The thing about dogs. . . they can steal your heart, they can break your heart, and they can repair your aching heart.
At this very moment I’m in intensive aching heart therapy with Zoé.
On Saturday, January 19, at 3:45 in the afternoon, Zoé arrived from Luxembourg. She was given to me by her owner, Xavier, who could no longer keep her for a sad list of legitimate reasons. With her best interests in mind, he turned to a white German shepherd rescue organization to find someone who would love her. I was that someone.
A friend of mine who owns a white shepherd and is part of the European rescue network for the breed put us together. Both Xavier and I were vetted in the adoption process and then introduced long distance by text messages and finally telephone conversations. He explained why he could no longer keep Zoé and I explained why I hoped he would entrust her to me.
A week later he and she arrived with all of her belongings, including the ripped and worn blanket she slept on. Xavier and I talked for hours over tea. It was clear he loved her and she loved him. It was also clear under the new circumstances in his life he wasn’t able to take care of her in the way he once had.
He left our house with tears in his eyes and Zoé whimpered in dismay as she watched him drive out of our front gate. Throughout the next day she sat by the window, watching, waiting. I’ll never know what she was thinking, but as I sit here writing this post her paw is on my arm; her head is on my lap. (That set-up tells you that we’re sitting side-by-side on the sofa.) We’ve made an enormous amount of getting to know you progress in the past several days. We’re both so needy that we’re a perfect match.
We have begun our new life together gingerly. This is how our first week played out:
- I changed her name. OK, hear me out. Her name was Zophie. I have a friend named Sophie and I honestly don’t think she looks like a “Zophie” so I figured with my accent she would think Zoé and Zophie are the same. Now, she is either humoring me or she doesn’t hear the difference.
- She sleeps next to my bed.
- She is bilingual, French and German. Throughout the week we worked on her English. She’s brilliant. Soon she will be trilingual. I’ll keep you posted.
- She was eating only once a day. I have now divided her one meal into breakfast and dinner. She’s absolutely delighted with the change.
- We played ball in the garden for three days before we ventured out. It was part of my strategy to convey our new definition of “home.”
- We went for rides in the car so that I could do a few short errands. She was perfect. Xavier told me she would be, but I was afraid she might worry about abandonment. Apparently she didn’t.
- She went off-leash in the fields behind our house and was ecstatic. She came back immediately when I called her: “Come here, Zoé.” Drea told me that she probably thought I was speaking German, “komm her.”
- She made a new friend, Hélène, a St. Bernard. Hélène lives not far from us and also likes frolicking (actually more like lumbering in her case) in the fields.
- This week we have playdates scheduled with my friend Chantal and her three dogs. Chantal has promised to keep Zoé when I visit the States. “What’s one more dog chez moi?” she posits.
After returning home from Chicago on November 30, to discover what little time My-Reason-For-Living-In-France and I had left, every night I would leave all the lights on in the house until sunrise. I didn’t want to be in the dark because everything around us was so profoundly somber — literally and figuratively — that the only way I felt somewhat safe was to turn on every lamp. Then he died and the darkness invaded me.
MRFLIF and I had decided that upon my return we would talk about getting a dog. The house seemed lonely and empty without Charlotte. He so loved Charlotte that there was that crack in his heart we wanted to try to fix.
He would have loved Zoé. She would have loved him.
I’m not really sure I believe in signs, although I want to and like the idea. With that in mind, there was another little miracle on that Saturday. As I finished my final errand and was heading home to wait for Zoé, I turned on the car radio. The music playing was “Oh, Happy Day” exactly the same gospel chorus that rang out as we left the church after the funeral. In all the years I have lived in France I have never heard “Oh, Happy Day” played on the radio. I think MRFLIF was telling me that he approved and was once again pointing me in the direction of the light.
The first night Zoé arrived I turned off every lamp in the house as, together, we headed off to bed. It’s the first time in many weeks that I’ve felt safe.