I see a lot of puppies in my line of work – it is one of the great perks of the job. I like to pick them up, inhale their puppy smell, and kiss them on the top of their heads. But then I look them in the eyes, one puppy after another, searching their depths vainly for a sign of Bella’s warm, sassy spark. I know that means I am not ready. Even I know it is not right to burden a puppy with the ghost of another dog. I am very grateful for our rescue dog, Huck. Bella helped raise him. He is, of course, his own dog with his own character and place in the household, and he brings his own brand of joy to my life. He has helped. I think I’ve stopped looking for Bella in other dogs’ eyes. Lately, I have started to wonder if it is time for another puppy. I am still not sure. Writing this is making me teary-eyed again, which is probably a bad sign. I do know this: when the time is right, I will open my heart to another little puppy. I will do it knowing full well that my heart will break again. I will do it anyway, because it is worth the heartache to be friends with a fine dog.
I t’s been over a year and a half since Bella, the first Saint Francis Staff Dog, died. We were together from the moment I held her as an eight- week-old puppy just entering the Saint Francis Puppy Program until I cradled her as the life drained from her 11-year old cancer-riddled body. She went with me everywhere. I discovered in the weeks and months after she died how much I relied on the comforting weight of her bright brown eyes watching me. I found out how often during the day I dropped my hand absentmindedly to find her soft fur beneath my palm. I realized that I slept in a particular position at night so she could settle into her favorite spot on the bed - and that she was the reason my feet were warm for over a decade.