Apparently I talk in my sleep. A lot. Or at least I used to in what I now refer to as a “past life” or at least a past relationship.
I don’t talk about that relationship often because I prefer to live in the present, to think about the future and I’m happily married to someone else now, but the story went like this:
I was sound asleep in the middle of the night and in the middle of my REM sleep I asked the person with whom I lived, “Do the dogs of the future include any of our dogs?”
“Uh, what???” was the confused response.
“Do the dogs of the future include any of our dogs?” I asked again, this time louder and annoyed, yet still sound asleep.
“I don’t know…we only have one dog.” was his response.
This was at least 15-20 years ago but I still remember being told about it the next day and laughing my head off. I recall scratching Babe, my black Labrador Retriever and asking her in my dog mom voice, “Are you a dog of the future? Are you? You’re a beautiful dog of the future, yes you are, yes you are!”
That story took place when Babe was a young dog and that relationship was just about to start to fall apart, like a long, massive, unrelenting hurricane but with no peaceful eye in the center. Although I gloss over it in my book when I talk about Babe, those years were pretty bad, and in 2005 it all culminated in my worst year ever, kicking off the year by becoming single in my mid-30s after a decade with the same person and then losing my incredible Mom to cancer to end the year. Of course the breakup was the proverbial blessing in disguise, but getting to that point wasn’t so much fun.
Babe was my best friend and constant companion through all of it, through arguments and stress, through the dark days at the end of that relationship, feeling like my heart had been ripped from my body along with every ounce of trust and self-esteem that I had left, all the way to the increasingly light, brilliant, happy days as I figured out who I was, what I wanted, and what my life should be about. It was just the two of us during the rebuilding and rebranding of me, although in reality it had been just the two of us even with a third person partially present.
Babe was with me if I cried or laughed. She was with me to snuggle in front of Sex and the City reruns or out hiking through the forest preserves. She was with me when I took trips to Indiana to help go through my Mom’s things, and she was waiting at home to greet me as I went on a steady stream of very funny bad dates with every weirdo in the suburbs. It was Babe and me against the world. She was my silky black guardian angel. There were no thoughts of the dogs of the future because I had my dog of the present right by my side.
Dutch came to live with us after Mom passed. He was like a little brother to me and taking him into my home meant keeping part of her with me. We became a little pack of three and he joined our hikes and our snuggles.
A year and a half later I met my husband and a few months after that the dogs and I moved into his home that he shared with his three little kids and their rescued Basset Hound Maggie, a Brady Bunch of sorts especially since I quickly took over taking care of Maggie along with my two dogs. My husband was responsible for the human children, I was responsible for the canine children, and we settled into building a life together and then later on, planning our wedding.
Several months after we were married, Babe’s joints started to really decline. She was thirteen and a half years old and I started to find her splayed out on the floor, unable to get up, a terrified look in her face. I tried everything I could to keep her pain-free and able to get around, and then the day came when I realized she was suffering and could barely walk. She was trying her hardest so that she could stay by me, but she was in pain and agony trying just to stand up. The next day I laid down next to her like I had so many hundreds of times in the 11 years since I had adopted her, and I watched as my vet administered the medicine that made her heart stop beating.
I had forced myself not to cry or show any sort of distress until she was gone, because I wanted to be strong for her. After she was gone I ran out to the waiting room where my husband waited for me, loud agonizing howls coming from my body, wails that I could not control even if I wanted to. I could not fathom a world without her in it. She had been my dog for eleven years and everything felt surreal, as if there was no way that she wasn’t going to greet me every again or lay her gray and black face on my leg. It was early afternoon but I went to bed anyway, pulling the curtains and crying myself to sleep in the dark.
Less than a year and a half later, Dutch was diagnosed with cancer in his spleen and passed away on February 1, 2011. During the last few weeks of Dutch’s life he shivered constantly and we would cover him up with a red throw blanket.
The day Dutch died I walked into the house, barely able to see through the tears, grabbed his blanket off of the dog bed, pulled the curtains once again in our own bedroom, and went to bed wrapped in that blanket. A blizzard was coming in and I stayed there like that for the entire day and night, only getting up the next day because my husband had to work and Maggie would need to eat and go outside.
After losing Dutch I felt like I would never smile again, never laugh again. I felt stripped of all life, no matter how much I loved my husband, the kids and Maggie. I poured over rescue sites, sending my husband links to dogs who needed me and then breaking down in racking sobs because they were not Dutch. The grief of losing Babe that I had tried to avoid was fresh and raw all over again and I cried into either Maggie’s fur or my husband’s shoulder constantly with the pain of losing not one but both of my dogs.
Of course time passed and I did smile again and I laughed again with the humans in my home and our silly hound Maggie. Jackson came home in May 2011 as a stout little rambunctious pup three months after Dutch had passed and licked away the tears I had shed for my late dogs, and then Tinkerbell came in with leaps and bounds and typical Tinkerbell antics two years later.
Every now and then that sleep talking incident makes its way into my mind, “Do the dogs of the future include any of our dogs?”
Although it was just some random talking in my sleep, I think about that question and whether I knew that there would be dogs of the future to fill the paw prints of the dogs of the past, dogs to join the ranks of “soul dog” as Jackson and Tinkerbell both have done. My bond is slightly different with each of them yet I cannot choose a favorite; they are different but equal. Jax is a little like Babe and Tink a bit like Dutch, but are still totally unique and special on their own. That’s the great thing about dogs: the dogs of the present and future never replace the dogs of the past; the heart simply expands to hold all of them together.