Dallas was on the All Breed Canine Rescue website under “Mature Dogs.” I had been looking through rescue sites, hoping no dog would ‘speak’ to me. This gray-muzzled, sharp-faced, squat-bodied Shepherd-type did. It was way too soon.
Our German Shepherd Jack had just died. He’d been with me for 9½ years, rescued at 14 weeks from neglect. He was my friend and touchstone. No other dog could replace him or compete for my affection. But the house seemed so empty. The cats missed him. My husband said no new dog, he needed time to mourn. I missed Jack and the presence of a dog. I took ‘match yourself to a dog breed’ questionnaires. Again I checked ABCR’s site – Dallas was still listed. My husband still couldn’t think of another dog in Jack’s place.
A cat needed a dog
It was a cat who changed his mind. The “boss” cat, she ceased harassing the others and just lay in Jack’s favourite spots, staring vacantly. After a week of this, my husband said “maybe we should get a dog for that cat.” Dallas came for a visit. The cat ran up to her, delighted. Then realizing this dog wasn’t Jack, she hissed violently and stalked off.
When ABCR got Dallas from the pound, she was not spayed and had arthritic or injured hind legs. Most dramatically, she had no hair on her back. “Her skin was like raw hamburger,” I was told. Allergy treatment and special food had cleared up the hair loss. Still, no one really knew what was wrong with her. We were recovering financially from vet bills for Jack and our elderly cat Henry, and emotionally from months of caring for chronically ill animals and the loss of them. Was taking Dallas asking for more expense and sadness? Quite possibly. But she looked like home, like she belonged here.
After a few more visits, Dallas came to stay. She had enjoyed visiting, but expected her foster mom to be waiting to take her home. The day her foster family left without her, she clawed at the door howling inconsolably. I was in tears.
If this is home…
A few hours later, after a good long walk, Dallas looked around and seemed to decide that, if this was now home, she’d make the best of it. She glued herself to me and is very protective. She doesn’t trust men, but is realizing that the one in her new house isn’t a threat to her or me. The cats have warmed up to her. Her extended human family welcomed her. My sister seems resemblances to her late Shepherd/Husky. My mother sees our old Shepherd in her. I have taken her to Jack’s grave and to his favourite walking places. I tell her about him and she wrinkles her nose and listens.
She takes pills for hip dysplasia and allergies. A lump on her rear end was easily removed and was benign. Sometimes her legs are creaky, but she plays and chases balls. She’s not Jack, but she is Dallas, a dog who, like him, has adopted us for life. My sister said, “You needed her as much as she needed you.” It’s true.
Part 2: Loss
Dallas died almost three months to the day after we got her. One morning in July she threw up. She seemed ok later, but didn’t want to chase her ball and really just put up with our walk for my sake. That evening, she was listless. Late at night, she was feverish and chilled. I should have called her vet. I didn’t. First thing in the morning, I took her in. I had to help her out of the car. They couldn’t see anything obviously wrong, so kept her in for observation and tests. She died in the night. No one knows why.
Her gift to us was to fill the void left by the deaths of Jack and Henry. I hadn’t known if I could open my heart fully again to another dog. But Dallas showed me I could. She reminded us of Jack and other dogs in our lives. But she was also her own dog, with her own ways of doing things and funny habits.
I was devastated at losing her. A friend said maybe she was a messenger whose purpose was to translate love of, and from, Jack to other dogs for us. Losing a dog is heart breaking, but the loneliness of no dog is worse. We’ll be adopting another, probably a Shepherd type, soon.
Part 3: After Dallas
A few months passed. We adopted Charlie, a little terrier mix, then Leo, a weird Standard Poodle puppy mill survivor. We didn’t so much adopt Leo as he adopted me. He later saw his way clear to adopt Jim too. They are absolutely nothing like Jack or Dallas or any dog that’s gone before them in our lives. I still “see” Jack and Dallas in the house and backyard. I tell Charlie and Leo about them. They don’t much care about my stories, but they love to run and play and snuggle. They’re both part of my heart now.
I started this story in July 2008 for an online dog story competition but didn’t submit it after having to add Part 2. It was posted on the St. Thomas Dog Blog Nov. 19, 2010.