Dogs of Dreamtime
A Story about Second Chances and the Power of Love
Excerpt: Chapter 1
Searching for the Dalai Lama
She was just sitting there, cool as a cucumber, staring right up at me. She was so still, I wasn’t sure she was real. As I inched forward for a closer look, I could see her bright eyes blink and her body vibrate with excitement. She was exceedingly happy to see that I’d come, but she was more concerned with making sure I got a real good look at her, and that I burned the picture into my brain. Until I did, she was unwilling to move. I can’t tell you how I knew this exactly; it was something in the way she locked her eyes onto mine. So I took in as much of her as I could and committed it to memory.
No more than eight weeks old, with round puppy tummy, she was obsidian black, with fluffy white shawl around neck and chest. She had a white muzzle, with a blaze traveling up and over the top of her head, meeting up with white scruff between shoulders. Four white socks. Little tan eyebrows. No tail.
As I was busy soaking in every detail, I could have sworn I heard her say, “I’ve come back to be with you.”
This startled me so much that I woke up.
The dream had been so vivid and so real that, for a moment, I wasn’t sure where I was. Could it be possible…?
My beloved Sheltie, Kiera, at eleven years, had died from a brain tumor not quite one year before. She’d been my unswerving friend and safehold through some of the most significant changes in my life. She’d seen me through changes in relationship, career, and geographic location, as well as the milestones of marriage, birth, and death. Her presence had always had the effect of steadying me in a way that no other could. I tried to offer her as much when it came time for me to let her go.
I’d prayed that I would know when that day was, and, mercifully, my prayers were answered. It came on a calm fall morning, shortly after we’d exhausted all the treatments available. Disoriented and unbalanced, Kiera could no longer stand up. She couldn’t eat. She wouldn’t drink. I called the vet. He agreed to come to our house so she could die peacefully in my arms, in her home. I cradled her, whispering gently, telling her over and over how much I loved her, stroking and kissing her beautiful face, my tears staining her fur, until she took her last breath.
After the vet left, I sat holding her for a long while, unwilling to give up the feel of her in my arms. After some time, Andrew gently helped me take the next step. He went and got the blanket I’d planned to wrap her in. It was her favorite blanket, one that I’d made for her when she was a puppy. Then we buried her under the shade of an arching ash tree by my garden.
The ache from her absence was still very much with me. I’d reconciled myself to remaining dogless. Kiera had been such an exceptional companion that I was afraid any other dog would always suffer from the comparison.
That Kiera would come back to solve this problem for me would be just like her. The very notion had me shaking my head and chuckling out loud. Still, this really would be too fantastic to be true–even for my wonder dog.
Mesmerized by this thought, I moved trancelike around the kitchen that morning, while some other part of me got my four-year-old daughter’s breakfast ready. Andrew sat with the morning news in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Caitlin, a blend of the both of us, having my sandy blond hair and curved mouth, and Andrew’s sparkling blue eyes and gangly arms and legs, wasn’t used to all this quiet. She piped up, “I had a funny dream last night, Mom.”
Snapped out of my reverie, I answered, “You did? What was it?”
We’re a family of prolific dreamers, and sharing them at breakfast has become something of a tradition at our house. It’s a way for us to start the day feeling more settled and connected.
As Cait began her recollection, Andrew put down his coffee to give her his full attention.
She began, “Well, I was walking in the woods behind our house and…”
It was another bear dream.
I’d been trying to get Cait to enjoy hiking in the woods with me. There was a beautiful, gently rolling path that meandered around a lake not far from my mother’s house a couple of hours north of us in the Adirondacks. I’d made the mistake of forcing the issue one day, even after my normally spunky daughter had refused several times. She reluctantly came along with me, and, though we saw no wildlife to speak of, she finished the walk somehow associating woods with a fear of bears. She’d spent many dreams working this out. In this dream, the bear had turned out to be a friend, so that was progress.
After Cait shared her dream, Andrew looked over to me and asked, “So, Mom, any dreams last night?” They both waited expectantly.
“Uh, no . . . ,” I lied, “I don’t remember any.”
I wasn’t ready to share this particular dream for a couple of reasons. It wasn’t that I thought Andrew would dismiss my dream as strange or silly–on the contrary, after all these years, he’d gotten used to more than the occasional dream of mine somehow managing to drop into reality. It was just that the subject of animals in our household was always a loaded one. I was a dyed-in-the-wool animal lover. Andrew was not.
Whenever I’d had animals in my life, they’d always consumed a considerable amount of my attention and love–Andrew might say an inordinate amount. Having gone through a spate of human and animal losses within the last few years, I knew that Andrew would have two reactions to my dream. He hated the thought of seeing me set myself up for more loss, even if it was a loss that was more than likely at least a decade away. And he was enjoying the benefits of an animal-free home–no hair on clothes, no tripping over furry bodies, no worrying about when we had to get back home or how much dog exercise needed to be fit in.
So, even if there was a remote basis to my dream, even if Kiera had found a way to come back, Andrew wouldn’t be inclined to want any part of it. He’d be apt to say this was just as likely brought on by my recent research into dog breeds. (I’d been trying to help a friend find a dog who would make a good buddy for her young daughter. This little girl was paralyzed from the neck down and spent her days in a wheelchair.) And I’d have to allow that this analysis could be true.
I’d spent the last couple of weeks investigating some breeds that my vet had recommended. His list of suggestions had included Border Terriers, Australian Shepherds, and German Shepherds. I was already familiar with German Shepherds, as almost everyone is. And my mother had quite a wonderful old German Shepherd girl, of whom I was very fond. I’d never heard of the other two breeds, so I hit the Internet to get educated. Border Terriers looked kind of like “Benji” dogs, with little otter-shaped heads. They were on the smallish side of a medium build, and did what terriers do very well–hunt rodents, foxes, et al. Australian Shepherds, or “Aussies,” basically looked like Border Collies on steroids, without tails. They were medium-sized herding dogs. What all three breeds had in common was that they were all very intelligent, loyal, working dogs needing lots of exercise and stimulation to be happy.
Given the limited information I’d relayed to my vet, I could see why he’d suggested these breeds. I had emphasized the guarding and companion qualities that my friend wanted for her daughter. But as I delved deeper into learning about all these dogs, I became concerned that none of them would be a good fit for first-time dog owners. These were all dogs who would go squirrelly after a while just lying around keeping an eye on a little girl who wouldn’t even be able to throw a ball for them. I also knew it was extremely unlikely that anyone else in her home would have the time to adequately exercise such high-octane animals.
My friend eventually wound up with a very sweet little Bichon Frise.
I wound up with an acute case of “Aussie-itis.”
I’d become totally smitten. I’d always had herding dogs, and had become hooked on their intelligence and character. I’d had a long-standing love affair with Border Collies but was discouraged from getting one by a dog-loving friend who’d had several. Not one to mince words, she put it this way: Unless I was willing to get some sheep, too, I should do them a favor and leave them alone. These were dogs who needed a job. From what I could gather, Aussies, while similar to Border Collies in many ways, appeared to be a little less intense (or, as my friend would bluntly suggest, less inclined to be neurotic). Anyway, if I were ever in the market for another dog, I knew what breed it would be.
Taking all of these recent developments into account, I knew that Andrew’s response would be a flat “No,” so there was no point in going there. I tried to put the idea right out of my head.
And I did.
Until a few nights later, when a remarkably similar dream played itself out. The same little Aussie puppy sat stock-still again, looking up at me. This time, I sat down next to her, to pet her. She couldn’t contain herself any longer; she bounded up into my arms and slathered me with puppy kisses. I held her close and relished the wonderful smell of her puppy breath.
Again, she announced–quite clearly this time–that she’d come back for me. Again, I awoke with a start. Lying there, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. This was all too much to contemplate.
A few more days passed and, with each new day, I found it harder and harder to get her out of my head. I had this overpowering sensation that she was with me everywhere I went. It occurred to me that if I was going to try to find her, she was already around eight weeks old. That meant I’d have a couple of weeks at most to track her down before she might be sold to any buyer who happened to be in the market for an Australian Shepherd female pup. My stomach knotted up at the thought of her going to someone else’s home. I felt an uncomfortable urgency growing.
I was nervous about talking to Andrew about these dreams. It wasn’t that he was unreasonable or unfeeling. It was just that I didn’t want to force another dog on him when he felt that he was finally home free. There was so much about having a dog that had been a struggle for him, even though he had come to dearly love Kiera before she died, and even though he mourned her death nearly as deeply as I did. I also knew how much Andrew loved me, and how much he’d try to do anything for me if he thought it was something I really needed. Weighing it all out, I decided I’d have a better-than-even chance if he was made aware of how much this meant to me.
At the first quiet moment, I decided to bring it up. After we’d gotten Cait to sleep one evening, we sat down in the living room. Our way of unwinding had always been to sit and talk at the end of the day.
The conversation began with discussing a potentially big client with whom we’d just acquired a hard-won meeting. On that happy note, I segued into my “exciting” news.
“Boy, have I been having some really weird dreams lately,” I began.
“What are they?” Andrew asked.
“Well, Kiera’s come back…”
The words hung in the air.
The mood in the room instantly changed. Andrew looked at me, not quite knowing what to say.
I hurriedly went on to explain that I’d been having these dreams where Kiera made it clear that she fully expected me to come and find her. It was also clear that it didn’t occur to her that I might fail. I hoped to get Andrew to see that I couldn’t let her down; I couldn’t lose her if she really had come back for me.
He didn’t even comment on the strangeness of the dreams, or what they might mean. He just said, “Please, I can’t do another dog.”
“I don’t want any more dogs. I like our life the way it is. Besides, even if I said yes, what would be the odds that you could find her? If she has come back, she could be anywhere in the country.”
Without actually coming right out and saying the whole idea was ludicrous, Andrew had landed a one-two punch. Realistically, I hadn’t considered what the search might mean. And I really did respect Andrew’s feelings. I really didn’t want to make our lives more complicated. But this was a no-win situation: One of us was going to be unhappy no matter what happened.
I conceded Round One. The conversation turned to other subjects.
The next night, she came again. This time I could see that she was in some kind of farmlike setting with several other puppies and dogs. I awoke thinking this would help rule out some breeders. But it would still be an incredible long shot, notwithstanding this whole idea of her reincarnating to be with me again in the first place. I was beginning to feel a little nutty.
Even so, I couldn’t stop myself and began furtively looking up breeders on the Web. I started with a local search, assuming that if Kiera had gone to the trouble of figuring out how to come back, she wouldn’t choose someplace thousands of miles away. She’d want to land as close to me as she could–or so I speculated. Then it would be a matter of finding breeders who had puppies around eight weeks old, specifically one black-and-white female puppy.
Christmas was less than a week away. I was normally much more organized about the holidays, but I was hopelessly far behind this year. The new business was still front and center, consuming all our efforts. I wasn’t one to go in for the commercialism of the season anyway, but I always liked to take some time to find a few really thoughtful gifts. As it was, by necessity, presents would be sparse this year. Andrew and I had agreed not to get each other anything. So, amid the encroaching holiday chaos, my desire to persuade Andrew about Kiera, and my attempts to find her, were put on the back burner.
Christmas morning rolled around. Colin had arrived home from his freshman year at college earlier in the week. Both he and McLean, a junior in high school, were still asleep upstairs. Cait had used up every ounce of restraint she could muster. It was nine o’clock; she had been up since six. Andrew finally gave her the go-ahead to wake her brothers. She jumped on each of their beds until she was sure they’d be incapable of falling back to sleep. Her job done, she raced back downstairs and began opening presents.
By late morning, the stockings had been emptied, and the bottom of the tree was looking pretty bare. There had been a few surprises and much to be thankful for. The kids were organizing their stuff into neat little piles. I was about to go start breakfast when Andrew motioned to me and took out a white envelope from his back pocket.
As he handed it to me, I shot him an irritated look that said: We promised not to exchange anything . . . We can’t afford to exchange anything . . . I kept my end of the bargain and didn’t get you anything . . . There’s nothing I want or need . . .
The card contained three words: “Go find her.” There was a blank check inside.
The magnitude of his gesture opened the floodgates. I broke down and wept.
After everyone had gone to bed, I burned the midnight oil, compiling my hit list of breeders. I started calling the next morning.
Breeder #1: Long Island, New York. “We have a few championship dogs but we don’t have any puppies right now. We’ll be having a litter in June. I could reserve a female for you, and you’d have her by August.”
I crossed her off the list. One down, six to go.
Breeder #2: Two hours north. “Yes, we have some puppies.”
“Do you have any females?”
“Yes, we have two. One is a blue merle,” she announced, as though she thought that should be reason enough to take a drive.
“Great. When would it be convenient for me to come and see them?” I asked, not letting on that I didn’t remember what a merle was. Everything I’d learned about Aussies’ coloring had evaporated once I’d begun making the calls.
While I waited for her answer, I pulled out the pad with all my notes. Oh yes, a merle was a mottled mixture of colors and was actually the preferred look among many Aussie buyers. This was demonstrated by the fact that breeders typically added fifty dollars or more onto an already hefty price for their merles.
“Tomorrow would be okay,” she answered.
Wow, I thought, could it be this easy?
I went the following morning and drove up a dirt road onto a farm. So far, so good. I knocked on the door, which instantly set off a canine uproar. I peeked through the side window and saw two small Sheltie-like black-and-white dogs barking and scrambling at the door. I was surprised that they were so small. From the pictures and descriptions I’d seen, I thought they’d be more of a medium-sized dog–like a smallish Lab. Amid this cacophonous reception, I granted that their guarding instincts were good. I made a mental note: This would be both a plus and a minus with a young child in the house.
A middle-aged, stylishly dressed woman finally appeared and pushed the dogs back into a gated hallway before she opened the door to greet me. I asked about the size of her dogs. She explained that she was breeding miniature Aussies. She went on to extol the virtues of their diminutive size while efficiently leading me to a kennel in the back that contained the two puppies. They were very petite. The merle was quite friendly, hopping up on the gate. The black-and-white one was huddled toward the back. My heart sank. The markings were all wrong. For starters, what should have been her shawl looked more like a necktie. It wasn’t Kiera. I didn’t even bother to go in and try to hold her. I thanked the woman and left.
In a couple of days, we’d be into January and Kiera would be closing in on ten weeks old. I was feeling more and more anxious–I knew I was running out of time. I called a few more breeders the next day, all of whom were not expecting puppies until the spring. One breeder explained that the majority of puppies were usually born during the warmer months. I didn’t find this statistic anomalous, just disappointing. It made sense that puppies born then would have a better chance of survival. But it wasn’t doing much for my odds.
I went to bed that night beseeching Kiera to give me something more to go on. I awoke the next morning recalling no dreams. I went downstairs, got myself a cup of coffee, picked up my list, and started dialing for dogs again.
Breeder #6: Western Connecticut. “Yes, we have a litter that’ll be ready in a week.”
“Do you have any black tricolored females?” (This was what Kiera’s coloring was called.)
“The females are all taken. We have three males left. You can view pictures of all of them on our Web site.”
“Oh . . .” I couldn’t hide the disappointment in my voice. “Thanks, but I’m looking for a female.”
“You really should come and have a look anyway. This litter was sired by a champion from Gefion Hall. Every single puppy is outstanding.”
“Thanks anyway,” I said.
After I hung up, I did check out the pictures on the Web to see if Kiera was among her puppies. To my relief, the markings didn’t match up.
Andrew arrived home that night a few hours after me and, wanting to be supportive, asked how my search was going.
“Any progress?” he asked, after releasing me from a hello hug.
I deflected his question. “What made you change your mind about this whole thing? I mean, this isn’t a little switch.”
I followed behind him as he walked over and emptied the contents of his pockets onto the hall table where he’d pick them up again on his way out in the morning. Chuckling, he replied, “You feeling a little guilty about forcing a dog on me?”
“That’s exactly what I want to make sure isn’t happening,” I answered, now tailing him into the kitchen. “If you think I’m forcing something on you that you don’t want, then this isn’t a good thing, no matter how magnanimous you’re trying to be.”
“No, I’m okay with it,” Andrew answered, “really.” He rummaged though through the refrigerator looking for something to eat.
“Because you know that before these Kiera dreams started, I was perfectly happy to have a dog-free life–”
“That’s just it.” He turned around to face me. “You weren’t happy. It’s become so obvious to me that you’re lost without a dog. Don’t you think I see how you still look around for where she should be?”
My eyes filled up. It was true. My life felt lopsided. Not like one of my legs had been cut off so much as shortened just enough to make walking through life a noticeable chore.
“But you’re committing to a long haul, and I don’t want you to be sacrificing your happiness for mine.”
“What you really mean is that you don’t want to spend the next ten years listening to me bitching about dogs again,” he said.
“That too.” I giggled and sniffled at the same time.
“Look, I can’t promise that I’ll always be able to stay in some Zen state with it. And I know I complained a lot about Kiera, but I really did love her. I always thought she was an amazing dog . . .” His voice cracked.
“I know you did.”
“Okay.” He sucked in a noisy breath. “So let’s just say we both know it won’t always be perfect. But if she’s back . . . Well then, she needs to be back with us.”
“Okay.” I grinned.
“So what’s the progress report?” he asked again.
I sat down at the kitchen table and scratched my head. “I feel like I’m searching for the Dalai Lama.”
“What do you mean?” Andrew pulled out a chair and sat down.
“You know how, when the Dalai Lama dies, he’s supposed to leave clues so the Buddhist monks can find him in his next incarnation . . .”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of that.”
“Well, I’ve been given a few clues, and, with only those to go by, I’m supposed to go find Kiera. And I’m not seeing any monks lining up behind me to help with the endeavor, either. I feel like I’m running out of time.”
“You’ll find her.” Andrew reached over and put his hand on mine. “Somehow I think this is an appointment you can’t miss.”
“I love you.”
I went back upstairs and started calling the last breeder on my list.
Breeder #7: Westchester, New York. “Yes, we have a black tri female available.”
“Could you describe her markings?” I asked.
“Well, she’s black with a white ruff and three white stockings. She has a little tan on the face and legs…”
I could hear the blood rushing through my ears. Did she say a blaze? Only three white paws? The description was close enough. I decided it would be worth the long drive to see her.
Learning as I was going, I asked if she had pictures of this puppy on her Web site. She didn’t.
“When can I come and see her?” I asked, nervously holding my pen, ready to take down driving instructions.
“What, John? Excuse me a minute, my husband’s yelling something at me…”
I could hear her speaking to her husband. He was telling her that someone had put a deposit on the puppy earlier in the day, and would be back after New Year’s to pick her up.
She spoke into the receiver and started apologizing…
“I understand,” I heard myself say. “But would you take my number down in case the buyer backs out for some reason?”
“Sure,” she answered.
New Year’s came and went. The phone didn’t ring.
That was the last breeder on my list. I wouldn’t let myself feel hopeless. All this meant, I told myself, was that I’d have to cast a wider net–expand the mileage radius of my search. But first I decided to go back and review my notes and comments from all the breeders, hoping to glean something; looking for some tidbit of information that could point me in the right direction.
I’d accumulated pages of material on breeder locations, litter due dates, coloration and sex of available puppies, breeding genealogy of sires and dams. As I flipped through my notes, one name started popping off the pages. Gefion Hall. Almost all of the breeders I’d contacted owned or were mating with a Gefion Hall sire or dam. But why wasn’t this breeder, or place, on the Web? Could such a well-regarded breeding name with such successful lines not have a Web site? After another quick search, I was able to find a page listing Aussie breeders, where I found the address and phone number.
I called back one of the breeders who wasn’t expecting a litter until late spring. I figured she’d have no reason to be offended by my asking about this Gefion Hall place.
Thankfully, the breeder was very helpful. She proceeded to give a glowing review of the dogs and breeder–and she was pretty sure that a litter was nearly ready to go. To top it off, Gefion Hall was located not much more than an hour and a half away. It was all music to my ears.
I called the place at once and got the answering machine. The woman was away and wouldn’t be back until the end of the week. I left my name and number. After what felt like an eternity, the phone call came.
Yes, she had a litter, but all the black tris were spoken for, except for one male. I felt as though somebody had kicked me in the stomach. I don’t know why I’d decided this was the place where Kiera was, but I had. I thanked her and hung up.
I went for a walk to clear my head. I started down the road that Kiera and I had walked on together every day for the six years we’d lived in this house. We were having unusually mild weather for the first week of January. It was a beautiful, sunny, almost warm day. As I walked, I started to think that maybe these dreams really had just been some desperate wish fulfillment. Maybe I had finally gone crackers. That would make a hell of a lot more sense than thinking that my dog had reincarnated to come back to me. I knew Andrew would be secretly relieved if I let go of this madness.
That night, I went to bed physically and emotionally exhausted. Even so, a fitful night’s sleep followed. I’d wake up from dreams of my old Kiera and me riding in the car together, going for hikes, playing Frisbee, snuggling, doing the things we always did together, and then I’d toss and turn for a while before dozing off again. By dawn, I was feeling completely frustrated. I sat up, thinking that I should just forget about trying to sleep and get up to start the day. But my body was so heavy with fatigue that I decided to try one last time and flopped back down.
Somewhere between sitting and hitting the pillow, in a semiconscious state, I saw her! She was as real as if she were in the room with me. Her eyes were smiling at me and she was doing that happy vibrating thing again.
I popped back up like a jack-in-the-box and rubbed my eyes. In short order, I was wide awake. “Okay,” I promised her, “I won’t give up.”
It was Saturday morning. As soon as I thought it was a respectable hour to make a phone call, I rang the breeder from the day before. I explained that I wasn’t looking for a male, but would she mind if I came anyway, just to take a look at her puppies. I hadn’t actually seen very many Aussies in the flesh, and I figured it’d be a good idea to get up close and personal with a few more before I decided that this was really the breed for me. She was very encouraging and agreed this was a smart idea.
I got directions and left immediately, knowing that Cait was in good hands with her dad. It didn’t take as long as I’d thought, and I arrived a full twenty minutes early. I drove around to waste some time. I was in beautiful horse country with rolling hills and well-kept farms. But it wasn’t long before my excitement got the better of me and I circled back. What were a few minutes between strangers?
I pulled into the long private drive that opened onto neatly maintained fenced fields. I passed by a couple of gorgeous bay foals who came loping over to see if there might be some oats in it for them. I came to a stop by the barns just past the pale yellow Colonial house.
The breeder, Georjean Hertzwig, met me at the gate with a warm handshake. She was a slender woman, I guessed somewhere in her late forties. There was nothing fussy about her; she was wearing a barn coat and jeans. As she motioned me through the first of three gates, she mentioned that she’d been expecting another party, but it was fine that I was early, and would I like to go see the puppies.
I was close on her heels as we went through the next gate to get to the field where the puppies were romping. I could see four or five pudgy little bodies bouncing off each other as we approached. They were all so full of life.
Georjean clicked the latch on the last gate that gave us entrance into the enclosure, when I saw, from across the field, a furry black-and-white blur making a dash for my legs. I scooped it up before it crashed into me.
I held her up at arm’s length. There were the little tan eyebrows, the white granny shawl, and the blaze that went clear up and over her little noggin. Not that I needed to conduct the inspection. I knew. As sure as I was standing there, I knew. I’d found her.
We were eye-to-eye, her eyes saying to mine, What took you so long?