“I did something bad,” she said. Inspired by a workplace speaker, Caitlin had been browsing rescue sites before I got home from work. For months we had been talking about getting a dog but we worried that we weren’t ready. Now the search had begun and there were three pups pulling on her heartstrings. She made me choose. The listing I liked best said that the white mixed breed with the big grey spots was about five months old. She was shy, it said. We met her the next day and took her home the one after that. We named her Elly. She was shy, but never with us. We are really going to miss her.
Before we had kids, I used to say that I loved our dogs as if they were children but that’s not quite right. That statement, I think, attempts to justify how much we are capable of loving animals, but no justification is required. I loved Elly like my dog, which she was. And like a family member, which she was. And unconditionally, just as she loved me. For just under a decade, she was a huge part of our lives. When we adopted her, we had just moved to Oregon and we were living some 2,000 miles from our nearest family and friends, in a town with fewer residents than my high school had students. Elly was all we had. With her, Caitlin and I went from being a couple to having a family.
While Elly was great with other dogs, we came to learn that “shy” undersold her anxiety. In fact, she feared and disliked almost every single person on earth except for me and Caitlin. (Exceptions would eventually be made for our mothers.) Her affection for us was deep and, combined with her intense anxiety, created an endearing devotion. In separate instances, she dug under a fence and squeezed between wrought iron bars to escape yards and come find us. That she was so anxious created constant obstacles in our lives and yet it only added to her weird, endearing, snaggle-toothed charm. We had tamed one another. She was a weirdo, but she was our weirdo and we were hers.
That I won’t be poking at her comically wrinkled lips anymore and that she won’t be nose-bopping my hand every day as I let her and Jersey out in the morning is shocking in its suddenness and unbearable in its sadness. That we lost her two days before our daughter is scheduled to be born seems unbelievably cruel, even in 2020. But she is gone and though we won’t forget her, we will have to learn to manage this pain and go on without her. The only way out is through. And in our grief, we will know that a relationship that started a decade ago with Caitlin doing something bad became one of the most wonderfully beautiful and lovingly weird experiences that we’ll ever have.
We love you still, Elly.