I ruffled my fingers through Ivy’s mop-headed curls, my face close to hers. “Such a good dog,” I gushed. “You’re the bestest dog in the whole world.” As Ivy wriggled, overflowing with happy puppy energy, a wave of guilt washed through me, leaving behind a familiar ache.
It wasn’t Ivy’s fault. She’s an adorable ball of beautiful fur. From the very beginning, it was obvious that she was smart, loving, and loyal. She was the first puppy I’d raised by myself, and I was (and am) sloppy in love with her.
Ivy came into my life eight years after my husband Earl died. Over the 27 years of our marriage, we’d raised and loved two dogs, both huskies. Keli was our first. Fourteen years later, about a year before Keli died, we added Tipper. Tipper lived a long time too, and died ten days before Earl did.
What do you do when you lose the best dogs of all time, then years later, adopt a fuzzy little puppy who is also the best dog of all time? Is it disloyal to the huskies to tell the newcomer that she’s the greatest dog in the world?
There are some who would pooh-pooh these feelings of disloyalty and my worry that I was betraying my beloved Keli and Tipper. “The dog doesn’t know,” they’d point out. True enough, but just because Ivy doesn’t know the sorrow I still carry doesn’t mean I don’t feel the ache of that loss.
At first, I thought I could stay loyal to the memory of the huskies if I told Ivy that she’s the “greatest dog born in this century,” but that didn’t ring true. It was like telling her, “You’re the best—but oh, wait, I had these two huskies, and you’re not the same—but don’t worry, you’re also a good dog.” Things would get tangled in my head, too. I’d say, “What a good husky,” or call her Tipper.
I slowly began to understand that this was less about grief and more about comparison. What are the parameters by which we compare our pets, and our love for them? Should we compare them?
As Ivy’s first birthday approached, the answer finally emerged: there is no comparison, and there should be none. I didn’t need to let my love of Tipper and Keli go. I didn’t need to qualify my joy for Ivy. All three dogs in their times were the greatest dog of all time. From now on, no comparing one dog to another, no trying to gauge my love to prove it was equally deep for each.
I sat Ivy down and looked into her big round eyes. I told her how much I loved the huskies, and that I’d never forget them or the things we’d done together that made sharing my life with them so much fun.
“These memories are for remembering, not comparing,” I told her. “I promise to never compare you to them. I promise to not add ‘born in the twenty-first century’ when I say you’re the best dog.”
I’ve kept my promise. The ache is still there, but it’s softer, thanks to the memories of Keli’s and Tipper’s love and antics, combined with—not compared to—the new memories Ivy and I have been making for almost three years.