This morning we delivered a loved one to the hospital for surgery. We drove slowly, spoke quietly, and carried a bag of essentials — a worn stuffed monkey and a sweaty t-shirt of mine.

Hazelnut, our four-year black lab is having her cranial cruciate ligament — akin to a human’s ACL — repaired.

My phone is fully charged and within reach as I await the doctor’s call.

I can stretch my legs beneath my desk because Hazel isn’t here, licking my ankles to remind me it’s time for a walk. It’s a discomforting comfort, this stretch.

And Huckleberry, our golden doodle, is adrift without his boisterous bestie.

She is a bag of silly tricks, our Hazelnut. And she will be fine. The ailment and surgery are common, well-tested. We’ve had a multitude of second opinions. Yep, we’re that kind of obsessive.

We’re as ready as we can be for the prescribed eight-week recovery period. We bought a ridiculously oversized crate, which we’ve named the Hotel California. It is equipped with a ridiculously priced orthopedic bed, and a just plain ridiculous stuffed giraffe to keep Hazel (and Monkey) company during the convalescence.

Still, the morning drop-off was difficult, because you can’t explain to a dog, who trusts you, from nose to tail and everything in between with her very life, that what’s to come will hurt, but it will be OK.

That it will help in the long-run — and help her run long.

You can’t reassure her that you’ll come back for her, bring her home, be reunited and never, ever, ever leave her for good.

Believe me, I tried.

That’s one of many wonderous, heart-wrenching things about dogs: Their deep, doe-eyed trust … their abiding, fang-fierce faith … their steadfast belief in your goodness and grace.

Hazel was the runt of a rescue litter. When Jeff and our daughter Emma first laid eyes on her, as a wee pup, they burst into laughter. They still do, recalling the moment. There was just something jubilantly, runtly adorable about her. An endearing feistiness. A preposterously, funny puppy business. A take me home and let me entertain you interlude.

They brought her into the kitchen and she headed directly for Huck’s bowl of food, doing a squirmy, (wormy, as we later learned), happy dance. She came into our lives wiggling and wagging and making us smile, and she hasn’t stopped since.

She’s not so runt-ish these days. She’s solid as a tank, not too tall but by no means petite.

She eats like she’ll never see another meal, finishing her food, which we serve in one of those meant-to-slow-mealtime maze-like bowls, in record time. And then she’ll wait and drool and chow-stalk, hovering over Huck and the cat to see what morsels they might leave. On walks, she miraculously manages to find hidden treats — bread crusts meant for geese, an apple core, a nearly whole hamburger tossed behind a greenway bush.

She is a happy, homecoming parade of sunshine. Hazel greets everyone with rambunctious, over-the-top joy: UPS delivery folks, friends and neighbors, the appliance guy servicing our washer and dryer. I can walk up the driveway to collect the mail and it’s as if I’ve been away on a month-long expedition. If I lie in on a Saturday morning, she greets me like a long lost friend, even though we were snoring side-by-side half an hour earlier. Sometimes she gets so excited that she pees, ever so genteelly, on the shoes of those she welcomes.

When we leave the house, for work, errands or a pet-free outing, she and Huck rummage through the laundry basket for scents of us, leaving a forlorn trail of socks, sweatshirts and pajamas from bedroom to hallway to kitchen. Yet when we return, all is forgiven, and we go through the Groundhog Day exercise of so, so, so happy to see you!! I’ve missed you!! Where have you been all my life??!!

That’s another endearing thing about dogs: Their short-term memories. Their willingness to forgive and forget. Their carpe diem, ‘hey wait, there’s a squirrel!’ live in the moment approach to being.

Dogs live to please, though not always in the most appropriate manner. They bring you gifts you’d rather not receive … kiss you with lips you’d prefer to resist … settle in solidly and snore throughout Netflix night.

Our two are not especially well-mannered. Polly, our first and dearly-missed lab who grew up with our children, was exceptionally polite. She didn’t get on furniture, let alone sleep in our bed. She wouldn’t dare venture upstairs. We could walk her without a leash.

Not to make excuses (I say as I do), Huck and Hazel arrived during moments of weakness. I had lost my mother and my job. Our nest was emptying. We needed the snuggles and wet-nosed kisses, the heft of a furry friend leaning in.

That’s another thing about dogs — and animals generally, including the human variety: They come into your life at just the right moment.

We had been through a heap of loss, including the loss of Polly. We couldn’t bear the thought of ‘replacing’ her — so we waited and waited. When we were finally ready (you never are, of course) we decided to go with a different breed, a different gender, a different hue — to avoid any comparisons with the paragon Polly, who could never, ever, ever be replaced. (What a silly notion).

So, we chose a golden, a golden doodle. A male. And where Polly was calm and demure, Huck was a handful of nerves and worry — sort of a canine Woody Allen (without all the ugly stuff).

We enrolled Huck in an obedience class and he managed, by the grace of a patient Pet Smart trainer, to graduate. Though as someone rightly observed, during the final class when diplomas and dog-sized mortarboards were handed out, Huck was more class clown than valedictorian.

And then we decided the clown needed an audience, a friend and foible, a side kick and a sister. Enter the adoring, (literally) butt-kissing fan club of one — Hazelnut!

She was just what the dog doctor ordered. An enthusiastic, all-in admirer. Someone to lighten the load, nip Mr. Nervous Nibs in the butt, entertain and energize a weighty household.

We didn’t even try training with Hazel. How, we reasoned, could you improve upon perfection?

Here’s another thing about dogs: They are uniquely, inimitably themselves.

You may think you know what you’re getting … you’ve researched breeds and bloodlines, dispositions and demeanors. Hazel is a black lab, like Polly. A female, like Polly. And yet and still, they are nothing alike. Polly was demure, the most lady-like of labs. Regal and reserved in bearing. Hazel, on the other hand, is a spit-fire. A lusty, gutsy ‘let’s get this party started’ sort of gal.

And Hazel and Huck are as different as night and day. Huck is anxious and broody, a deep thinker who will study your face and tilt his head quizzically, trying his dogged best to read your thoughts or mood — or convey telepathically that it’s time for a chew stick. He can be a bit (or a bundle) of neurotic neediness, on occasion requiring a few drops of CBD oil or a thunder shirt tuck in.

Hazel knows only one mood — ecstatic! She wags her tail even as you scold her, which tends to take the stuffing out of any attempts at discipline. She feels more than thinks, loves without languish, will roll over and reveal all of her glorious, girly self for a tummy rub — from perfect strangers.

She loves tennis BALLS (don’t say the word unless you’re prepared to back it up with endless, slobbery tosses). And she can field them like an all-star shortstop. Huck, not so much. You can give him a slow-mo, underhanded pitch, aimed directly at him, and the ball will bounce off his clumsy clown nose — to be retrieved by his show-offy little sister.

Huck prefers a good game of chase, or tug-of-war. He gives great, teasing side-eye. And I swear I’ve caught him winking slyly at me.

Hazel is the wag; Huck the wit.

They are a comedic pair — Huck the Sonny to Hazel’s Cher, Hazel the Gracie to Huck’s George Burns, Huck the Ethel to Hazel’s Lucy.

And today, in this quiet, not empty but not nearly full enough house, as I wait for the phone to ring, I’m ready for the laughter to return. I don’t mind that they don’t mind (don’t hold me to that, please).

Right now, the only command I’ll put out there is ‘Heal, Hazel, heal.’

That’s my good girl.

Writer who believes in the power of language to change minds, change moods and change the world.

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