dog love

photoIf we had power over the ends of the earth, it would not give us that fulfillment of existence which a quiet, devoted relationship to nearby life can give us.” ~ Martin Buber

ear Tess,

So, okay, I was wrong.

Love at first sight is possible after all. I wonder, though, was it the same for you? Did you really know I was your person, and that we were your family, just as immediately and as surely as we knew you were our dog?

I can admit this now: I didn’t actually believe I could give my heart away again — not so completely, not even to another black and white border collie with a paint-dipped tail and a coat of silken cowlicks.

Besides, I’d finally gotten sort of used to the pet-free life. Sleeping  a little later. Saving money on dog food and vet bills. Skipping the morning walk, the poop patrols around the yard. Staying in out of the rain. No one’s bladder to keep track of but my own. No dog hair on my black yoga pants, no stray bits of kibble crunching under foot, no new holes under the azalea or scratches in the pine floorboards. No one eating the appetizers off the coffee table or barking at the door to go in or out or staring at me with imploring eyes, telegraphing the unmistakable late-afternoon message: “Shut your laptop and put on your sneakers.”

photo copy 3Sure, there was an emptiness around here, but I’d almost stopped noticing it. Just as the silence after Henry and Jack first left home, crushing at first, became part of the fabric of my days, my wrenching grief over the death of your predecessor had softened over the winter into, well, a new kind of normal. We humans can get used to anything.

And then May came. The last recalcitrant snow finally melted, revealing a backyard still scattered with faded tennis balls. The sun woke us up at six, then even earlier. Birds sang. The world beckoned. Our boys came home, both of them at once.

“You said spring,” my dog-loving friend Debbie reminded me. “And it IS spring.”

She gathered up all the old tennis balls and piled them in front of the garden Buddha, an offering of sorts.

photoOne night, Jack and I clicked on a link I’d bookmarked a while ago, back when Gracie was still with us — a border collie rescue farm in upstate New York.   And there they were: a hundred Gracie cousins all in need of homes, each one with a story to break your heart.

In truth, Tess, we skipped right over your photo that first night, seduced by roly-poly puppies and cavorting adolescents.

I printed out the adoption application, only to be stopped in my tracks by its lengthy essay questions (“Describe a typical day in your dog’s life. . .”) and the many requirements. Would we be willing to install a hard fence? Would we promise to enroll with our puppy in obedience school? How many hours each day would our dog be alone? Would we use a crate? Would we take a dog with special emotional needs? With chronic health issues?

Finally, there was just a week left before the boys departed again. If we were going to welcome a new member to the family, it did seem as if the family should actually be here to say hello.

And so I returned to the website, scrolled down past the youngsters, and there you were, hiding in plain sight – a four-and-a-half year-old orphan girl named “Princess” who’d seen way too much death and loss and change in your brief, chaotic life. Would you wait for us?

On a chilly Sunday, Henry, Debbie, and I made the five-hour drive to Morris, NY, knowing you might very well be gone by the time we got there. Another family was coming to meet you in the morning; they had first dibs.

P1020081Pulling up to the farm’s gate after our long morning on the road, I offered up a little prayer to Gracie, who I knew must be watching these proceedings from somewhere. “This is in your hands, you know,” I whispered. “Bring us the right dog.”

Right at that moment, the cold rain that had been intermittent all morning stopped for good. The sun came out from behind the clouds. I told myself not to see this as a sign.

IMG_4394 2And then there you were. As soon as I knelt down, you put your soft cheek against mine. “Princess” became “Tess” in that instant – as if you’d whispered your new name in my ear. That pretty much sealed it. “She’s the one,” I must have said. Or something like that.   Because, of course it was obvious, we already belonged to you.

P1020113Nearly three weeks into our new life together, you already  have it all figured out: chasing down tennis balls, barking at squirrels, come and sit and wait, leash walks and woods rambles.

P1020138You know the men who live in this house are different from the ones who hurt you in the past.

IMG_4410You know early morning is the best time of day, that the dogs we meet on the road are friendly, that people who come to the door are kind, that the bear who ambled into the yard at dusk the other night to raid the bird feeder was definitely not one of “us.” (Finally, we heard you growl, saw the white ruff on your neck bristle to attention.)

photoYou know where to sleep and not to beg at the table and to stay off the sofa. You know that pockets hold treats, that grass is for rolling in, that tennis balls are reliable, ever-ready companions and that brand new plush toys can be destroyed in less than ten minutes. You know that when I leave a room, I always return. You know that car rides with your new family lead only to good places and that they will always end up right back where we started from: home.

photo copy 2You know the joys of rest and of play, and that here and now are the very best places to be.

Most important of all, though, you know just how to ask for what you need the most. A paw placed on my knee means it’s time for us to gaze deeply into each other’s eyes, for one of our many long heart-to-heart chats. You squint up at me, nose lifted just so, to receive a kiss or to offer a delicate one of your own.

“Tell me you love me,” you insist.

And I do.


upcoming. . .

I’m on the road a bit in June, and would so love to meet you at one of these events.

Friday, June 6
2:00 pm
“Wine and Words”
Bayswater Booktique
12 Main Street
Center Harbor, NH

Monday, June 16
4 pm
Minot-Sleeper Library
35 Pleasant St.
Bristol, NH 03222

Fri. June 20 – Sun. June 22
Nantucket Book Festival
Nantucket, MA

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. This brought tears to my eyes. I’m so happy for you. xoxo

  2. Katrina,
    Just as I always looked to forward to reading about your ordinary days with your boys, I am looking forward to more about your days with Tess. I am so happy for you to have found another terrific companion. Like yours, our family was also blessed with the perfect rescue dog for our lifestyle. SImon is our first experience with a dog, so I like to think that everybody is this lucky, but I know that is not the case.
    Your letter to Tess brought me from watery eyes to full-out crying. My younger son is leaving for college in August. SImon will be the only dependent remaining at home full-time. I am so thankful to have him as we transition into this next phase of our lives together.
    Good luck on your future adventures. Please keep writing and sharing. Your passages mean so much to me!

  3. Jennifer Fowler says:

    You and I went through a dog loss at the same time. Now I am watching our remaining dog, Missy 14 yrs old, go through various difficulties. I am happy for your family and Tess. I know one day, may family too, will experience that joy too.

  4. Great dog! Our first pup was a border collie too. Tyler. She was the smartest, most incredible dog we’ve ever had. I can tell you’re going to have lots of fun with Tess. Enjoy!

  5. Okay, thanks for making me teary-eyed too. I definitely understand this and feel it too – all of it. I’ve been heartbroken when a faithful friend passes away, and I know the joys of new companionship. Unfortunately, my current friend who I love more than anyone or anything else in this world is showing unmistakeable signs and I know it won’t be long until my heart is broken again. It seems like just a week or two ago that I brough that shy little puppy home with me. It seems so unfair that such a noble, selfless, loving being only lives at best a dozen or so years. I seriously think I’d give him a few of my years if I only could.

  6. So happy you have found a dog to love. They are such special parts of our lives.

  7. Karen Kehler says:

    I’m so happy to hear of the new love in your life. It sounds like a two-way blessing for sure! And I’m sure Gracie is happy to know that you are getting dog kisses again! Thanks for sharing!

  8. I’m so happy for you and Tess! How perfect life can sometimes work out to be.

  9. Karen Murgolo says:

    Once again you captured how special relationships are, in this case with our dogs. Since we just adopted a dog after a long life with another who recently died, we also feel we found “the one.” It is even more sweet to find that love again after living without it for a while. They steal your heart.

  10. Oh, Katrina, this post comes as so much sunlight. Tears of joy this morning for Tess, for you, for your family. <3 xox

  11. Daring to love again, to now know the outcome we will eventually have to face again we may think is more than we can bear, up until fate somehow brings another “love” into our lives… and then we learn if they can love unconditionally, if they can trust we have their best interest at heart without knowing a thing about us, then how lucky are we? They rescue us as much if not more than we rescue them. Tess is beautiful and I am sure Gracie is somehow guiding her to remind you and your family that her wonderful spirit is larger than life. I am so happy for you. I believe Old Bales (my beloved pet who has crossed to Rainbow Bridge) is romping through the fields, with Gracie and an abundant amount of tennis balls. (smiles) Best to you and yours, Sharon and family

  12. Katherine says:

    LOVED this and am so happy you have a canine companion again. Thank you for sharing with us.

  13. SO happy you found each other. A wonderful story. Thanks for sharing!

  14. I”m joining the other teary-eyed readers of this newest blog post. I’m so delighted you’ve expanded your family with “Tess.”

    After years of our children’s kittens and bunnies, I didn’t have my very own dog (a rescue skipperkee I named “Hope”) until I was 50 and she graced our life for 12 years. Sometimes it takes someone else to urge you to move forward. Just as your friend reminded you it was spring and time to welcome another dog, our eldest daughter (in DC) decided to respond to an ad and flew home to give me a small, black rescue schnoodle—a “grand-dog” instead of a grandchild. My once-black “Pepper” is now gray, but is still frisky and I’m so grateful he blesses me with his unconditional love every day!
    May you continue to share your new joys and discoveries with the rest of us—

  15. colleen says:

    I am so happy for you, we, too have lost our pup and are going tomorrow to a rescue group to meet “Teddy” as it is time. I have been asking the same of my pups, to let me know if this is the one. I can’t imagine life without hearing the feet again on the kitchen floor. Thank you for the tears of joy – I needed that!

  16. You’ve captured so well (again) the thoughts and feelings I had after adopting my newest, four-legged family member, after the last one died.
    It was your writing about the death of your last one that inspired me to finally write about the adoption of Duke, the one that died several years ago. Even though we now have Moxie, it still brings me to tears to think about Duke. I’ve been wanting to write about him for so long, but each time I’d start I just couldn’t finish. When I read your post last fall, I decided that I had to do it. Thanks for your beautiful writing and encouragement!
    If you care to read my story, here is a link to my blog. The title is “Who Chooses Who”.

  17. Yay, Katrina! Please kiss Tess for us — what a sweetie!

  18. Enjoyed your post so much that I shared it with my family!!! We lost a beloved dog last summer and now have a new sweet puppy. My husband says that the only problem with dogs is that they don’t live long enough! May you enjoy many happy years with Tess.

  19. Polly Duprez says:

    This brought tears to my eyes, too. I am beyond thrilled that your hearts have been filled by a beautiful girl who now has a second chance at a wonderful life. Love and happiness to you all.

  20. Susan Handwerker says:

    Hi Katrina – I was at your mother’s home the day you found out that Gracie was diagnosed with cancer. You were there to join us, at your mother’s book group, as a guest speaker. The look on your face when you came through the door spoke volumes. I am a life-long dog lover and owner and have had many canine friends come and go through my life. Each of them has left me a better person for having known them. The best tribute to your Gracie was invite another border collie, Tess, into your life. Much love and happiness to you both on your new adventure together.

  21. What a beautiful letter to your new family member who is blessed to join your family. It brought tears to my eyes. May you have many years of joy and contentment with Tess.

  22. How happy it made me to read this letter to Tess. How wonderful that you found each other. Reading your story brought back a happy memory of the day 12 years ago when I said to my husband, “Well it’s fall. You promised,” and off we went to the Humane Society to adopt one dog. We came home with two Cairns who were also marked “taken” when we arrived. They were meant for us though and although we lost our Kato when she was only eight to cancer, we still have Chloe who is 14. Her bladder and mine are more or less on the same schedule these days. I know the day will come when we will be on our own again and then, with luck, our loved ones will send us another dog to keep us in the here and now. Enjoy your first summer together!

  23. Katrina,

    Your words about Tess came at a perfect time for me. I just lost Willie, my faithful companion of 14 years, last week, much too soon after my husband’s death in December. I have been wondering how I can go on without him, but now I know that somewhere in the future I will welcome a rescue Doxie into my heart. Blessings to you and Tess. She is a very fortunate dog.


  24. From one dog lover to another, my thanks for this beautiful description of our furry friends.

  25. There is nothing like the love of a dog. I’m so happy you and Tess found one another. And I bet Gracie is smiling too.

  26. Second chance, second love

  27. You’ve captured in words the connection and thankfulness we all feel when a rescued dog becomes part of our lives. Warm thanks for sharing this with us.

  28. Barbara says:

    Exquisite. Read this to my husband with my voice cracking with emotion! Simply lovely
    – thank you.

  29. Sue and Hampton says:

    I sit here with my second cup of coffee with tears streaming down my cheeks. What a truly heartfelt love letter. It never ceases to amaze me how much joy our four-legged companions can bring and how much their presence means each and every day. You could have been writing our family’s story too. Thanks for brining me back in time (7 1/2 years ago) to when we had a nearly identical experience being chosen by our current dog Hampton. While my tear ducts are empty, my heart is full.

  30. Christine says:

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. After our rescue, Maggie passed, I lasted one month of solitude before we searched out our next rescue. I dismissed Kemba’s photo and her story (dropped pregnant with 7 puppies at the shelter and underweight by 15 lbs), and her “chow chow mix” heritage turned me off. I kept looking for an “easier” dogs. Yet my son pushed me — maybe on some level he knew she was the one. The moment she arrived for the trial visit we looked into those trusting eyes and fell in love. One year later we cannot imagine life without Kemba, the most lovable, affectionate, trustworthy furry bundle of joy. I am so glad you too can love again, Tess is one lucky girl!

  31. I was crying too as i read your letter. I have two dogs, 9 yrs and 9 months old. you wrote so beautifully how all dog owners feel. Yes I feel guilty leaving them home when i leave for work and stay late with my friends..When I am home, I feel I should play with them instead of doing my chores and resting. I wish I could stay in bed w/o worrying about letting them out and feeding them on time. So I do sometimes think of possibilities of restoring fur-free house, no hesitation of inviting friends over , guilty -free resting and staying out late, stop weighing between the quality and cost of pet boarding… etc. Then again, they are the drive that brings me home everyday and make me laugh and provide me the security that they will love me no matter what. I love them so much and because i know how it feels to have right dog, I am very happy for you.

  32. So lovely and heartfelt!

  33. Winifred says:

    We just lost our beloved lead yellow lab, Sun, (a great long life, but that’s another story) and have been slowly beginning to look at lab adoption sites for the another wonderful and maybe mature new friend and family member. Thanks for assuring us this could be so…

  34. So wonderful to hear! xo Melea

  35. Angels in furry suits….that’s what I call my beloved labs, both of whom are now gone, one very recently. 🙁 Love this piece and so happy you and Tess found each other.

    I found your site through Maezen and I am really enjoying it. My husband and I just had our 30th and we have one lovely son, now 24 who is (pluckily!) making his way in the world. Your writing and your perspective so resonate with me. I look forward to more, thank you!

  36. What a touching adoption tail. I waited only one week after losing my two senior dogs before welcoming a very high energy adolescent Border Collie/Jack Russell mix into my too-quiet home. This spring I added a second dog, a foster failure from The Bahamas. The right dogs really do find us when we need them most.

  37. Lisa Griegel says:

    that is a beautiful story. I am also a GHF adopter and lover 🙂 I celebrate 2 years with my adoptees-Dylan and Magie. They are fantastic dogs and I’m not sure any breed other than BC will do again 🙂

  38. Christine says:

    Thank you for the well written words.
    Only the mom of a Border Collie can possibly know all the beauty and subtlety that a gentle chin rested on the lap or a lift of a paw can convey. Love, is love, is love.
    Our love Marcus, an 11 year old Border Collie is sick and they say two to four months is all he will live. I don’t know how we can deal with his death, right now we can only love every day we have left. I feel right now I can never love like this again. I hope we can have a place in our heart for another barky, messy, lovable, sweetheart, but until then…

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      It is so hard to let these beloved animal friends go, and yet knowing we must allows us to cherish all the more the time we have with them. The lift of a paw: exactly so; who knew a gesture could speak such volumes? Sending love to you and Marcus.

  39. Charlene Hochman says:

    You have touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes…. you have bare my sou with your words…. I thank you… and think of you in my morning time with Shady and Benner!

  40. rich dalton says:

    first i want to thank you for giving princess (tess) a forever home.princess was my brothers dog in feb 2014 he passed away leaving her to me i have a small home and could not do that to her i know my brother wouldn’t want that, he loved her so much your story is very touching and im glad that she found you she seems happy and i know my brother is happy that she found a lovely home i wish i could have kept her ,the day they came to take her to the farm it was like giving away a part of my brother thanks again give tess a hug from me

    • this gives me goosebumps …

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Tess/Princess has been given that hug, and I’m so grateful to you for allowing our family to share her life. Thank you for writing, and do know that she is a happy girl, surrounded by friends and family in the country.

  41. Tom Zachman says:

    I too wanted to adopt from Glen Highland Farm. My wife told me “you can’t handle a BC, they are too hyper” so instead, I rescued an Aussie. If you know dogs, you’ll laugh at that. I share your joy at having adopted.

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