Travis found his way to my home, I had adopted Buddy, a 10-year-old beagle from the Humane Society of Tampa. I met Buddy at an adoption event and marveled at the dog’s good nature and air of confidence — despite the fact that all but one of Buddy’s teeth had been extracted because of terribly infected gums.
Between Buddy’s lack of teeth, and his very senior status, the folks at the Humane Society said Buddy had been in the shelter for several months because most people are looking for a young dog with no health issues. They said if I could open my heart and home to Buddy, there was no sweeter dog in their care that deserved a second chance.
After I was assured that a little warm water to soften his kibbles was the only special care Buddy needed, I brought him home to Land O’ Lakes. When Travis showed up a few weeks later, Buddy, with his shelter experience living with dozens of dogs, didn’t seem to mind. Within days, the two dogs settled into a mostly peaceful, co-existence routine.
I share my stories of Travis and Buddy in the hopes that it may encourage at least one reader to open their home and heart to adopting an older dog. As adorable as puppies can be, most people don’t realize how much time and work they are. Older pups, like Travis and Buddy, will be calmer, already housebroken and most likely trained to walk on a leash.
But, the biggest benefit is the unconditional love a hard-to-adopt pet will give you. My dogs show their affection and loyalty every day, and help keep my life centered and balanced.
Someday, I hope you will see the bumper sticker, “Who rescued who?” — and it will make your heart leap in gratitude, as it does mine.
Published November 9, 2016