An Emotional Rescue

Katrina puppy shows couple the way back.
By Beverly Breton Carroll, February 2009

John and Beverly Carroll with Abby

My husband and I live in an exclusive gated community.

We’ve recently taken up residence here, but it’s not where I envisioned we’d be at this point of our lives, him just months into his 50th year and me hot on his heels. For our gated community is a 20-by-14 rectangle with a metal gate on one doorway, an uncooperative wooden gate on another, and an old Playskool plastic fence on the third. Inside is our eat-in kitchen, and our new puppy.

We have friends enjoying gated communities luxuriously designed to encourage couples’ recreational time together—on Kiawah Island, off the coast of Miami, in the Bahamas. They have golf courses, salty oceans and fresh breezes. Outside the sliding glass door of our gated community here in Massachusetts, we have the puppy’s potty spot, way too much rain and snow, and science-defying breezes that render our entire yard downwind from that aforementioned potty spot.

Are you nuts? friends wanted to know. You’ll be looking at colleges next year with your son; why are you tying yourselves down now with a dog?

I wondered that myself. My husband and I were in striking distance of the life I’d seen in those television ads—attractive smiling couples with silver hair, feeding each other strawberries on a picnic blanket, hitting the open road in new cars, kissing and embracing over sparkling jewelry. All that freedom, that space to do whatever we want; why toss it away in a furry brown-eyed moment?

Because we didn’t need more space. We needed less. Independent spirits, my husband and I had maintained perhaps too much space throughout our married life. We’d lost each other in it. While we were working and parenting, and generally “getting ahead,” that space had devoured our easy sense of camaraderie, our safe harbor in each other’s presence, our once very present desire to simply be together.

Our at-home conversations had been streamlined to alluring one-liners thrown out in passing: “You need to break down the boxes for recycling,” “Why haven’t you talked to the accountant?” and “When are you going to do that dark wash?” Not exactly Tracy-Hepburn material. Yet I didn’t question our undying love for each other. We’d just gotten into a rut, taking care of the business of life and not taking time for the fun of it.

Enter one yellow Lab “mixed with something small.” But not because I’d figured out I needed her yet. She arrived because I was still taking care of business, upholding my end of an old, off-handed agreement. My husband, for the first time in our 19 years of married life, would not be traveling regularly for work. In fact, he’d be working from home, and at some point over the years, he had gotten me to agree that if he was ever home to help take care of a dog—yeah, right—we could get one.

I was cornered, period.

Our puppy began, before we’d even met her, by bringing my husband and I together in social accord; we could offer this small help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She and her brother and mother had been picked up off the streets in Louisiana a few months after the destruction. Spending a couple of weeks in a shelter there, she and her brother then traveled on a transport truck making stops all along the way north, to finally be delivered at the very last stop—a foster mother with a Golden Retriever rescue group in Augusta, Maine. Here is where we met her, became instantly besotted, signed the papers and brought her home.

With the very first wag of her wand of a tail, Abby began to shrink the spaces between my husband and me. Into our production-oriented lives had exploded this antithesis of business, on four wobbly legs.

My husband and I suddenly discovered that we wanted to talk all the time—about her. There had never been a cuter puppy; her rambunctious silliness was, of course, irresistible. We began joining each other in the kitchen at odd moments throughout the day to sprawl out on the floor between the gates with our new four-legged family member. And every time we joined her, Abby would wiggle her little cuddly body back and forth so hard, eyes brown and liquid—and then, in ecstasy, collapse against our legs, shove her moist nose into our hands, give us licks, and as soon as we sat down, tumble into our laps. Anything just to be close. Crazy, wonderful animal love.

Animosities had to crumble in the face of such pure and joyful adoration as Abby offered. My husband and I found it impossible to maintain our pattern, not always happy, of space and distance. We began doing more and more together, the three of us, just for fun—taking walks in the nearby field, sitting back with lawn chairs and a tasty bone to watch our son’s baseball games, clambering over the rocks at a friend’s ocean-front home to enjoy a swim. Prancing and pouncing and dog-paddling, this canine Tinkerbelle began to magically guide us … back together? I think it’s forward, together.

In shelter vernacular, our little female is called, not a rescued pup, but a rescue pup. How appropriate. For my husband and I didn’t just rescue her; she clearly rescued us, and she continues to make sure we stay rescued, every single day. Our gated community won’t show up in any glossy brochures—the now-wrinkled curtains wrapped high over the rods so she can’t chew them; the plants removed to expose bare corners; the wooden floor displaying fresh scratches, dirt, dog hair and a smelly chew bone—but it’s the only one we want to come home to.

Beverly Breton Carroll's work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Boston Herald, The Writer and Women's World.