I Got Custody of My Dogs
Before I had my girls, Hazel and Phyllis. I had my Emma. I called her the ‘un-dog.’ Not one bad habit to her name. She didn’t dig. She wasn’t a counter stealer. She didn’t bark.
She was the quintessential easy-going Golden Retriever.
The complete opposite of my two ‘old church lady’ named labradors who dig, counter steal, and more. As much a part of their charm as Emma’s was to be chill and mellow.
Her favorite window spot was cushioned by her denim bed.
She would chin-rest the sill until she caught sight of my husband pulling into the driveway each night. And then with everything it took, she would pry her aging body up and over to the door. Waiting for her doggie daddy to bust through it.
And when he did, he would walk right past her.
“Can’t you take a moment to pat her head?” I would ask. “She’s getting so old. It takes everything out of her to just greet you at the door.”
But he never did.
It was painful to watch.
So I would urge sweet Emma not to move. To rest instead of rising each time she saw his car. But it never worked. That undying loyalty and love would force her weakened body to movement every single time.
It was unrequited love.
Neutralized by the three young boys who loved her fiercely and the momma who couldn’t live without her.
On the day we said goodbye to our thirteen-and-a-half-year-old girl, the tears flowed. I sat on the floor of the veterinary office, placed her bed on my lap, and coaxed Emma to rest. And I held her.
I had grown up working at this vet and kennel.
The vet tech and I had been childhood friends and co-workers. She reminded me of what I well knew. It had been a luxury to have this many years with a breed of this size. Emma had valiantly hidden much of her aches and pains. It was her time.
To say it was like a doggie wake would be an understatement.
I was devastated. And some of my extended family even came to say their goodbyes. Yet, in the middle of this, I noticed my husband oddly absent of emotion.
Sure, I knew he wasn’t a dog lover.
Wasn’t an animal lover period. And yes, I am not sure how a girl who spent years working with animals and riding horses ended up with such a man. But I did. At nineteen, when we started dating, I’m not sure I understood the extent of his disdain for all God’s creatures.
But I DID expect him to LOVE our dog.
The one we met alongside our first baby. The one who ran through yards and woods protecting our boys. The one who waited for him eagerly each and every night.
The girl who loved him.
My saltwater sobbing was interrupted by his cold demeanor.
It’s not possible I thought. At least, his eyes should be welling. There should be some type of emotion. After all, a stranger could witness a dog leave this world and cry.
My sadness swung towards shock and then towards anger.
“If you don’t shed a tear, you are never coming near me again,” I proclaimed.
And I meant it. But he couldn’t muster any emotion.
I tucked my children into bed that night. Thankfully my sister-in-law had suggested I take a picture of Emma and my boys and frame it. A bit of comfort as they cried themselves to sleep. My middle son was so upset he drifted off while clutching the picture. A heartbreaking sight, as I crept in to sneak it out of his arms.
Emma was loved.
Yet one member of her pack seemed to lack that capability.
He was never mean to her. He simply ignored her.
Funny, until we had serious marital problems, that wasn’t unlike the relationship my husband had with me. I existed in the house with him but in most aspects of life, he ignored me.
I had just been too independent to notice how much.
Nor did my sweet Emma as evidenced by her never-ending greetings.
I didn’t leave right away. But that was up there with one of my watershed moments. I knew something wasn’t right. It was only worsened by the fact I had been unable to recognize it for so long.
When I finalized my divorce I knew I would get to keep my two old church ladies, Hazel and Phyllis. One of the few perks of an exhausting and lengthy process.
For the first time, I was grateful for my husband’s apathy.
My ex being a dog hater was both a good and bad thing.
A bad thing because it was indicative of a much bigger problem. He not only couldn’t attach himself to a dog who became his family, but he also couldn’t attach himself to me. He was missing something. Much deeper than I ever could have understood.
But it was a good thing.
Because I got to leave with undying loyalty and love.
With the girls who love me.