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This is what I did in my time “between dogs”: I traveled. I spent six months working as a decorative artist at a Buddhist retreat center in Colorado. I spent one summer at the Byrdcliffe Colony in Woodstock, and another glorious summer at Edward Albee’s artist colony in Montauk, a hip seaside town that has no leash law. Every morning, I’d ride one of Albee’s rickety three-speed bikes down to the surfers’ beach and watch dozens of dogs frolic on the shore. (I called this “getting my dog fix.”)

Back in the city, I went on countless dinner-and-movie dates with friends. In my dog days, I’d have skipped the movie because I would have felt guilty about leaving Wallace alone in the apartment for so long. But now, I was “free” to a certain extent. I didn’t have to get up four times in the night to take my diarrhea-boy out in the middle of a snowstorm in February. I didn’t have to risk getting poop on my hands if my plastic bag happened to have a hole in it. I didn’t have to worry about smelling like dog drool, or my dinner guests finding white dog hair in their food. All I had to do now in life was take care of myself. I definitely had more time on my hands. I could stay out for six, eight, ten hours. But to what end? What price freedom? I still had no love, and no warm body weighing down the bed at night.

I missed having a dog most during my morning walks. Wallace had introduced me to that best of life habits, and I am happy to say that I kept it up. But it always felt wrong. How could I walk without a dog when there were so many dogs out there in need of fresh air and exercise?
Eventually, I left New York and began a new dog search in earnest. Oddly, once I began trolling through Petfinder again, my Wallace dreams resumed, and I would wake up sobbing every morning. I finally consulted a therapist, who advised me to consciously replace the traumatic images with happier ones.

Here is the image I chose: It was a sunny day on Cape Cod, just a few months before Wallace died. We were walking on a deserted beach—with a sky so blue and sand so white it hurt your eyes. I hadn’t officially left Ted yet, and the question of whether to leave or stay weighed heavily on my mind and heart. But Wallace seemed beyond that question. For hours, he leapt into the surf, frolicked in the waves, and barked at the inert shells of horseshoe crabs. When gulls flew overhead, he’d spring into the air, trying to catch them, and when a tern came along he tried to catch that, too. The tern, unperturbed, zipped and zoomed low along the shoreline, its wings positioned like those of a fighter jet.

Wallace delightedly pursued the tern at top speed. The funny thing was that, instead of flying off to safety, the tern continued to zip back and forth along the shore. It seemed to be playing a game with my dog. This went on for hours. I’ll never forget the sound of Wallace’s paws splashing in the wet sand, or the look of pure joy on his face as he chased his friend the bird. He seemed to know that I was unhappy, that I was on the verge of making a life-changing decision. Both he and the bird seemed to be telling me the same thing: Joy is the means, not the end. I remember thinking on that day that Wallace had never looked so completely and jubilantly alive. I remember thinking that everything would be okay if I left Ted.

So this is the image I held in my mind. Daily. Soon I began to cry less and laugh more. Soon, I was even able to say the word “dog” without sobbing. Mostly, I began to forgive myself. I began to remember that, to his dying day, Wallace knew I loved him. And I knew he loved me. No life can be more complete than that. To love and know love.

Fitzgerald once wrote: “There are many kinds of love, but never the same love twice.” He was talking about a girl, of course, but I believe the same applies to dogs. I also believe that, just as we change, our idea of the perfect dog can change, too. I now know that I can never replace Wallace, but I can expand upon the lessons we had learned together.

Lee Harrington is the author of the best-selling memoir, Rex and the City: A Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog (Random House, 2006), and of the forthcoming novel, Nothing Keeps a Frenchman from His Lunch. emharrington.com

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