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Coupling

Mr. Right and his dog

After a divorce and the loss of a beloved pet, what kind of replacement is in order?

By Marianne Jacobbi
July 11, 2010

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I don’t know what’s worse: having your husband jump ship after 26 years or having your loving and loyal dog die just weeks later. Of course, there are far deeper privations than losing a pet – or a husband, for that matter – but when you lose both at the same time, it adds up to a bigger question: Which can’t you live without?

Maisie was diagnosed with an inoperable stomach tumor shortly after Alpha Dog moved out; the timing couldn’t have been worse. I’d had about as much loss as I could take that March, and I’m guessing the same was true for my 17-year-old son. His sisters were older and out of the house, and he’d be heading off to college in a few months. There was nothing I could do to save my marriage, but I was hoping I could at least do something to prolong Maisie’s time with us, so she’d make it to the August college countdown. I was a Lassie fan once upon a time, and I know a boy needs his dog when the going gets tough. Maisie had always been active and cheeky, and that’s exactly what we needed around the house – a creature who kept us smiling.

But things weren’t looking so good for our girl. Maisie was 14, well past her prime for a Lab, and she was in terrible pain. We knew what we had to do. My son and I carried Maisie to the car, and the two of us drove to the hospital to have her put to sleep. We held her tight and reminisced about her puppyhood, her many adventures on boats and planes. We recalled the year we took her with us to live in the south of France. At the airport in Marseilles, they put Maisie’s crate on the luggage carousel and out she came, to our astonishment, going round and round with the rest of the cargo. She was unfazed. It’s why we loved her. It’s why we’d miss her. Those days were gone.

We recalled her shenanigans, too. Her most successful stealth attack occurred in the kitchen, when she downed 120 chocolate cookies that were plated on the counter and waiting to be served to the soccer team. She came through it with barely a hiccup.

My son and I laughed and cried and said our goodbyes. I’d lost a dog or two as a child but never as an adult, and I suddenly realized why this was major: It was the end of an era for our family.

The kids were on me almost immediately to get another dog: “Mom, you need a puppy.” I understood why they were pushing for it. I know lots of women who got a “divorce dog” when their lives fell apart. It’s a way to start over and refill the nest with love. My son also pointed out that “a dog has zero baggage and is always happy to see you.” (Zero baggage is a major draw after a complicated split.)

The kids bombarded me with pictures of puppies from breeders and of rescue dogs that needed a home because their owners had had to move or had lost their jobs or had gotten divorced. (Did I really need two victims of divorce in the same household?) I was tempted, but I also knew I wasn’t ready to care for a new pet on my own. By then, my son had left for college. Some days, it felt as if I was the one who needed rescuing.

Years passed. We became a family without a dog or a dad at home, and ever so gradually, that began to feel OK. But the kids wouldn’t give up on the dog; they tried another tack. They said a dog might be a plus for my love life, and, God knows, I could use one. A dog gets you out of the house and is a great way to meet people. Deborah Wood says in The Dog Lover's Guide to Dating that you’re three times more likely to meet someone if you have a dog with you, and she even describes how to use your dog to prolong or to end a date.

But I’ve come to the realization that I’m not up to caring for a dog solo. First I need to find Mr. Right. He’ll probably like dogs, and so my good friend Zeke is helping me find him. Zeke, who’s the handsomest golden retriever I’ve ever met, belongs to friends, and I take care of him from time to time. We go to the park for long walks, and I have a feeling Zeke may just guide me to the man of my dreams. You see, Zeke’s a people magnet, and he knows just what I’m looking for.

Marianne Jacobbi is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. She lives in Cambridge. Send comments to coupling@globe.com.

  • July 11, 2010 cover
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