Puppy Love

The sound came from Zach in a guttural, tortured heave prompted by a sadness no seven-year-old should experience. “You’re the best dog in the world,” he whispered into Lucy’s lifeless ear.

The sound came from Zach in a guttural, tortured heave prompted by a sadness no seven-year-old should experience. “You’re the best dog in the world,” he whispered into Lucy’s lifeless ear.

We were hanging out after a day with family at a Christmas-tree farm. Sitting at the end of the couch, I reached down to scratch our beloved black lab—but she wasn’t there. For the first time in her life, she had sneaked away. We searched frantically but found her too late. Lucy had died alone. The driver who had hit her didn’t stick around.

Zach kissed her, took off her collar, and put it around his neck. He didn’t take if off for three days. Our four-year-old, Luke, kept asking, “I don’t have a puppy anymore?” Driving Lucy’s body away, I had to pull over, overwhelmed by our boys’ cries.

Two years earlier, I’d come home from playing golf to see a lab chasing a ball in the back yard. Paula and the boys stood there grinning in conspiratorial glee. “We got her at the shelter,” Zach said. I hadn’t touched a dog since we had to put down eight-year-old Nellie five months earlier. Like a scene from a sappy movie, the new dog dropped the ball at my feet. I was a goner.

Lucy was special. When she ran, every sinew rippled, from her ears to her whipcord tail. She had a patch of white on the middle of her chest about the size of a quarter, a hint of a lineage we’d never know fully. She loved to be scratched there. The boys coddled their tireless playmate. When she nudged you with her cool nose for a scratch between the ears, she’d look at you with soulful eyes that said, “I know. I love you, too.”

At 5:30 am on Monday, December 4, 2006, twelve sleepless hours into life without Lucy, Paula said, “I don’t know how we can go through this again.” Two hours later, I was in the office pretending things would be fine. Paula dropped the kids off at school and started working the Internet—and her husband.

“This can’t be the Christmas the boys remember as the year Lucy died,” she said. Now it was our turn to conspire.

Coworker Babette Reynolds was the first to catch me with a tear in my eye. “My sister, Michelle, is a veterinary technician,” she said. “Let me call her and see if she has any ideas.” Meanwhile, Paula updated me every ten minutes on a search that stretched from Virginia to Missouri.

“I think we’ve got something,” Babs said as she burst into my office. By Thursday, Paula and the boys had been to the Windy Flats Dairy Farm in Sussex, where on November 11 the Sytsema family’s yellow lab, Biscuit, had given birth to her first puppies. The flaxen newborns were too young to be separated from her, so we’d have to wait sixteen days to collect our pick of the litter.

For two weeks, the house that had been too quiet buzzed with the boys’ excitement over the impending event. On Saturday, two days before Christmas, we got to the farm early enough to help with the milking. On the way home, the boys giddily debated what to call the nervous pup. Luke wanted to call her Lucy. There wasn’t a dry eye in the car. Zach remembered one of Paula’s college friends, Zoë Kalfopolus.

“Mom, didn’t you say Zoë means ‘joy’ in Greek?” he asked. “It’ll give us joy to know Lucy’s spirit is inside of Zoë.”

I almost had to pull over again.

Nearly a year later, Zoë and the boys are a giggling swarm running in and out of the house, crashing on the floor, curling up together at night. She’s not as fast as Lucy, but man, can she jump. She’s a better swimmer and is fearless in the woods. She’s yet to meet a roll of toilet paper she can’t unfurl. When she greets you, she wiggles her back end so forcefully that she turns into the letter

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