And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Two years ago, we lost both of our beagles on the same day. Blossom was 15 years old and in the final stages of kidney failure. Donnie was 13 years old and had cancer that spread very quickly to his brain. It took some time, but all three of us, Michael, me, and Olivia, realized that we’d turned our home into a doggie sickroom. The dogs were only allowed on the second floor, in the kitchen and the living room. Both of them lost their ability to be potty-trained. Both of them were so confused – two years later, I still can’t erase the image in my mind of Donnie standing in his food dish and looking at me, as if he was saying, I know this isn’t right, but I don’t know what to do! Both were losing their cognitive abilities. It was a horrifying and sad time, and we finally made the decision to help them to the other side, together. Our veterinary clinic was very accommodating – the dogs were side by side, all three of us had a hand on each of them, and they were injected simultaneously. For them, it was a lovely and peaceful letting-go of life, surrounded by those who loved them. For us, well, our hearts were pretty much ripped out. Leaving them at the clinic for cremation and coming home alone was beyond hard.

The beagles on our couch. Donnie is on the left, Blossom is on the right.

I said no to another dog. And I said no. And I said no.

But the silence in the house. No jingling collars. No clicking of nails on concrete floors. No conversation – Donnie was a very talkative beagle. And the couch was really, really empty.

So I started looking, just glancing, dontchaknow, out of the corner of my eyes, at humane society websites that just happened to pop up on my computer screen. I don’t know how that happened. Then I went to see a dog, but he just didn’t fit with us. The humane society called me the next day. “Kathie,” they said, “we think we have someone here for you. Her name is Momma. She came up from Alabama in a truck with six other dogs.”

So all three of us went to see Momma. And all three of us found our hearts again. I like to think that she did too.

Ursula at the humane society.
First day home. On the couch.

Within a week, we also all realized that she wasn’t the calm and collected dog she was in the humane society. She was scared of everything. EVERYTHING. The icemaker in the fridge. The microwave. Loud noises on the television, particularly gospel choirs, which, thank goodness, aren’t on that often. The buses going by. The cars going by. The flags flapping in the breeze. The ducks in the parking lot. Squeakers in dog toys. Holy moly. Everything.

It’s been a challenging two years. But we don’t give up easily. And when she’s not hiding somewhere, she gives back as good as she gets. We changed her name from Momma to Ursula – I named her after the writer Ursula LeGuin, as she was a strong woman, and I figured Ursula needed to be strong too, to get through whatever she went through.

So this week (and yes, this will connect!), I finished the first draft of a new book, a novella. And here’s a hidden secret about writers – we have a habit of hating what we’re writing. I see it happen to my students at the end of first drafts, and second drafts, and so on. With books, it happens around page 100, and 200, and 300. And, well, it happens to me too.

So I wrote the last sentence. Then I glared at the screen. And I thought. BLECH. This is horrible. No one wants to read this. Why did I just waste almost a year writing it? Why should I finish it? I should just hit delete. Blech. Blech. Blech.

And I groaned.

Ursula, snug on her loveseat in our bedroom, which is right next door to my office, came trotting around the corner. She ducked under my desk in her hurry to get to me and then her head popped up on my side. Clunk, her concrete head landed on my thigh. And she looked right at me.

Looking up at me from under my desk, her head on my thigh.

Have you ever looked deeply into a dog’s eyes? I know I’ve read a lot about what people see there. Loyalty. Love. Even gratitude. But what I saw on that day was pure faith.

In me.

You’ve got this, Mom. You did great. You ARE great. It’s a really, really good book. I’ve heard every word. I love you, Mom.

Her head stayed there, solid on my thigh. I kept glaring at the screen. And then I took a deep breath and my hand slid from the keyboard to the top of my dog’s head. She let out a grumble – I think she’s learned to purr from the cats.

“You’re right, Ursula,” I said to the dog named after a woman writer who I admire for her strength, her courage, her honesty. “Let’s go get a treat. And I will start on Draft 2 on Monday.”

And that’s what we did. Ursula no longer slinks up and down the stairs. She skips. She doesn’t slink across the floor. She sashays and lives up to her southern heritage.

Thanks to Ursula, I skipped too. And I sashayed. In a Midwestern sort of way. She had a dog biscuit. I didn’t.

We miss our two beagles, Donnie and Blossom. But meeting Ursula two years ago – one of the luckiest days of our lives. Hers too. When this new book comes out, I may just have to write a dedication to my dog.

Thank you, Ursula.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Happy dog. Our dog. Ursula LeGuin Giorgio.


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