Bexley, our little gray mutt, died on a Sunday in July. By Thursday, my husband, Nate, and I had decided we wanted to adopt again.
When I told a couple of close friends that we planned to go to shelters the weekend after Bexley’s death, it felt like confessing. I didn’t Instagram any of the dogs we visited (if you could see my animal-dominated account, you’d know how weird that is) or advertise on Facebook that we hit three rescues in two days. When one of the shelter staff asked when our dog had died, I dodged specifics and said something like, “Oh, not too long ago.” Nate told me later he was thankful I’d fudged.
I worried people would think I was a bad dog mom. Losing a dog and vowing “never again,” whether logical or not, just seemed more dignified than how I was feeling. Still, it was no shock that Nate and I fell into the category that couldn’t live without getting another one. We don’t have kids, and we’d organized our lives around Bexley since adopting him two years into dating. He made us into grownups, forcing us to budget, get up early on weekends, and trade happy hours for post-work walks. When his health started to deteriorate seriously, we stopped traveling without him. He was, in a lot of ways, the central member of our family.
Yet we wanted badly to love another dog. Stephanie LaFarge, senior director of counseling services at the ASPCA, explained why it’s often hard to reconcile the two. “We are socialized as human beings that we’re supposed to remain loyal to a relationship,” she said when we talked two weeks after Bexley died. “But the dog that died always wanted you to be well. Animals are not as possessive as people are of each other.”
Even though I wasn’t sure about everyone else, I never worried that Bexley would consider us traitors. He’d had it tough before us—abused, then abandoned at a gas station—so rescuing another animal felt like something he’d have encouraged if he could. More revelatory was LaFarge’s description of “anticipatory grief,” the act of preparing for a loss: “Sometimes it’s more intense even than the grief we feel afterwards.”
I thought of a conversation last spring that Nate had started with “If Bexley makes it to Christmas . . . ” and I’d broken down. Bexley had battled a lung problem for two years and a neurological one for nearly as long. I’d developed a habit of smelling his fur so I could remember the scent. The truth was our home had been a pretty sad place for a while—it was no wonder we craved new energy.
When Jenner and Jeffers appeared on my Facebook feed, I couldn’t stop staring at them. They were scruffy ten-pounders described as Maltese, but they looked more like Muppets who needed baths. They had been found as strays in West Virginia, and City Dogs Rescue put out the call on social media for an adopter, or at least a foster family. We decided to apply, you know, just to see what would happen.
They arrived as fosters a week and a half later. We renamed them Kyrie and Clancy and hoped they’d make friends with our cat, Olive. In the middle of the dogs’ fourth night with us, all three animals got into our bed. Guess they’re staying, I thought. We signed the adoption contract the next day, about a month after losing Bexley.
That I love these new dogs doesn’t mean I don’t miss Bexley. The morning after he died, I found a note I had recently written to myself: Dreamt Bex was running so fast I couldn’t keep up with him. We were at a big house and he escaped the yard. It had been at least a year since Bexley was able to run in real life. The dream seemed so real that I’d woken believing he’d actually run away. I was sad, but mostly I felt happy for him that he was free and unburdened.
It’s how I feel now.
This article appears in our October 2015 issue of Washingtonian.