The email came from someone named Paxton.
“Dear Sean,” the message began, “my dog died today and I feel like I can’t go on. I know you‘ve lost a dog before. How do you go on without them?”
As it happens, I have lost 12 dogs in my life. Twelve sounds like large number and makes me wonder whether it’s time to sign up for AARP. But I’m not very old. The truth is, I am just crazy about dogs. Always have been.
At one time in my life, we had four dogs living in our 900-square-foot house. My shoes all had teeth marks. And all my reading glasses had been semi-digested.
Owning four dogs at once, I must point out, is unwise. Of course, I didn’t set out to own four dogs simultaneously. No sane person would. It all started with one dog.
His name was Squirt. My wife and I adopted Squirt from a local animal shelter long ago. He was part of a litter born at the shelter. The employees named the puppies after characters from the Disney movie “Finding Nemo.”
I’ll never forget our first meeting. My wife and I were seated on the complimentary sofa in the meet-and-greet room, we were both a little nervous.
The sofa resembled something that had survived an atomic weapons detonation test. The cushions were soaked with drool, the nylon stuffing was removed, and there were fleas on the upholstery roughly the size of Danny Devito.
Squirt entered the room, leapt on my lap, and ruined my shirt with the Weewee of Joy, thereby living up to his name.
And I had to have him.
But here’s the thing. The canine shelter did not make adopting easy. Shelters often require adoptive owners to jump through several bureaucratic hoops before adopting. This is to discourage non-serious pet buyers, which I am in favor of—sort of. Except that some preliminary criteria seemed ridiculous.
For starters, you had to show past tax records. Also, you had to bring proof of auto insurance, get fingerprinted, get a blood test, have a complete physical, run a mile in under 10 minutes, pass an eye exam, then fight a giant snake.
All in all, Squirt cost me around $400. But, hey, I was in love. I would have gladly paid 50 grand.
So I took my new buddy home. That same afternoon we were in the backyard when my phone rang. It was the shelter.
The woman on the phone explained that Squirt’s brother, Marlin, was miserable after we had adopted his brother. The woman asked—no, she pleaded—for me to take Marlin, too.
Well, being a mature adult, I told the shelter I had to seriously think about this proposal for a few days, inasmuch as adopting an animal is a momentous commitment.
And if you believe that, then you are adorable. Because what actually happened was, I leapt into my truck barefoot and sped to the shelter to welcome Marlin into our family. They charged me another $400.
So I was in for $800 bucks, not counting the Science Diet food ($129.99), and all the Pet Smart® approved canine paraphernalia ($2,120,239.99).
A few days later—this just gets better and better—I received ANOTHER call from the shelter. The volunteer explained that there was a THIRD brother (Gurgle) who had been heartbroken ever since losing his two biological brothers.
In under five minutes I was at the shelter. I drained my savings account and slapped another $400 onto the counter.
After that, I thought I was done adopting dogs forever. But anyone familiar with situational comedies knows that a few weeks later, we got a fourth and much heavier dog named Zabar.
So I was up to $1600 bucks in dogs.
For the next decade, our house was owned by animals. Our rugs were stained with urine. Our walls were covered with dried saliva. Whenever our mail carrier knocked on the door, God love him, four screaming dogs skidded toward the door and collided into each other like a Marx Brothers routine.
But here’s the sad part. We lost all four dogs within a few months.
The first to go was Marlin. He was the victim of a hit and run. We carried him home; he died in our living room.
Next was Squirt. He quit eating, and cancer demolished him. The vet injected something into his veins, and during his final moments I stared into Squirt’s eyes and something passed between us. I cried for three months thereafter.
Then Gurgle. He was lying in my wife’s arms. I’ve never heard a woman weep like that.
And our fourth dog, Zabar, died of pancreatitis with two crying adults surrounding her.
Currently, there are four well-worn graves in my backyard. Often, late at night, I stand beside these plots and talk to my dogs. Yes, I know it’s ridiculous to speak to ghosts, especially canine ones. But you never quit loving someone. And believe me, a dog is someone.
So anyway, Paxton, I’m not qualified to give advice. But to answer your question about how I eventually got over my grief. The answer is: I didn’t. I didn’t have enough time. Because the very next morning I did what I do best. I drove into town and adopted another puppy.
And I’d be willing to bet $1600 bucks you will too.