Home Is Where the Dog Is

By Beth Touchette, July 2018

On the late afternoon of July 3rd, 2016, my husband and I and our Golden Retriever, Apollo, were driving back from a day of kayaking. Apollo, exhausted from swimming and fetching sticks, rested his muzzle on my lap. When we were about 20 minutes from home, we got a call from our 18-year-old son, who told us that our house was on fire. As we got closer, we saw billowing brown smoke. We parked as close as we could, given that multiple fire trucks were blocking all the nearby streets.

In wet clothes and sandals, leashed dog in hand, we stood with the crowd, watching the flames engulf our home of 19 years. Our neighbors across the street invited us to stay with them for a couple of days, but— since Apollo didn’t get along with their cat—he was taken in by the parents of one of my son’s friends, who said their dog Cooper would be happy to host. As I passed them his leash, I realized that Apollo no longer had dog food, or even a food bowl.

The next morning, we met with the firemen, who had determined that the oily rags we had used to treat our deck furniture were the cause of the fire. The Red Cross gave us each a plastic bag filled with toiletries and a debit card that we could use to buy what we needed, “except guns and massages.”

We stayed with our neighbor for three nights and visited Apollo daily. Cooper shared his food bowl with Apollo, but during our visits, it was apparent that he was as discombobulated as we were. Our family needed to be together.

The insurance adjuster gave us a check to cover our immediate needs. I thought of all we had lost: furniture, photos, plates, clothes, sheets, a house. It was endless. Then I thought what Apollo had lost: a bed; food; two bowls; a box of large-breed Dentastix; chew toys; a stinky, hair-covered, blue fleece blanket; anti-flea medication. That was manageable; in just a day, I replaced everything he had lost. At least one of us was on his way back to normalcy.

In another act of generosity, a canine-owning neighbor who was going out of town offered us his home for a month. We loaded Apollo, 50 pounds of dog food and assorted dog stuff, and our newly purchased suitcases filled with Target underwear, donated clothing and insurance paperwork into our car for the three-block drive.

Settled into our new temporary home, exhausted, I took a long bath and flopped on the couch to watch television. However, I couldn’t figure out how to use the remote, and that’s when I started to cry. I wanted to be on my own couch, wearing my own pajamas, watching my own television. I walked over to Apollo, who was curled up in his new dog bed, and rested my exhausted head on his flank. His fur still smelled of the river, and I remembered the willow trees, and the sun shining on the water. Gradually, my breath slowed to match his, and I slept for the first time in three days. We were told that it would take a year to rebuild our house. Luckily, our insurance covered renting a home, but my first calls to property managers were disheartening: none wanted a dog. Everyone was worried about dog hair and newly planted yards being dug up. My husband’s dog-loving supervisor offered to take Apollo for the year, but the thought of losing him, on top of everything else, was unbearable.

A couple of days later, I called a landlord directly and asked if he would consider a large, hairy dog who only barked when he wanted to be petted. He said he would indeed consider it. Our whole family dressed up, arrived at the home and made an offer on the spot. It was accepted, and two weeks later, we all moved in.

Soon, we had a new couch for Apollo’s fur to cling to. We spent our weekends itemizing losses and selecting fixtures for our new house. Fifty-four weeks after the fire, we moved back to our old address. The first thing Apollo did was to lift his leg near our newly replaced mailbox. We were home.

Beth Touchette is a science teacher and an essayist whose work has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, KQED Perspectives and The Marin Independent Journal.

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