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A Huge Shelter Dog Helped Me Get Through Losing My Sister

I believe the sweet Great Pyrenees cross brought me a message from Diane, months after she died.

 |  Jan 7th 2013  |   9 Contributions


“He’s a great dog, but he slobbers, sheds, and he chews. And oh, he has bad hips,” said the kennel attendant who’d been caring for Reggie at the Coquitlam, British Columbia, Animal Shelter for the past six months. A few reasons why this young Great Pyrenees cross, picked up as a stray, was perhaps still up for adoption.

My first meeting with this homeless furry beast was in a large urban park adjacent to the shelter. As I walked him along a curving tree-lined path, we came upon a quaint forest bog. Reggie’s ears perked and his stance stiffened when he noticed a bug flying slightly above the water line. He gently padded towards the distraction and took a few inquisitive sniffs. The bug stopped and, as if to say hello, hovered for a moment in front of us, before flying off deeper into the bog. A dragonfly, I realized. Was it sign? “Is this a sign Reggie that I’m to take you home?”

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What a handsome lad!

The sign I’d been hoping for was one coming from my sister, Diane. She had passed away earlier that year from cancer. Despite my uncertainty of the existence of an afterlife, shortly before she died I asked her if she would let me know that she was OK. “If I can,” she cautiously replied. Then we both chuckled about how the next time I saw a hummingbird it might be her. Diane loved the tiny, delicate bird and placed feeders for them throughout her coveted garden.

However, the hospice where she spent the last six weeks of her life harnessed the symbol of a dragonfly to represent the transition from this world to the next. “Many survivors tell us of special encounters with dragonflies,” hospice staff told me.

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Mmm, couch.

Five minutes after my encounter with the dragonfly, Reggie turned into an unruly, growling monster as two Sheltie dogs approached us on the trail. Don’t read anything into dragonfly stories, I blubbered to myself.

I couldn’t get Reggie out of my mind. I wasn’t planning on getting another dog (I already have two: Ella, a Labrador mix, and Truman, a Golden mix) but I have a bad habit of browsing pet-rescue adoption websites. A harmless indulgence, I thought. It was research, as some day. Long after my two dogs had passed on, I believed I was going to rescue a Newfoundland.

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Alfie visits Santa with Ella and Truman.

But every time I browsed the extra-large breeds, Reggie’s profile would come up. Someone probably just forgot to remove his posting after he’d been adopted. So what harm would it be to email them? When I received a reply from Jeannie at the shelter the next day stating that yes, they’d had some interest but he was still available, I was overcome with a severe case of I-got-their-hopes-up guilt.

A few days later, after I’d put the prospect of a trio of dogs under my charge out of mind, the phone rang. “Oh hi, it’s Jeannie at Coquitlam Animal Control, just wanted to know if you had any questions about Reggie.” Um, like what time can I pick him up and take him home, I said to myself. They had me after the first ring.

As soon as I laid eyes on him -- all 120-pounds of goofy puppyness -- I was hooked. Ella and Truman would just have to learn to get along with this drooly mass of white and grey fur, perched on feet bigger than ham hocks and topped with a face reminiscent of the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz. I named him Alfie.

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Alfie found a lamb.

A few weeks after bringing Alfie home -- and, yes, Ella and Truman do love him -- I returned from work and found him tossing an object around in the backyard. Taking it from his gentle grip, I discovered it was a stuffed animal, a lamb, the kind you might give a baby. In nearly new condition, still white, and other than being anointed by Alfie’s slobber, it was unharmed.

But where did it come from? Thrown over the fence? Regardless of where and how, I knew that it could only mean one thing. Diane, my beloved big sister, was OK, and Alfie would have a home for as long as he shall live.

Why a lamb and not a dragonfly? Only Diane would know that answer. And perhaps Alfie.

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