Not so Blue

The last time I wrote a blog post, it was to say goodbye to our beloved dog, Shadow.

We found a mass. We made a painful decision. We shed some tears – many of them. We had a picnic and fed him cheeseburgers. And then we took him to the vet and said our farewells to an incredible family member, who stayed with us through so many changes, so many storms.

And we swore the loss was simply too big, too deep, to welcome another furry friend into our hearts anytime soon. Besides, no other dog could come close to Shadow (or to our beloved Taylor, who is now 14 and has slowed down in every way but sweetness.) Why bring in another animal who had such impossible standards to live up to?

No, better not to try. It wouldn’t be fair.

But let me tell you: anyone who thinks that’s the end of it has not come up against the will of a 10-year-old boy.

It’s been a hard year for Jackson. While I share a lot about Alexis living life as a girl who is trans, I don’t often speak about Jackson’s struggles. Maybe, in comparison, they don’t seem as big. But that doesn’t make his struggles easier for him.

A couple of months ago, Jackson was diagnosed with ADHD. With that diagnosis brings the support and treatments he needs - finally. It’s a late diagnosis, and probably one we could have made sooner. However, all of his symptoms could have been the result of many things, including coming to terms with both his sister’s and his other mom’s transitions. Even though he’s been nothing but supportive over the last three years, it doesn’t mean it’s always been easy. Kids deal with things in different ways, and we wanted to make sure the challenges he was having weren’t simply a reaction to the changes in his life.

They aren’t, and with the right support, things are getting better for him. This school year, however, was still a massive struggle. It wore him down. And Shadow's loss was tougher on him than I imagined it would be.

This is why, I suppose, he started pushing so hard for a new dog.

“It’s too soon,” I said.

“Not for me,” he replied.

I found a “petetion” on the dining room table. “For a new dog” it said, and it had room for 50 signatures. His was the first at the top. My heart melted a little. I left it out for others to sign.

“I’m busier now,” I explained the next time he brought it up. “My job doesn’t leave me a lot of room to care for a new dog.”

“But I’m older now,” he retorted. “I can help. I will help. I promise.”

Flashbacks to the hamster he had me buy when he was six. He cleaned the cage once. I did it for the rest of Nibbler’s short life.

I started finding browser windows open, where he had researched different types of dogs. Cute, but I still wasn’t buying in.

“I found a great dog!” he said to me one morning last week. “He’s a year old, he’s a husky, and he’s available at the SPCA of Western Quebec!” (Which is only a half-hour away.)

He whipped out his phone and showed me pictures. Admittedly, the dog was cute. But I wasn’t sold on getting another dog. None of us were. So he sat us all down before breakfast and pitched his best game.

“Look,” he said. “I need a dog, okay? I love Taylor, but she doesn’t run around anymore. I need one to play with, to wear off energy with. None of you have the same energy levels I do and it’s hard for me.”

I opened my mouth to counter his argument. He stopped me.

“Remember how Shadow helped Alexis through a tough time? I need a special pet to help me right now. It would be good for my emotional wellbeing.”

Emotional wellbeing. Smart kid. Maybe too smart. We should have fed him more processed food in the formative years.

 

And that is how our family ended up at the shelter that afternoon, taking dog after dog out for a walk. The husky Jackson had his eye on wasn’t available, so we asked to see other animals who might be a good fit for us. We let Jackson tell them what he needed: a medium to large size dog, not too old, good with kids, cats and other dogs, who loves to play and cuddle. No small order.

“Go get Blue for them,” one of the staff said. “We all love Blue. He’s a big suck.”

According to Blue’s papers, he originates from a shelter in New York City and made his way up to Canada, although I don’t know all the specifics of that journey. He’s 18 months old and 60 pounds. His documentation says he’s a Chocolate Lab mixed with a Great Dane. I think there’s some other stuff mixed in there, too, but who cares? Mutts are cool little mysteries, and are often the very best dogs.

Blue also spent time with a foster family that had an eight-year-old boy, and they had been peas in a pod while he was there. This bode well for Jackson’s dream of a best friend.

“Is this the right dog for us?” I asked the kids. It was practically rhetorical. We knew the answer.

Or most of us knew, anyway. We brought Blue home Wednesday night. He was hyper, tearing around the place, knocking stuff over, unable to settle down. I suppose, when you’ve been moved from place to place, from person to person, from country to country, unsure of what’s happening next, it’s hard to calm that anxiety in a few short hours.

Alexis had her doubts we had made the right choice. “I don’t know, mom. He’s pretty wild. I’m not feeling it just yet. Maybe it’s too soon since Shadow died and I can’t connect with another dog. I just don’t know.”

The next morning, Blue had calmed down. I greeted him with his harness and an early morning walk. He heeled the entire time, walking proudly beside me, greeting other people and their dogs with quiet confidence. He licked my face to thank me when we got home, and jumped back up on Jackson’s bed to fall asleep again.

By that evening, Alexis sat on the couch with a sleeping Blue next to her. “I take it back," she grinned fondly. "He’s not Shadow, he’ll never be Shadow. But he’s Blue. And Blue is great.” 

Blue is great. He and Jackson are the best of friends. We take him for walks and he waits patiently by the swings while his human BFF takes a turn. They play tag, fetch, and have water fights. When Jackson comes home from school, Blue meets him at the door with his favourite ball.

And at night, Blue crawls onto his little buddy’s bed sleepily, and they pass out together after hours of fun.

Shadow was the dog Alexis needed. Blue is the dog Jackson needed.

But I needed Blue, too. I just didn’t know it. I love our early morning walks in the park and our cuddles on the couch in the evening. I love the joy on his face when I walk in the door, and the grin he gives me when I agree to play with his disgusting, completely mauled, falling apart ball in the backyard.

However, I especially love how Blue has helped me remember an important lesson: Change is hard, especially of the loss variety, but life always brings us something new. Blue is our new. And with him, we are feeling far less blue by the day. You can’t ever replace a person or pet you’ve lost. But love is bountiful, and it can wrap itself around new relationships in the aftermath, if we allow it.

Two nights ago, as I was sitting on the couch with both my not-so-little lapdog and my actually little lapdog, I overheard Jackson say to his friend, “If it weren’t for me, Blue wouldn’t be here. I made a good case for him, including how he’d be good for my emotional wellbeing. And that’s how we got this great dog.”

I smiled and looked down at the giant sleeping head on my lap. I felt my heart grow a little bigger.

Thanks for being wonderfully manipulative, kid. Blue and I owe you one.  

Amanda Jette Knox