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By Donna Owczarek

Rose settled into the well worn indent on her sofa and opened a moving memoir about a dog. Immediately engrossed, she followed the words with her finger, absorbing every line. An avid reader, she preferred books in which the main character sported a tail. Other than that, she wasn’t too choosey, reading work written by Jack London, John Grogan, and every author in between. While doing so, she had noticed an interesting trend in subject matter.

The earlier authors boasted about brilliant dogs performing amazing feats of courage, each tale a tribute to the versatility of the dog. Whether pulling over-laden sleds, saving children from rushing water, or defending their owners from frightening foes, these devoted dogs spent their entire lives giving of themselves – all for a kind word or a soft pat from their masters.

Boy had times changed.

In the current craze of canine tomes, writers battled over who owned the world’s most difficult dog. Border Collies raced around airports and leapt through windows. Labradors stole gold necklaces and dissected sheet-rock. Beagles ate undergarments and defied being housebroken. And Rose loved them all, sharing their laughter, their frustration, their heartache. It seemed, no matter the path taken, each story eventually arrived at the powerful bond between human and dog.

After turning the next page, Rose unconsciously reached out and her hand settled upon the empty cushion beside her. Startled, she drew back as if burned. Her dog, Luke, used to lie on that very place. He had always been welcome on the sofa, comforting her by his closeness. Her steadfast companion, Luke had accompanied her through some of the best and worst times of her life. Sadly, after just seven short years, he was gone.

Without him, Rose felt lost. At times, afraid.

Alone in her apartment, she often conjured demons in the darkness. Her breath quickened, her heart raced, and she imagined undetectable dangers lurking in every room. She missed the security of knowing Luke was her sentry, always on the lookout. With a sniffle, Rose set aside her book, and her mind traveled back to when she had first found out about him. Responding to her inquiry, an agency informed her that they had a Labrador available. Excited, she asked many questions, including his color.

“Chocolate,” she was told.

Trying to picture him in her head, she wondered if his color looked as sweet as it tasted. As she made arrangements to meet him, Rose prayed he would be ‘the one’ for her. Over the years she had grown up with many dogs, but they were her parent’s pets. This one would be different. He would be hers.

Her first dog since moving out on her own.

And, as the saying goes, he had her at “Hello.” From the moment he leaned up against her and she stroked his smooth coat, felt his warm tongue lapping her chin, she knew they were meant for one another. The agency concurred, approving her to take him home, and soon after, Rose understood why Labs were America’s favorite dog. As sweet tempered as Rose dreamed he’d be, Luke was also playful, energetic, and at times, smart enough to have a mind of his own.

Because of Luke, she readily faced life’s challenges, knowing that he was always there to lean upon. On days that she felt troubled, he never allowed her to remain dormant, nuzzling her arm, demanding she get up, go out, face the world. As time passed, she grew to depend on him fully. Seven years swiftly passed until one day, abruptly, it ended. She woke to him lying on his side, whining inconsolably, and with her mother’s help, they rushed him to the veterinary hospital. When an abdominal ultrasound revealed inoperable stomach cancer, the doctor gently informed her that the time had come to say goodbye.

Afterward, Rose stopped eating, refusing to move from the shelter of her studio apartment. Often, she cradled Luke’s urn in her lap, tracing the intricate design with her hands, wishing instead to be caressing his velvety head once more. Her friends and family worried over her, constantly calling to check on her, but Rose shut them out, allowed her answering machine to overflow.

Eventually, unable to reach her by phone, her mother showed up at her apartment and demanded she eat. From that point forward, her mother often stopped by unannounced, dragging Rose to restaurants, to the mall, to the beach – forcing her to move, to be a part of the world. In time, her pain eased and she moved on with her life, but she never fully lived. Not like she had done with Luke. Instead, she spent most of her time sitting stagnant on the sofa, reading about dogs.

Rose picked up her book again, hoping to escape her thoughts within its pages, when a breath of warm spring air snuck in from an open window and caressed the back of her neck. Reminded of sunny days at the park with Luke by her side, she knew he would never have allowed her to waste a day like this indoors. He would have whined, nuzzled, and continuously pestered her until she gave in and took him for a walk. Imagining the breeze to be his sweet doggie breath, Rose stood up with a smile. Grabbing a light jacket and her sunglasses, she stepped out the front door.

But her resolve dwindled after only a few blocks, and she turned back towards home. While she lived in a fairly safe neighborhood, Rose felt uneasy without the large Labrador at her side. Returning to her building, she reached for her apartment door when a familiar voice called her name. Startled, she spun around in the direction of the street.


“Come on and get in the car,” her mother called from the curb. “I’ve got a surprise for you!”

Reluctant to go anywhere, yet curious all the same, she made her way to the car. As her mother drove, the pair chatted endlessly, but each time Rose steered the conversation towards the surprise, her mother turned it away. The drive was longer than Rose had expected, and they stopped for lunch in an unfamiliar town, sharing a sandwich and a salad before negotiating the road again.

“Where are we going?” she pleaded.

“Just wait. You’ll see.”

Appetite satiated, lulled by the motion of the moving car, Rose felt her head begin to nod. Soon she lost her struggle against sleep, waking sometime later to a gentle hand shaking her shoulder.

“Rose,” her mother said. “We’re here.”

Groggily, she opened her eyes. “Where are we?”

“The Guide Dog campus. They’ve got a possible match for you.”

Rose frowned, and crossed her arms in front of her chest.

“What’s wrong?” Her mother’s voice cracked, as if she’d been slapped. “I thought you’d be happy. You’ve been missing Luke for months…”

“I know Mom, that’s the problem. You just can’t replace him.”

“Why don’t you at least meet this new dog? We’ve come all this way.”


Following her mother into the building, Rose waited dispassionately with her inside an empty office. Eventually, a pair of feet shuffled into the room. She immediately recognized their owner, even though she had not met with the man in years.

“Hi Mr. Doyle.”

“Rose, how many times have I asked you to call me Joshua?” her counselor teased, closing the door. His chair creaked as he settled into it. “How’ve you been?”

“I’ve been better.”

“She doesn’t want another dog,” her mother said quietly. “I’m so sorry – I should never have arranged this without checking with her first.”

“Is that right?” Joshua asked. “I’m sorry to hear that, because I think I found the perfect one for you.”

Although nearly thirty, at that moment, Rose felt like a child – uncooperative, coerced, angry. “It won’t be like Luke.”

“I know you miss him a great deal, but I really think you should at least consider this dog,” Joshua encouraged. “And you’re right. She’s nothing like him.”


“Yes. That’s the first difference. I know how strong your bond was with Luke, so I chose a completely different type of dog for you. Gina’s a German Shepherd.”

Following a soft knock, the door opened.

“Here she comes now.”

Without a word, an unidentified person walked in and then back out again, leaving behind only the sound of soft paws padding along tiles. A moment later, Rose gasped when, without instruction, a slender muzzle slid under her arm and a large head settled delicately on her lap. Reaching down, she quietly stroked the Shepherd’s head, running her hands along her muzzle, then gently up each of the dog’s pointed ears. Upon feeling the soft fur beneath her fingers, thoughts she had struggled to suppress welled to the surface. Soon, Rose erupted in tears, and with a sob, she threw her arms around the dog.

She vaguely heard Joshua addressing her mother, “It’s okay. Let her get it out.”

Their voices faded and although her arms encircled Gina’s neck, in her mind, she clung desperately to Luke. I need you. I miss you so much. How could you’ve abandoned me? After a long while her tears subsided, and her thoughts pulled her back to the present. Rose realized then, that without even knowing her, Gina had patiently accepted her embrace the entire time.

Releasing her grip on the dog, she straightened in her chair, somewhat embarrassed.

Gina stretched her neck upwards and licked her face, as if to say, “It’s okay. I’m still here.”

Rose smiled.

Maybe, rather than replacing Luke, I can find room in my heart to love two dogs? She thought her old friend would want her to try.

“Okay,” she announced, “I’m not promising anything, but I’ll spend some time with her.”

“Excellent,” Joshua replied. “Whenever you’re ready, you can tour the campus with her. Just be aware that a few things have changed since you were here last. After your walk, you can meet your mother and me in the new cafeteria for a cup of coffee, and tell us what you think.”

A moment later, someone handed her a tissue. Leaning over the dog, Rose reached out, and found her mother. Running her hand down her mother’s face, she discovered that she too had been crying. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry I didn’t talk it over with you first. I only wanted you to be happy again.”

“It’s okay. I never would’ve done this on my own.”

Sensing the mood shift in the room, Gina tapped out a story against the wall with her tail.

Rose moved her hand down the dog’s neck and along her back, struck by how much thicker a Shepherd’s fur was compared to a Lab’s. “So you’re happy with my decision?”

The dog’s tail pounded even harder.

“I’m glad.” Finding Gina’s harness, Rose stood and commanded her forward. Together, they stepped through the doorway, about to enter a new chapter in their lives. “Let’s see if we can find our way.”