After Dooley

After Dooley

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

After Dooley

On my wife’s fiftieth birthday we were awakened in the middle of the night by the violent shaking of our bed. Dooley, our eighteen-year-old miniature dachshund, lay between us, jerking in convulsions. He was so fevered that I could feel the heat without actually touching him. We rushed him to an all-night animal hospital and waited for the inevitable heartbreak. He did not die that night, but his old and tired body had taken more than it was meant to tolerate. A few days later, with a powerful tranquilizer running through his veins, our dog fell asleep for the last time as I held him in my arms.

Dooley was a puppy when my wife, Patricia, and her two sons received him as a gift. Five years would pass before I came into their lives. Growing up, I always had pets, but Patricia had never considered herself a “dog person.” In fact, Dooley had been her first. Other dogs made her very nervous. So, after Dooley passed, when I suggested that we consider bringing another canine into our home, she said she would go along with the idea only if I accepted certain conditions.

First, we wouldn’t rush into anything. Our loss was still very fresh in our minds, even after several weeks of mourning, and we were both concerned that replacing Dooley too soon might somehow disrespect his memory. Second, we would consider only a puppy since an older dog might be more aggressive, and, therefore, more difficult for my wife to handle. Finally, our new dog could not weigh more than ten to fifteen pounds when fully grown.

We decided to start our search in late March, around the time of our wedding anniversary. That way, if we found a dog we liked, we could purchase him or her as a mutual gift. Still, I knew that Patricia was doing this more for me than for herself.

On our first visit to the local animal shelter, I saw him immediately. As soon as the door to the back room opened, we were greeted by a chorus of thirty to forty barkers wildly competing for our attention. The cages stood side by side and facing each other, forming a U around the cool, semidark room. He was there in the first cage to the right, a full-grown Lab mix calmly taking in the cacophony around him. Black as night, he nearly blended in to the dimly lit recess beyond narrow steel bars. I caught his eye and quickly looked away without a word to my wife. Too old and too big, he did not match our predetermined profile.

After a short tour and a cursory examination of the younger residents, my wife and I left the shelter empty-handed but promising to come back soon.

More than a week had passed when we arrived home from work to find a vaguely familiar voice recorded on our answering machine. “Where have you been?” were the first few words we heard. The message was from Vicky, the animal shelter manager, urging us to come and check out some recent arrivals.

The next evening we went back for another visit, but again, our search for the perfect puppy came up empty. As we were about to leave, I noticed the dog I had admired the previous week, still watching us hopefully and with quiet dignity from that first cage on the right.

I stopped and turned to my wife. I was certain of the reaction I was about to receive, but like a child who cannot help asking for the one thing he knows he can never have, I took my shot: “How about this guy?” I said.

A few minutes later, Patricia and I were alone in a quiet room across the hall. I could hardly believe it when she had agreed to take a closer look at a dog four times the size of Dooley. Now I could sense her apprehension as we sat there on a pair of folding chairs waiting to meet the orphaned animal I was certain would never be coming home with us.

The door opened and in popped a furry black head. He hesitated in the doorway, clearly assessing the situation. He looked at me, then at my wife. As if he knew which of us he had to win over, he walked straight up to Patricia and gently placed that beautiful head in her lap. Amazed, I watched my wife instantly fall in love. I will never forget the look of compassion on her face or the conviction in her voice when she turned to me and said, “I want this dog.”

Exley has now been a part of our family for just over four years. I’m still dumbfounded at the thought that this gentle, loyal and loving animal was once abandoned to the streets. Likewise, I’m surprised that someone else didn’t come along to adopt him in the days between our first and second trips to the shelter. Maybe we just got lucky. Or maybe there was something else behind our good fortune.

My wife is certain that we had some help. She believes Dooley’s spirit was with us that night, nudging the bigger dog in her direction and somehow finding a way to let us know that he was the ideal new companion for us.

“Yeah, right,” I tell her, not bothering to hide my skepticism. “Believewhatever you like if itmakes you feel better.”

But sometimes, when I find myself on the couch enjoying a few peaceful moments with Exley—listening to his soft breathing and feeling his warm body pressed as close as he can get against my leg—I remember our visits to the shelter and how I nearly passed by this wonderful dog without speaking out. In those moments of contented companionship, so like the times I spent with Dooley, it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched that the spirit of an old friend might find a way to help his surviving family pick out the perfect new friend.

Gary Ingraham

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