Petey found me nine and a half years ago. At the time, I was still in deep grief over losing Scott. I didn’t want to be alive. Yet I adopted a dog. This, I was told, was a sign that I actually did want to live, that my suicidal thoughts were just that—thoughts. I argued against this, of course, because how could anyone really know what was going on inside my brain?
It was probably the worst part of my life so far. In fact, I’m sure it was.
Before I fell into that horrible depression, I had wanted a dog. Even long before that, years before, I had wanted a dog. We had dogs when I was a kid, but they never stayed long. My dad and I were allergic, and as soon as a new dog entered the house, our eyes swelled shut and our lungs tightened. Antihistamines and asthma inhalers were secret staples, but eventually one of my parents would come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t working out and the dog would go back to where it came from. As I got older, my allergies became far less severe. I can’t really articulate why, but it felt even more necessary to have a dog in my life.
When Scott and I talked about our future, we imagined ourselves in stable and enjoyable careers, in a nice house, and with at least one dog. Scott wanted what he called “a dog-type-dog”—the kind of dog you’re thinking about right now. Dog size. Dog shape. Nothing fancy or full bred. No special dog features. Just your run-of-the-mill barking, fetch playing, pal on a leash.
We never got to have any of that. All that I wanted became nothing I could ever have. Or so it felt.
It was about a year and a half after Scott died that I fell into my first major depression. I was recently out of grad school and had just started a new job. I found a nice place to rent. I needed to complete the picture. In spite of my constant sadness and emptiness, in spite of my inability to do anything but stare straight ahead, in spite of my complete lack of enjoyment in anything, I needed a dog.
I wasn’t searching for anything in particular when I found Petey. Just a dog type dog. And that’s exactly what I found. His likeness is everywhere. The white dog with a brown spot over one eye seems to be the symbol of most things dog. Add a red color and you’ve got the quintessential dog.
But when he came to live with me it was clear that Petey was more than just a dog. I refuse to believe that it was my grief state that made me see certain things in him. Until he came along, I didn’t hold much in terms of belief systems. I’d given up on the notion of a higher power. I knew only enough about eastern religions to know what reincarnation was. And when Petey came into my life, after that first night he was in his new home, I knew he was a dog embodiment of Scott.
When I got Petey, he was a year and a half. He had to have been born shortly after Scott died. It made perfect sense that Scott’s soul transformed and he managed to find me. And it made perfect sense that he would find me when I was at my lowest. Petey saved my life.
Without going into too much detail, I will tell you that there was a day when I decided I no longer wanted to be alive. I made a plan and I started driving towards the ocean, knowing I would never come back. I got almost there when it occurred to me: there would be no one to take care of Petey. I hadn’t left a note. No one even knew I was leaving town, and there’s no telling how long it would be before anyone realized I was gone. I couldn’t leave Petey. I couldn’t.
I came home that night, weary and disappointed in myself for not going through with my plan. And there was Petey, thrilled to see me. When I sat on the couch, in a fog of confusion, Petey leaned into me. He laid his head on my chest and I swear he was listening to my heart beat. If he could hear it, it meant I was alive. We made an unspoken pact that night. He would take care of me as long as he is alive, and I will stay alive for him and take care of him, no matter what. He remains determined to keep me safe and happy, and he does a wonderful job. I’m alive because of him.
The person I loved most in the world died one day and because he died I wanted to die. A year and a half later he found me and he taught me how to live. This soul that rests in the body of a sixty pound pit bull is one of the most beautiful souls I’ve encountered on my life journey.
It feels strange writing this, and even stranger knowing that people will read it. But we believe what we believe. Our realities are uniquely ours, and this is mine. I have all the things I was meant to have years ago. I have a house, an enjoyable career, a dog type dog. And somewhere inside that dog is the soul of one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known.