I was this close—thiiiiiis close—to having an empty nest, when my dog-crazy 17-year-old daughter came across a little white rescue mutt with a pink bow in its hair on Petfinder.com.
For the uninitiated: The bow tactic is used to lure impressionable, loved-starved people into adopting dogs they were quite sure they didn’t want or need. Next thing you know, my husband (who steadfastly refused the kids a dog for 20 years) was on board and pressing me to make the five-year-old dog a part of our family. Why his sudden enthusiasm, I’ll never know—but I’m going to chalk it up to the Gods of the Empty Nest Syndrome toying with his psyche.
Even though my daughter would soon be going off to college, I gave in. Off the two of us went to hand over $800—so much for rescues being an affordable option—and meet our new pet at a makeshift foster center for wayward mutts. They brought her out, minus the marketing bow, and the first thing I thought was: She has a weird eye. In addition to that pinkish depigmentation, she seemed, for lack of a better word, nonplussed. The canine was definitely not excited to see us, nor was she particularly skittish or frightened as we took turns petting her and throwing a ball that she steadfastly ignored. Note to self: When a dog doesn’t play on day one, take it as a sign that she’s not going magically turn into a stick-chasing Rover at the park.
Apathy aside, Sabrina, as she was named—not that she has ever answered to it—arrived trained. She walked on a leash, ate from a bowl, sat for a snack, and peed outside. She also occasionally peed inside, and once in a blue moon pooped inside (but only under the piano).
The Friday night Sabrina came home with us, she promptly jumped into our daughter’s bed; this, apparently, was a habit that the woman who fostered the dog for seven months encouraged. My daughter and she became thick as thieves. But then Monday rolled around, and Sabrina and I were alone in the house—locked in my office because I didn’t yet trust her pee-worthiness to allow her to roam about willy-nilly.
Picture, if you will, the dog I didn’t want in the first place now whining in my office seven hours a day—except for the brief interludes when I had to walk her because my daughter had DECA, cheerleading practice, and a spirit assembly and wasn’t going to be home until dark.
Did I mention Sabrina was an allergy dog whose monthly arsenal of prescriptions put my middle-age Rx stash to shame?
Did I mention Sabrina was an allergy dog whose monthly arsenal of prescriptions put my middle-age Rx stash to shame? Don’t worry, the rescue operation didn’t either. But I tell you this to explain the semi-monthly trips I’ve began making to the vet, doggy dermatologist, doggy eye doctor, compound pharmacy, and health-food pet store to keep the, as it turns out, 10–year-old dog from scratching and licking herself to death.
Yes, I threatened to give her away. And yes, this was met with all kinds of effective crying and pleas from my daughter. But soon, there came a subtle shift in the house. Daughter would come home from school, and after a brief snuggle, Sabrina would pad quietly back up to my office and return to her spot on a comfy chair. Daughter returned from six weeks at camp, and Sabrina’s brief snuggle turned into a quick hello and a return to Mom’s side. Like it or not, I found myself with a dog in my bed.
As it turns out, I liked it.
The Healing Power of Dogs: Me and My Shadow
You see, around the same time I gained a new bedfellow, I found myself in the process of losing my former one. Having struggled with marital issues for quite some time, my husband and I had taken to sleeping in separate bedrooms not long after our daughter left home, and, as I’ve come to discover, sleeping solo in a king-size bed when your partner still lives in the house feels lonelier than actually being home alone.
There’s a certain cuddly, tummy-scratching, nose-kissing session that might just be going on before the lights go out.
Sabrina, on the other hand, followed me around like we were on our honeymoon. To this day, when I get up from my desk to take clothes out of the dryer, she’s right there in the laundry room with me. When I go to the bathroom and neglect to latch the door, before I know it, a little black nose and two beady eyes are curiously watching me pee. (In all fairness to Sabrina, she retreats and waits outside the door once she’s convinced I haven’t abandoned her forever.)
I can’t cook a thing without a white fur ball next to me waiting for an errant tidbit to fall to the floor. At night, when I get into my bed—I mean, her bed—there’s a certain cuddly, tummy-scratching, nose-kissing session that might just be going on before the lights go out. And best of all, if I’m crying, there’s always someone to have and to hold.
When midlife doles out change and curveballs with abandon, my little 16 pounds of white fluff keeps me on a firm leash of love.
Except when she poops under the piano.
Hillary Quinn has worked as an editor at various magazines in New York and is a well-known beauty and lifestyle writer. Her work has appeared in Elle, Cosmo, Bride’s, Good Housekeeping, and many other publications and websites.
A version of this article was originally published in November 2017.