Thus, I began my search. I began to spend hours on the Internet, trolling through dogs on Petfinder.org. I had a few set criteria. The dog had to be a rescue and he/she had to be either a French Spaniel (what I believed Wallace to be) or an English Setter/Springer Mix (what Ted believed Wallace to be). But anyone who has ever put the words “Spaniel” or “Setter” into the search engine at Petfinder knows that hundreds of images will come up. On any given day I might see 324 Cocker Spaniels, 276 Springers, a handful of Brittanys, one King Charles mix and four Clumbers. “Setter” brought up hundreds—English, Irish and Gordon. I wanted them all. I would search until the sun had set and the house was dark and there was nothing but me and a blue screen and 798 Spaniels. I felt, in many ways, like some kind of porn addict, trying to find true connection in a lonely world. But for months no connection came, and I remained dogless. And empty.
Rumi once wrote: “Do not grieve for loss, because everything you lose comes back to you in a different form.” The problem was, back then, that I wanted Wallace to come back to me in the exact same form. Every night I looked into the eyes of a thousand dogs and asked, “Wallace, is that you?” This can be an obstacle if you’re trying to adopt another dog.
Plus, how do you choose a new dog? Especially if you believe your previous dog was perfect and irreplaceable?
There were a couple of near misses: Polly, the sweet, half-blind Pit Bull mix who had been found stabbed and starving on the roof of an apartment building in Brooklyn. Arnold, the droopy-eyed Bassett I met at a shelter in Hyde Park, N.Y. Café, an actual French Spaniel who had been relinquished by his guardians, a young couple who had divorced; neither wanted to keep the dog because he reminded each of the other. I never met Café—he was being fostered by a breeder in Montreal, Quebec—and yet to this day, he stays in my mind. I’m pretty certain he was meant to be my dog. And it would have been good karma to pick up a new dog right where my old one had left off. And yet I could never manage to “find the time” to drive up to Canada.
In 2003, I came very close to adopting an English Setter who looked exactly like Wallace, but my application was denied. (It took about six months to recover from that rejection.) I once even found a dog named Rex! Rex was being fostered at the very same shelter at which I had found Wallace years before. This Rex—a Great Dane puppy—had mischievous blue eyes, and I immediately wanted him. But a young couple from the city had already expressed an interest. I watched them as they discussed whether or not they should get this Rex. In my eyes, they were Ted and me all over again, trying to figure out whether to follow their minds or their hearts. I sent them a silent blessing and drove off.
Around that time, I was approached by an editor who wanted to publish a book version of the columns. I was thrilled! Publishing a book had long been one of my dreams. So I spent months writing an expanded version of the columns, carrying the story through my divorce and Wallace’s death. “Umm, there’s a problem,” my editor said. “We want a happy ending. We want you and Ted to be married, and we want Rex to be alive.” She asked that I end the story—my real life story—in a different place, namely, at the moment Ted and I got engaged.
This felt wrong. “I wanted a happy ending, too,” I told my editor, “but it didn’t turn out that way. Are you saying I should just pretend that the bad things never happened?”
“No one wants to read a book about a dead dog,” she said. (This was two years before Marley and Me.)
And so, because I did not trust my own instincts, and because I wanted to trust my editor, I agreed to cut my life story in half. It took several months to write this half-memoir, and in that time I stopped searching for dogs on Petfinder. Part of the reason was that I was living in an area that had no Internet service. Part of the reason was that I felt icky about not being able to write the truth, which made me feel like a bad person, which made me feel I didn’t “deserve” another dog. But I think the main reason was—and it feels shameful to admit this in a dog magazine—I had started to enjoy the freedom of not having a dog.