We’ve had three dogs from the time I was 10 to about now. The first was a yellow lab named Mandy we got from my mom’s coworker who bred them, and a few months after she was put down due to aggressive intestinal cancer, my mom was looking online at a local animal shelter and found Duke and Dandy, two dogs who went in together after their previous owner had to give them up. Dandy was older but Duke was still pretty young, and my mom didn’t want to split them up. We knew Dandy might not be around too long, but older dogs in shelters is heartbreaking to me. My mom and I are both animal lovers, and we’d rather go through the loss than leave him in the shelter, especially without the dog he went in with.
Of all three of them, I felt the closest to Duke.
I was afraid of dogs when my mom decided to get Mandy, and although I came around fast and hard, I wasn’t into the idea at first. And Mandy and I were always in a sort of competition–we were told that in her dog mind, she and I were competing for the second top female spot in the house, the first being my mom. She was never mean or aggressive, but we could tell I was lower in the rankings for her. But I still loved her. We still snuggled and played, and once when my dad was playfully but annoyingly shaking my bed to wake me up and I started screaming, Mandy came to my rescue, jumping on the bed and straddling me and barking at my dad until he stopped. She was super protective. You could tell how close someone was to the house by how vicious her bark got, and although having a not-very-social dog can be difficult, it was also good to know she’d probably have slaughtered anyone who might’ve broken in. I was early in my freshman year college when she died, and I came home that weekend she was going to be put down, hugged her, bawled my eyes out, and sat around moping with my family the rest of the day. It’s jarring the way the loss of a person is, which sounds so stupid to people who have never had a pet, but it’s true. You’re sitting around a quiet, empty house that’s still full of toys and dog beds and food dishes, and your clothes are still covered in her fur and her leash is still hanging by the door. It’s depressing.
Duke and Dandy came a few months later, at the end of that freshman year. I think I felt closer to them in part because I was home with them all day, every day for the first month that we had them, and when I went back to school in the fall, Duke in particular would climb into my lap when I first got home and just sit there for a while. He did that a lot in the first couple years we had him, no matter where you were or how long you were gone–when you came home, you sat on the couch and Duke jumped in your lap and just sat there until he was ready to move.
We joked that Duke could be a jerk, though. He had selective hearing, where he’d obviously ignore us, and sometimes if you walked up to him to sit near him on the floor or pet him, he’d get up and move. But when he was in the mood for it, he was super sweet, especially as my brother and I went through college and moving out. Duke would greet us at the door whenever we came home, barking and running to us when we came in, and he seemed to be able to tell when we were leaving, because he’d come over for some pets and kisses until we did it all again the next time. And even though I spent probably about half his life living away from my parents’ house, I still considered him “my” dog. I only called him “my parents’ dog” if I needed to clarify. And of the three dogs we had, he was the one I wanted to be with when it was time to put him down. With Mandy, it was too difficult and I couldn’t and I didn’t feel as close to Dandy–plus I was at school–but when I got word it was time for Duke, I was prepared to get in the car and go. The only reason I didn’t was because they were having it done quickly and I might not have had time to get there.
Of the three dogs, losing Duke hit me the hardest. I cried a lot that day, and thank God it just so happened to be a day I’d taken off work anyway. The sadness lasted longer. Even though I was at my parents’ house more than once after that, the quiet and lack of Duke running to the door, looking behind him and barking like he wanted my parents to know we were there, it was sad every time. It wasn’t the same. And even for days and weeks later, the cards people sent that my mom showed us made me cry. I came across a couple web comics about putting down a pet that really got to me, and I’m tearing up still even now. I loved all our pets, but there was just something about Duke that made this different.
We had this joke that Mandy sent Duke and Dandy to us. Duke caught my mom’s attention because he had this goofy look on his face like he was smiling, and Mandy did that a lot. And now it’s like Duke sent us my parents’ new dog, Seger. He’s another beagle, a purebred meant for shows who didn’t quite meet his breeder’s standards. He’s too long and has a crooked tooth, so the breeder just wanted him to go to a good home. Six months old, crate trained, from a good line with no health issues, and registered with papers. My mom kept saying, “if we get him,” but we all knew it was a when, especially when she said he was too good an opportunity to pass up.
And this time, it is different. I lived with Duke and Dandy for a little while, but Seger is very much my parents’ dog. And yet Brandon and I were excited like little kids when they got him. Brandon has a cat, at least, but my apartment doesn’t allow pets–I mean, I hear a cat meowing and at least one or two people in another building have dogs, so I’m not really sure if I missed a memo that said, “Just kidding, we allow pets now.” But I am all about them having another dog. I still miss Duke, though. I think maybe I always will.
In some ways, Seger’s a lot like him. He likes car rides, he’s very calm, and he’s really well-behaved, saved those puppy things like chewing and boundless energy that has my dad sending texts like, “HE FINALLY SAT DOWN!!!!” in the middle of the day. But he’s different, too. He gets along really well with other dogs, which we’re all excited about. He’s quiet, too. Duke wasn’t exactly loud, but you could count on getting a couple barks in a day. When we visited Seger, he never made a sound, and although he greeted us at the door, we’re new to him. Duke would run and seem excited; Seger seemed more curious. We’re going to see him again this weekend–my dad’s heading out of town, so my mom will be with him for the weekend and feels she’s gonna need some relief from having to constantly watch him so he doesn’t chew furniture or pee somewhere. It’s been hilarious to me to watch, because Duke and Dandy were a little older and although they had a few early accidents when they were adjusting to their new home, they didn’t need trained. Seger’s still little and learning, and we haven’t had a puppy since Mandy, so watching them do this from almost the beginning is so entertaining to me. Paul and I are dog-sitting in a couple weeks while my parents are at a wedding and Paul keeps saying I’m gonna eat my words when I have to chase Seger down, which I don’t really doubt, but I’ll never admit it to my dad. Teasing him about not being able to handle a puppy is too fun.
So all in all, the new dog is bittersweet. I’m glad they have one–the house is too empty otherwise. My mom got sick right after Duke died, but when she got back into her normal routine, that’s when she said it got really depressing, not coming home to an excited dog anymore. I think sometimes, people look at it as “replacing” one animal with another, but I don’t. I think you fill that quiet, empty house, but Duke and Dandy weren’t the same as Mandy and Seger’s not the same as Duke and Dandy. They were each unique and they each brought something different to our lives. Seger is fun and exciting and I love having a dog around there again, but I think I’m always gonna miss Duke.