Love, Loss and a Pint-Sized Puppy

Hey everyone!

Did you think you’d never hear from me again?

It really hasn’t been too long since my last post. Just since…. May. Whoops.

I blame three things for my major blog absence these past three months:

  1.  Working so hard to bring my freelancing business to the next level that the idea of spending even more time in front of a computer screen made me want to puke.

2. Gorgeous weather, a jam-packed summer camp schedule, and enough traveling to keep me constantly out of a routine.

3. The anticipation of sharing some BIG news that’s still not quite ready. I’ve been sitting on this story for months, and it’s almost time to go public with it. So stay tuned.

Nonetheless, the cooler weather is getting me back into a contemplative mood, and I’m ready to start blogging again. But first, I need to share the kind of news I never wanted to write about.

We lost our dog, Aldo, this summer.

This is an ever-present risk of having our two dogs live a semi-wild life up here on the mountain, but it still completely blindsided me when it happened last month.

For our second anniversary, Ian and I decided to do a romantic couples thing and planned a backpacking trip through Shenandoah National Park. Because we also believe that spending time alone together is semi-overrated, we took Aldo along with us. He even wore his own backpack!

Wendell was left at home because his joint problems mean that extended hiking trips aren't his idea of fun.
Wendell was left at home because his joint problems mean that extended hiking trips aren’t his idea of fun.

We had the best week with our backpacking buddy, and Aldo proved how physically superior he was to us by sprinting around camp each evening while Ian and I essentially passed out from exhaustion.

Once we made it home and reunited our two puppies, Wendell and Aldo decided to celebrate by sprinting off into the woods together. This is entirely normal, as most of our mountain walks end with one or both dogs chasing a deer into the woods and returning home, sopping wet and utterly spent, several hours later.

Unfortunately, this time, they didn’t return.

We didn’t notice anything was wrong until the next morning, but by then a pit of dread had lodged itself so deep in my stomach I couldn’t focus on anything else. For days, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t do anything really, besides futilely roam the woods with a big bag of dog treats, calling their names as I went.

Every dog owner knows they will eventually lose their pets. But to lose two completely unexpectedly, as puppies, and on the same day? That was a level of injustice I couldn’t comprehend, especially after the chaos of caring for them this spring.

Four days after they ran off, Wendell limped back to us, thin, weak and missing the padding on one of his paws. As overjoyed and as we were to see him, his return in such a distressed state was almost conclusive proof that we’d never see Aldo again.

Was it a car? Coyote pack? Rattlesnake? We may never know, and that’s been hard to accept.

I don’t want to play up my grief and act like I’ve experienced some extreme hardship while hurricanes and wildfires are causing real devastation across the globe. Appalachian mountain dogs live dangerous lives, and I know we gave Aldo a happy home with us that had just one bad day. Nonetheless, losing him so mysteriously was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve personally experienced. As I cried and cried and cried over his loss, I knew I was mourning as much for myself and the loss of his much-valued companionship during my otherwise solitary workdays.

And so we moved on. Or, at least, tried to.

Unfortunately for Wendell, he’s kind of a poop on his own. We love him dearly, but he’s a little aloof with everyone not canine. Losing his buddy caused him to adopt a sedentary life, only waking up from his daylong snoozes to join us on short walks. This one-dog life could have become our new normal, but after having a taste of the daily joy that two dogs brought us instead, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back.

So when Ian mentioned the small puppy up for adoption at the local vet’s office, I gave him my permission to find out more.

She was just three months old, a survivor of parvo, and a mountain cur mix, so Ian told me. He speculated she would get bigger than Aldo, making her the perfect companion for Wendell someday.  And so, after way less talk than this kind of 15-year commitment usually necessitates, Ian arranged to pick her up the next morning.

Was it too soon? Absolutely. But Ian and I tend to be impulsive people, and it rarely goes wrong for us. I spent the morning in giddy anticipation of meeting my new friend, eagerly running out to the car when he finally arrived with her.

And then I stopped dead because this wasn’t the puppy I was expecting.


She was TINY. Just seven pounds and already almost half grown, I could tell immediately. Where was my promised mountain cur?! She’d been replaced by a rat terrier, and I suddenly knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ian actually knows next to nothing about dog breeds.

I mean no disrespect to small dog lovers, but WOW. This threw me for a loop. My definition of the ideal dog is one I can take on runs, one that’s at least passably intimidating if an invader comes, and one that barks, not yips.

One that will never be confused for a cat…or a large rat.

In the interest of full disclosure, I got fairly mad at him. How could Ian have gotten the breed so wrong?! He’s forever grateful that his immediate family was visiting him at this time because the abundance of eyewitnesses surrounding us meant I couldn’t give him an unfiltered piece of my mind. Feeling trapped, I agreed to give the dog a trial run for a few days, fully expecting to tell Ian by the end to trade her out for something a little more dignified.

And like all dogs, she knew exactly who she needed to impress and devoted all her attention to the task at hand.

There were five of us in the house, and we all met her at the same time. Yet, who did this savvy pup attach herself to within the first few hours? Me. By that evening I couldn’t walk around without a small shadow trailing me, and even briefly leaving the house left her in such a tizzy that she’d frantically search for me and howl in dejection. This will probably be a problem someday, but it was pretty stickin’ cute in the moment.

Friends forever? We'll see.
Friends forever? We’ll see.

Sooner than absolutely no one expected but me, I was completely enamored with the scrappy puff and couldn’t envision life without her. She soothed my hurting heart, and today we are a two-dog family again.

I’ve even forgiven her for being small.

So without further ado, meet our little Annie (Dillard)! Let’s hope her legs at least grow long enough to jump on the couch because I still might refuse to lift her up on principle.

The new permanent fixture under my writing desk.
The new permanent fixture under my writing desk.