Although many years have passed, I can’t help but think of Dolly on Valentine’s Day. She was my first dog, and the very embodiment of unconditional love.
I was a toddler when my parents brought her home, a golden retriever puppy with the softest eyes and fur. It was love at first sight.
Dolly and I grew up together, becoming the best of friends. She played with me, comforted me, and loved me. I followed her around like I was her puppy. And no matter how many hats or bows I put on her, she was infinitely patient.
Dolly was my confidante each time I had an argument with my sisters, or when I was mad at my parents. She listened and comforted, she never failed to make me feel better. And I wasn’t the only one who benefitted from her generous nature. She was gracious to all of the rescued dogs and convalescing birds who passed through our home through the years, and to Raggedy Ann, a cat who adopted our family. I even remember Dolly waiting patiently for our starling, Birdy, to finish taking a bath in her water bowl before she could drink.
It was my mom who instilled in me a love for animals and encouraged me to get off the sidelines and advocate for them. But it was Dolly who taught me how special and amazing animals are, and how deep the bonds can be when we love them and they love us back.
Dolly was eventually diagnosed with cancer. After an unsuccessful operation and weeks of denial, the veterinarian came to our house and gave her a peaceful, painless end. My 13-year-old heart broke that day.
I didn’t think another dog could fully capture my heart the way Dolly had, until I met Lilly.
Lilly is a thoughtful, inquisitive, beautiful whippet terrier mix from Trinidad and Tobago. She was just months old when she was rescued by a Humane Society International colleague working with a shelter on the island. One day, when I stopped by her office to ask her about the trip, a little black nose poked out from under her desk. With a bit of coaxing, the rest of her followed. I don’t know why but, in that moment, I fell in love.
Lilly had a rough start in life. But with plenty of love, she, like most dogs, learned to trust humans again. Lilly bonded quickly with my then 10-year-old daughter, Zoe. My husband built a set of stairs to Zoe’s bed so Lilly, still a puppy, could climb up. For the next eight years they would sleep next to each other most nights, until Zoe left for college last fall. I’m not sure which one of us misses her more.
Now, Lilly keeps me company every day at work, curling up in her bed under my desk or next to me on the couch at home. She reminds me why we do the work we do, to ensure that animals of all kinds are protected, safe and free from any harm or misfortune.
Dolly and Lilly couldn’t have been more different, in looks and in temperament, but they both had something in common with every other dog: they were willing to give their whole hearts to the people who loved them. We all have loved and lost our companions and sometimes wondered if we could get through the pain. But we love again because each dog that we are lucky enough to share our lives with teaches us something wonderful about loyalty, forgiveness, companionship, and unconditional love.
Animals make our world a better place, and they make us better too. On this day that celebrates love, let’s each celebrate the wonderful companions who have shared and enriched our lives, giving us happiness, joy and comfort. Happy Valentines’ Day, everyone.