She was there, and then, she wasn’t.
The only physical traces left behind were nose smudges on the patio window that looked somewhat like grease and several superficial scratches on my beloved hardwood floors that, to be honest, I was not thrilled to discover.
For years, our two sons bemoaned their lack of a real pet — AKA “one with fur.” As much as they adored Wiggles, Finn, and Bubbles, betta fish were not the cuddliest of companions. Touché. Furthermore, the ten-second thrill of sprinkling a few rust-colored specks of food into the bowl then watching them sink to the bottom had lost its spark long ago.
As our boys’ limbs grew taller, their voices deepened lower, and their emotions stretched wider, so did their capacity for love.
Hence, my husband and I ever-so-reluctantly agreed to foster a dog. And foster we meant! None of this #fosterfail nonsense, no matter how perfectly lovely a pet it turned out to be! This was not an experiment to learn if pet ownership was for us. Adoption was simply not a commitment we were willing to make. With any luck, it would be an overall positive family experience, like a camping expedition with an occasional mosquito bite but hopefully no fire ants.
Layla, an elderly Corgi, had such exemplary manners and discipline that I suspected she was Emily Post’s reincarnate. When we said stay, she obeyed. When we said come, she followed. When my husband grilled bacon-wrapped filet mignons she showed as much interest as my vegan friend Lisa would. Furthermore, she didn’t bark, jump on furniture or people, veer into the neighbor’s yard, or chase the baby bunnies hopping about our neighborhood. When the boys dressed her in a Clint Eastwood poncho, Ozzy Osbourne baseball cap, and Green Bay Packer jersey, she wagged her tail. Her urine didn’t even burn our grass; in fact, it magically flourished like Chia-Pets wherever she peed.
Oblivious to the fact that she was brought into our household for the benefit for the children, it was me she became fixated on. In the mornings, she sensed the very moment my brain morphed from dreamland into semi-consciousness and her tail thump-thumped on the carpet like a heartbeat before I was ready to open my eyes. When I moved from one section of the couch to another, she relocated her position on the floor. When I showered, she nosed her way into the bathroom and stared at me through the glass door. When I sat on the toilet, her face pointed squarely in my crotch. She was always just… right there, which admittedly I found somewhat annoying.
But then Covid-19 hit hard and fast and yep, she was right there. When my youngest son struggled with distance learning and sobbed, ‘I’m not the same boy, I’m not the same boy,’ over and over and over; when my oldest son slammed his room door for the umpteenth time, angry from missing his friends and Parkour and band practice; when my husband tensed up upon learning of his job furlough; when I lay in a heap on the floor and shrieked like a injured animal from the raw pain of an indefinite separation from my mama in her memory care facility. During those excruciating lows, Layla placed her paw upon our bodies like a minister’s palm on a parishioner’s shoulder during prayer, and waited for our storm to pass.
At the seven-week mark, we got a call. “Can you bring Layla to meet her new Mom tomorrow?” New Mom? Tomorrow? I did not like the sound of either one of those things.
Yet, we were not adopting a dog! As I said.
I typed up more careful notes than I did with our first babysitter. Layla does not tolerate the heat well. She needs to sleep with a nightlight on. She loves Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, ice cubes, car rides, Crime Junkie podcast. Don’t hesitate to call with any questions —day or night, I wrote.
We said goodbye at a suburban Chuck and Don’s Pet Supplies. Never in their lives have the boys cried so hard, so long.
In the weeks that followed they talked about Layla constantly and obsessively. Remember this? Remember that? Remember when? Every single night, she took center stage in their prayers, their dreams! Our sons were still smitten with their beautiful first love.
Several weeks later, as I Windexed her nose smudges off the windows and attempted to buff her nail scratches from the hardwood floors, I, too, romanticized about the one who got away. I texted her new Mom. “How’s our girl doing?” Our. Verbally marking my territory, as if she still belonged to my family.
Although Layla was very much loved and exceedingly well-cared for in her new home, the new Mom inexplicably felt another fate was in store for her. And it turned out, she was 100% correct: Exactly one month to the day that we said goodbye to her, Layla returned home with us for good. She will always be just… right here.
~ Jillian Van Hefty, Reprinted with permission from Love What Matters, https://www.lovewhatmatters.com/
A postscript from Top Dog Foundation: In the time since this article was written, Layla has proven her therapeutic tendencies more than once, demonstrating a knack to know who needs her presence and that warm paw of comfort. If ever there was a “Happy Holidays” to wish to those who serve, we send it out to everyone who cares for those in need, the two-legged and the four-legged caregivers who move amongst us.