Dear Old Trainer: I lost my pug, Angie, last spring. She was my constant companion for 15 years and my life is so lonely without her. Your column brings tears to my eyes when you talk about the love dogs give us. It reminds me of her. I want another dog to love me and to love, but losing Angie hurt so much I don't know if it is fair to get another dog. I know I will compare it to her. What should I do?
-- Laura, Oakland
A: The feelings you describe are common among those who lose a beloved pet, Laura.
The SPCA says 80 percent of callers to its grief hot lines admit losing the pet hurt more than losing a parent.
Not long ago, I lost the best dog I ever had. She fell in love with me the instant she saw me and proved it every day. A born leader, she made sure the rest of the dogs snapped to when I gave an order. Sometimes, running with my dogs on a lonesome morning, I get the feeling maybe she's still out there, slipping through the mist and keeping order in the pack.
I still dream of her. I guess I always will. But I don't let it interfere with filling my life with dogs and the love they bring.
In "Desperado," The Eagles sang, "you're losing all your highs and lows." The song was about an old cowboy down on his luck, but this line is a perfect description of what happens when you go without a dog because the loss of the last one hurt so much. You avoid the pain, but miss the endless highs you get from the love of a dog. That's no way to live.
Every new dog I adopt works its way into my heart the first day it arrives. It's a special talent dogs have and they work hard at it. The perfect dog is out there waiting for you right now. I guarantee it. As Fitzgerald wrote in "The Great Gatsby," "Can't repeat the past? ... Why of course you can!"
Angie had unconditional love for you and would not want you to be lonely, so here is my advice. Contact your local shelter or rescue group and volunteer to spend time with their dogs and help exercise them. The world is full of dogs that need love. A few minutes with a human makes them happy all day.
As you work with the dogs, watch to see which one connects with you. One of them will size you up, fall in love, and show you she is the dog for you. Spend time with her and tell her about Angie and how much you miss her.
Tell her what you told me in your letter. Dogs read human emotions with ease, and the dog that chooses you will immediately move to protect you and work hard to cheer you up. She needs you and you need her.
Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org