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In Between Dogs

But it’s not just that Hublot’s sweet tale of rescue and devotion feeds my grief. It’s that the larger story —the endless accommodations Hublot made for the dog and the all-consuming dedication that ultimately came to define him—is my story as well.

I almost never travel with my husband. Partly this is because I’m the kind of person who clings to home, who likes to cook and putter and take walks around my own neighborhood more than I like to explore new places. But mostly I didn’t travel with him because I hated to leave the dogs for more than a night, even though I had a sitter who loved them almost as much as I did. Despite the fact that she’d worked for us for 20 uneventful years, I worried that in my absence my dogs were lonely and bored and in near-constant danger. It was a worry that ruined everything from overseas trips to overnight jaunts.

Two years ago, my husband convinced me to go on a week-long excursion to France. He would do everything— research tickets, make our accommodations, plan our days—if I’d just learn to operate the Blackberry we’d use while overseas. I agreed. Upon our arrival in Paris, I was immediately distraught because I could not remember if I had engaged the dog sitter (I had, of course), and I could not call her.

This was because I’d discovered that learning to use the Blackberry caused me to think about being away from the dogs, so I didn’t do it. I spent our entire first day stumbling down the Champs-Élysées and in and out of pastry shops and the Louvre staring down at the tiny, mysterious phone, punching random buttons, willing it to call home. When at last by some miracle it did, it was three in the morning back in the U.S., and the dog sitter was groggy and alarmed.

“Are you okay?” she croaked into the phone, her voice gravelly with sleep. “Yes!” I shouted. “Are you at my house?” “Of course,” she said, sounding bewildered. I apologized profusely for waking her. Then I apologized profusely to my husband for the distraction. Within an hour, I was worried again, afraid the dogs were sad without me and that the sitter would forget to padlock the gate when she went out. But that was then and this is now. There are no dogs pining for me at home or on the edge of danger. The worst that could happen has happened.

My husband’s art rep owns the 23rd floor penthouse condo in St. Petersburg where we are staying. Like the theater, it’s palatial. Floor-to-ceiling windows line the living room, offering a dizzying view of the bay, a busy small aircraft landing strip and the Dali museum. We waste no time selecting one of the four enormous bedrooms to drop our bags and learning to operate the espresso machine in the kitchen. We kick off our shoes and take our coffee onto the balcony. Below us on the street, people and cars and horse-drawn carriages mill about, all of it so far down that the symphony of voices and engines and clopping hooves barely reaches us. It is as if we exist in a world apart.

My husband loved the dogs every bit as much as I did. He loved to snuggle with them and take walks, and he, like me, marveled endlessly at their quirks (look how she folds her paws under, like a lamb; look how he buries his head behind the pillows, like an ostrich!). Whenever we went out, he turned on the golf channel.

“They love golf,” he’d say, grinning at them lined up on the sofa.

But I was the one who’d pulled them off the streets. I was the one who fed and bathed and took them to the vet and managed their pills and their diet and their days. And not just the three Spaniels, but the four dogs before them as well. There were mornings, washing my hair and brushing my teeth, that I wanted to scream from the boredom of it, the repetition (hair again?! teeth again?!), and yet never did I weary of asking my dogs whether they were, at suppertime, ready to eat; or at potty time, to potty; or at walk time, to walk, even though I knew the answers to these questions were yes, yes, always and forever yes.

Like Hublot under the spell of his growing pup, my meticulous tending to the ever-expanding needs of my dogs became the point of my life. It was what defined me. It was not what defined my husband. I know for a fact that he never once thought his life would be pointless without dogs.

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Dana Shavin is the author of The Body Tourist, a memoir; her essays have appeared in The Sun, Fourth Genre, Oxford American and others. She lives in Chattanooga, Tenn.

danashavin.com

Photo by JULIEN L. BALMER

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