The truth about getting a new dog is that it makes you miss the old one.
This reality hit me hard one spring day in 2009 when we arrived at Thistledown Golden Retrievers, near Boston, where my husband, Henry, and I had come to meet Donna Cutler, a breeder of English golden retrievers. Because it was named Thistledown, and because I knew that the golden retriever breed was started by someone actually named Lord Tweedmouth, I was expecting the place to look like a country manor.
Instead, we parked in front of a plain suburban ranch, and the only hint of the litter of the seven-week-old puppies we had been invited to inspect–though we knew it was really us who had to pass muster with the breeder–was a sign on the front door that showed two golden retrievers and said wipe your paws. Why did I suddenly feel like wiping my eyes?
My heart was still hurting over the loss of Buddy, our stone-deaf, feisty-to-the-end West Highland white terrier, who had died in March 2007 at age fourteen. Our two children, Cornelia and Will, who grew up with him but flew the nest years before his demise, often mused that Buddy was my one perfect relationship in life.
Buddy, like me, was a self-sufficient type, and despite his small size he was no lap dog. Like many Westies, he was woefully stubborn and never once came when called. He could be unpredictable and grouchy around small children and once bit my goddaughter’s upper lip. He wasn’t great with old people, either; years later, he bit the leg of an elderly woman who, for some inexplicable reason, was standing barefoot and dressed in her nightgown in our elevator when the doors opened on our floor. (Happily, that incident triggered an unlikely friendship between Eve, Buddy’s victim, and me.) Nonetheless, I was madly in love and forgave Buddy all his sins. I learned a lot from him, too; among other things, he taught me that even in stressful situations dogs have a unique way of steering you in unlikely and interesting directions.
I confess that I spoiled Buddy beyond all reason. Houseguests often awoke to the aroma of grilled chicken with a dusting of rosemary, which I liked to give him for breakfast. Henry would sometimes note, without rancor, that when I took business trips and called home, my first question was always “How’s Buddy?”
Long after Cornelia and Will began to wriggle out of my embraces and find my made-up games annoying, Buddy was always happy to have me scratch his pink belly and play tug-of-war. While my children filled their lives with school, scouting, and sports–and, later, college, work, and love–Buddy remained my steadfast companion.
When Buddy was a puppy, we lived in Virginia, and together he and I would amble around our neighborhood for miles, discovering new side streets with interesting houses. Someone always stopped to admire him, which is how I met a lot of my neighbors. During our walks I was also able to let go of some of the pressure of my job as an investigative reporter, back then for the Wall Street Journal. Sometimes, with my mind wandering free as I pulled the leash this way and that, I would come up with a great story idea or reporting angle on the Washington scandals that were my frequent reporting targets. Buddy, steadfast and true, was my loyal coconspirator.
I once experienced a rare eureka moment while on a walk with Buddy. I had recently left the Journal and gone to work in the Washington bureau of the New York Times, where I was on the team of reporters covering the Monica Lewinsky scandal. One day in late 1998, as Buddy and I strolled up Second Street South in Arlington, I realized that one of the people I had encountered in a document the previous night was familiar to me; he was a prominent conservative lawyer in New York. Why his name surfaced in my brain during a walk with Buddy the next morning is anyone’s guess, but when Buddy and I got home, I took out the documents I had been reviewing and found that this lawyer was mentioned repeatedly. That discovery led to a front-page story about how a cabal of conservative lawyers had secretly worked on the sexual harassment case that triggered impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton. Buddy, my silent partner, deserved to share the byline on that story.
Although independent and often fierce, Buddy was always happy to see me. When my children were in their late teens, I couldn’t help but notice that he, unlike Cornelia and Will, was never sullen and didn’t ask to borrow the car. And when I became the Times’s Washington bureau chief, I noted that unlike the reporters who worked for me, Buddy was unfailingly delighted whenever I came up with what I thought was an inspired idea.
Buddy, you see, was my first dog, and I had fallen hard. Perhaps this new relationship was so intense partly because it wasn’t based on words, unlike the rest of my personal and professional life. I spent so much of my day talking, reading, and writing that it was both a relief and a joy to spend time with Buddy. Except for a few simple commands, our conversation consisted entirely of my silly cooings and his appreciative grunts.
My older sister, Jane, has often observed that what she found most surprising about me was my late-in-life transformation into a dog lover. “You were a wonderful parent,” she once told me, “but I’ve never seen you so affectionate or expressive with anyone the way you are with this dog.” It was true. At work, where some of my colleagues and sources said they found my tough-girl investigative journalist persona intimidating, I was constantly pulling out the latest snapshots of Buddy and telling everyone my latest dog stories. Buddy was more than my coconspirator; he also seemed to certify me as a nicer person.
Excerpted from THE PUPPY DIARIES: Raising a Dog Named Scout by Jill Abramson, published October 11th by Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright © 2011 by Jill Abramson. All rights reserved.