One recent afternoon, I was softly crying and cuddling Camila’s dog, Andy, for comfort when the desire to talk to Camila swept over me. I couldn’t distract myself from my desire, so I employed the common default: I talked about her instead.
I got our dog’s attention and asked, “Andy, do you miss Camila?”
I don’t know what I expected, but I will never forget her response. She jumped up. Her body came to alert attention, her head whipped first to one side then quickly to the next, then her eyes returned to me. Her body was tense and she was waiting. She looked quickly toward the door and then again at me.
She was looking and she was waiting for Camila.
Andy could not have demonstrated “Where is she?” more clearly had she had language. By the time her eyes came back to mine, I realized just what my gesture had cost, and I shed fresh tears for this little dog that missed my daughter.
Camila got Andy during her second year of college. She was living in an apartment across from the Performing Arts department, literally across the street, which might have been what encouraged her to get a pup in the first place. She thought it would be so convenient.
And for a time, it seemed to be. She and her friends shared a schedule: every period someone would walk across the street to take Andy out for a stroll. In this way, her needs were taken care of and she was introduced to a lot of young people, people who played with her and looked forward to seeing her. But the whole set-up was only convenient for a time. By the time the students were in rehearsal, hours might pass with only one or two frantic runs across the street.
It was a set-up only a young college student would conceive. And it was charming. But anyone who’s a parent already knows how it ended: By Christmas, the dog came home – to me.
Nonetheless, there was no doubt who was Andy’s primary person. Camila was her mom. For those first months of late summer and fall, when Andy was very young, Camila would rub her belly to soothe her through the night. She would endlessly toss a ball, encouraging her puppy to follow and fetch. She brushed Andy’s hair and took her everywhere she went when she wasn’t in class. And, of course, that puppy slept right beside her at night.
I remember Camila going regularly to the pet store to purchase just the right comforts and necessities for her young charge. And the dog, as dogs will do, lavished her with love in return for her thoughtfulness. Andy’s happy prance matched Camila’s high spirits. As Camila laughed, Andy would bark. Both were glad in each other, and both were satisfied with the love and comfort the other provided.
Now, Andy is my dog. And I am so grateful to have her that I doubt I can sufficiently express it.
I laughed with my girlfriend last week, saying, “I’ve become one of those women”: a woman who dotes on her dog. But I know there’s more to it. As Camila’s dog, Andy is an extension of her, an animal she chose to love and to be responsible for. When I cuddle Andy, when I hold her and play with her, when I love her, I am loving my girl, loving that same sweet creature she loved so well. I am taking care of Andy for Camila, doing as she would do. And when Andy loves me back, I feel loved.
Andy is a generous creature. She plays with anyone, jumps on anyone, and sometimes annoys everyone with her desire to play, play, play. She is five now, still spring-loaded, still glad. But, as I now know, she is also changed by our loss.
How do I reconcile a little animal that can’t understand why her person doesn’t come home? I comfort her as I comfort myself: with affection, with toys, talks, and walks. Andy enjoys her walks, demands her treats, takes comfort on our laps at her leisure. And all the while, like me, she misses Camila.