My beloved first golden retriever died in July 2005, The anticipated and then excruciating pain of his loss lingered for months on end, tears flowed uncontrollably and a growing yearning for that furry connection permeated my soul. I swore to never get another dog again, as I couldn’t tolerate yet another heart wrenching “letting go.” But, a nagging question lingered: Could I continue my life without a dog? This was a terrible dilemma, as I felt a nagging emptiness without a dog to nurture.

Yet the void grew wider with each passing day and my desire never ceased, I was deeply missing the visceral and identifiable scent and touch of a golden. As a way of channeling my anguish, one year later I volunteered for a Golden Retriever Rescue Organization.  With over 20 years of professional counseling experience, I chose the role of evaluating and interviewing potential  adoptees’ to determine their suitability to become pet parents.

Given my affiliation to the rescue organization, NORCAL, I would receive many email listings of goldens who needed foster care. I would read the daily list with interest and found myself quickly shutting down those emails. This ongoing scanning of requests highlighted my feeling guilty that I was not offering to foster one of these needy creatures. Turning to my husband to ask if we could take on this temporary role, “just one time,” I pleaded, he laughed and said, “There is no way YOU can have a golden in this house and ever give him or her away!”

I vowed and promised this would only be for two weeks at most; well, maybe three. After all, didn’t we have a vacation coming up? So on that very day, I looked at the listings with uncensored eyes. Five little words curiously caught my attention: “Previous Show Dog…Loves Balls.”  That was all I knew and after one brief phone call, I had agreed to pick up this 4-year-old golden who would be spayed the next day.

This is how Britty, previously named Chablis (a name much too pretentious for our family), came into our lives. Having the mindset that this would not be a permanent situation, I secretly found myself hoping no one would call to adopt this dog.  Within a few days, it was clear Brit wasn’t going anywhere; she had already charmed her way into our lives and hearts.

Britty was given up to the rescue organization for a few reasons: She only produced one small litter of pups, she wasn’t winning at dog shows, (thus not making any money for the owners…come on..this dog is a party girl, not a prissy model), and she was deemed aggressive.

Not only was Britty one of the most magnificent goldens I had ever seen, it was her gentle nature which captivated me. I do believe rescue animals have a profound ‘sense’ they have been saved, and there is a quality of deep gratitude and appreciation they unconsciously express through their body language and essence.

I was told that Britty had never lived inside a house and suddenly, her life transformed from previously living outside in a tiny kennel to now asking herself each evening, “Which bed tonight?” She was anxious at first, having been ripped out of the only life she knew, but that quickly changed due to: the showering of affection, 3-4 long walks a day, endless chasing of balls until she could barely move, the joy of swimming tirelessly in our pool and eating yummy food (okay.. I can’t resist those dreamy eyes and on occasion give her ‘people’ food).

All of the above quickly proved to calm her down, and within a week or two, she clearly was happily and permanently settled into our home We call Britty the “chick magnet,” as we can’t walk down a path or street without everyone (mostly women) stopping to pet and comment on her beauty, puppy-like and charming personality (I often shake my head and ask..this dog was aggressive? I just don’t see it).

She almost never barks (we call her “the mouse”), and like a little Buddha, her graciousness and patience defies anything I’ve seen. She is there to please and waits for my cues signaling a meal, walk or other activity. Her most endearing behavior is the way she gently sucks on any stuffed animal, as if it were a pacifier, and I never relish watching the way this soothes and quietly comforts her.

My life is active and full of distractions, but Britty attempts to keep me firmly grounded in the present. She is my teacher, and our ritualistic walks in nature are so much about the joy in soaking in the sights, sounds and smells, as only a four-legged friend can show us.

What have I learned? My life is remarkably richer and fuller with this precious being, who proves to be the core stabilizer of our family. Now four years later, I can’t imagine life without Britty. She is my best friend and furry soulmate, and I have discovered that having loved once, I did and always will have the capacity to deeply love another golden.

On ocassion, I do let myself glimpse into the future and sadly wonder how I will ever adjust to life when she is gone, as the purity of her love, devotion and companionship is unparalleled to any other relationship I have known. Having had the experience of losing a beloved dog, allowing myself to fully grieve that demise for however long it needed to take, and permitting the void to linger until a profound feeling of readiness surfaced once again, I can now embrace with more clarity and conviction that I need a dog in my life, and the joy she or he brings while on this earth supersedes my fear of losing one again.

Bonnie Goodman 2011

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Bonnie Goodman

Bonnie has over 30 years of personal and career counseling experience with children, teens, and adults. Her credentials include a MA in Education and Counseling; Certified as a Thanatologist, ADEC (CT); Certificate in Grief and Loss from UC Berkeley; Certificate of Completion, Assoc. of Pet Loss and Bereavement Training Program (APLB); and Certificate of Completion: Kara's Grief and Loss Training Program. Her journey into the Grief Counseling field began through personal explorations of grief and loss in her Buddhist meditation practice. Bonnie has a Grief Counseling private practice in Palo Alto, Ca., working with individuals and couples who have experienced pet and/or human loss. She has facilitated workshops and support groups on Pet Loss for Non-Profits, Vet Tech schools, and Veterinary Clinic staff in the Bay Area of Northern California. She has been interviewed for her pet-loss expertise by the San Francisco Chronicle, The Palo Alto Weekly, The Paper, and Scout's House's podcast radio show.

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