When a dog passes away the first thing people say is, "Get another dog—it's the best way to recover."
But my daughter didn't want another dog. She wasn't ready. She only wanted Wendell back. She missed him every moment of the day. So did I.
I would catch her sitting at her desk doing homework and staring at the photograph she had of Wendell in her arms the day we brought him home from the school fundraiser.
One day Hannah found his old collar, the one we had searched high and low for, certain we had lost. It showed up seemingly out of nowhere on the couch where she and Wendell snuggled so often in and for Hannah it meant Wendell was saying hello. And it comforted her.
For me, I had a hard time being comforted. I didn't know what to do with the anger. The rage. The incredible frustration I felt knowing that the killer of Wendell and his owners held no responsibility for what happened. They simply washed off my sweet boy's blood and moved on while my home suffered enormous grief and a trauma I will never ever forget.
In this day and age when people care so deeply for their pets, take them to the doctor when they're sick, buy health insurance, feed them the best food the stores have to offer, groom them, kiss them and, yes, even throw birthday parties for them... still, the law views a person's pet as property. Furry furniture. Nothing more.
Weeks passed. Thanksgiving came and along with it a delivery. Wendell's ashes. It seemed not a day went by when something or someone didn't remind us of Wendell.
All the while I would ask Hannah, "Do you want to get another dog, baby?" Her answer was always the same, "No. Not yet."
She was worried. She felt that by getting another dog we were somehow trying to replace Wendell. I assured her that getting another animal is not replacing Wendell. That Wendell will never be replaced. But we could honor Wendell's memory by adopting another dog who needs a loving home.
She liked that thought, but still wasn't ready.
December came. It had been nearly two months since Wendell died. One night we were sitting on the rug in my daughter's bedroom reading when she stopped mid-sentence and turned to me,
"Mommy, I'm waiting for a sign. A sign that Wendell's spirit has gone into another dog and that dog will find us. "
Wow. Where did my 7-year-old get such clarity? I told her I loved that idea and added, "How 'bout we start keeping our eyes, our hearts and minds open for that sign?" She agreed.
Not more than 24 hours later my phone rang.
It was Chow Bella, the doggy daycare that had been Wendell's home-away-from-home. I hadn't spoken to them since that day I walked into their shop covered in blood, dazed and grief stricken.
Seeing their number come up on my phone reminded me of all the times we would speak in the past when Wendell was in their care. My knee jerk reaction was to somehow think I had dropped Wendell off at their shop and had forgotten to pick him up. But, then I remembered...
"Susan, it's Chow Bella. How are you?"
"I'm okay. How are you?"
"We have an early Christmas gift we'd like to give to you and Hannah."
He proceeded to tell me that ever since Wendell was killed everyone at Chow Bella had been keeping their eyes open for a puppy to give to us. They were waiting for a sign. Waiting for a puppy that reminded them of Wendell's spirit. They believe that puppy has arrived and they wanted us to have him.
I could not believe what I was hearing and yet... believed it.
Hannah was with her dad that night and they asked if I wanted to come to the shop to see the puppy. I did. It was late, but I threw on some clothes jumped in the car and went straight to Chow Bella.
I walked into the shop—far from the vision I was the last time I had walked into their shop. This time I was a woman, a mother, and a grateful customer filled with tears as they handed me this tiny brown six-week-old part-Dachshund, part-Chihuahua mix of a thing.
He looked right into my eyes and I realized how much I needed to hold a dog again. Needed to feel the beating heart and smell the fur coat and nuzzle the wet full of life nose. People are right... it is healing.
And I saw him. I saw Wendell. And I saw the sign that Hannah had wished for.
To say the people of Chow Bella are generous and compassionate and kind is an enormous understatement. They're family. And they were as much family to Wendell as we had been.
Once again we were all in tears but this time they were tears of joy.
I decided to surprise Hannah. I was picking her up from school the next day to get us ready to go to Big Bear to celebrate Hannah's 8th birthday. Just a mommy and me trip.
I picked her up and told her that before we headed for Big Bear we needed to go home and get our bags.
When we got home I said, "Oop, you know, I think I have a surprise for you." She loves surprises. She closed her eyes. Waiting. I got the puppy from the other room and gently placed him directly in front of her.
"Open your eyes, baby."
I will never forget the look on her face when she opened her eyes and saw her dog. She told me later she wanted to scream at the top of her lungs with joy but she was afraid it would scare the puppy so instead she screamed on the inside.
We all three got in the car and headed for Big Bear. On the drive I told her the story of how this puppy came to be. How Chow Bella had also been looking for a sign. I reached my hand to the backseat as I often do and Hannah took my hand in hers as she always does and she said, "I knew Wendell would find us."
Now, to switch gears, because that's what life is... I will tell you that the entire drive to Big Bear this cute little pup passed the absolute worst gas ever. And when I asked Hannah what she was going to name him she took a long thoughtful pause, looked into his face, then proudly, firmly, no question about it announced, "Peener. Peener, the Chuiweener."
So, my friends, that is the final Act in my tail of Wendell. Our sweet, unforgettable dog who lives on in our hearts and now, hopefully, in your hearts forever.
And, thus begins the first Act in what will surely be many, many wagging tails of one incredible gift named... Peener.