My fiancé Jim and I are scrambling to create our family Christmas cards, stunned that the calendar is already on December. But one thing we know without a doubt: They will feature our baby, Lewie.
That's Lewie the Chinese Crested, the best rescue dog ever. And he owns us, his mama and papa. Whoever brought him to the Manatee County Animal Shelter for adoption has our undying thanks. (We like to think he's actually a circus dog, escaping from Ringling seven years ago with a backpack slung over his shoulder!)
Yes, there's another dog in my house, and I wouldn't have it any other way. But I still feel the heartache of loss -- and not just for Joey Pulitzer Krauter, who we lost almost five years ago. I still have that tug on my heart for Scout Krauter -- and more than two decades have passed since I had to put him down.
There -- that's what causes the most pain. I had to make that impossible decision for both my boys. Both Scout and Joey seemed determined to last forever, and in dog years they did. I was blessed to have each of them almost 16 years. I cringe, almost in anger, whenever I hear "find your Forever pet." Forever? That's so much longer than what we actually get to share.
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That's what keeps our good friend Doc from having another dog. He and his wife live in the beautiful open hills of Wisconsin, with vineyards and gardens stretching all directions. Lewie loves to romp between the rows of grapes when he visits, and they adore him. Doc has always had dogs at his side over the years -- but he just can't stand the thought of losing one again. Never again, he insists.
That came home in a different way when my metro editor recently lost both of his two big ol' dogs, not that far apart. His pain was quiet, but deep. And something he shared brought back all the dread in me: His loss was eased just a little bit, because both of his family dogs went on their own terms. Not having to make that huge decision of "putting them down" brought just a bit more peace.
How could I go through that again? After Scout, I insisted "never again." Then my Joey took over and declared me Mom. Now Lewie rules the roost. And what a joy.
My dogs have made me smile. They have challenged me, encouraged me, and as companions always helped me. And they have taught me how to give back, to play together, to care, to love purely and simply and without question.
When I blogged on the night I lost Joey, an anonymous commenter left words that I couldn't believe. I wanted to delete them - and now I am so glad they remain.
"Know that in these moments, which turn to days and then years, you made a difference in the life of this animal and this animal made a difference in your life. Your sadness today will bring you much comfort in the future."
And there they are: a million flashes of cherished memories. The time when Scout was only 4, on a road trip from Missouri to Florida with me and a friend, and he somehow got out of the car when we changed drivers on the highway at 2 a.m. outside of Memphis. I had been driving at least 20 minutes when my friend woke to ask, "Where's your sweet puppy?" I could only remember that I had raced to get back on the freeway in front of an 18-wheeler.
Four hours later, after circling back again and again and again, my voice gone from screaming "Scout!", my sweet puppy came running up alongside the driver's door and jumped in my lap. My forever dog.
And the time, just weeks after Joey's death, that my house was robbed, and the jerks took Scout's ashes. I had just put the gold-colored tin on my dresser, next to Joey's wooden container, with photos of both and all their collars and dog tags. It didn't matter what else the thieves stole, they had taken my Scout. I actually thought I would lose my mind -- until my friend Jan came up with the perfect antidote: You know, she said, that alpha dog Joey took one look at the thugs and said, "Hey, I just got here. Take him!" Ah, my other forever dog.
Fast forward to today. I'm looking forward to opening all my Christmas storage boxes, rummaging through stockings-past and doggie ornaments in search of Lewie's to hang on the mantle. And I want to wrap up this column tonight, because that's the only thing keeping me from opening our front door to a wagging tail and dizzying show of welcome.
I'm smiling, my forever dogs. And I'll always love you.
Joan Krauter, Herald executive editor, can be reached at 941-745-7070, firstname.lastname@example.org
COMING NEXT WEEK: Mary Ruiz, CEO of Manatee Glens, asks why women don't have more confidence -- and tells how she is still learning.