I’d never had my own dog before. Sure, we had family dogs, but it’s not the same as caring for your own pet, especially the breed you wanted your whole life. My husband, Ian, and I decided years ago that one day we would have an English Bulldog and name him Holland Oates (of course, in tribute to the yacht-rock gods of the sort-of same name). When we bought our first house last year, we vowed to “find Holland” by summer. And we definitely did.
When I first saw Holland’s baby picture on a Minnesota breeder’s website (we looked into adopting first but had no luck), I knew he was our guy. After a long month of waiting for him to grow, we made the three-hour journey in July to a small farmhouse in the tiniest town we’ve ever visited. The breeder plucked him from a pen of four brothers and sisters, with mom Lulu nearby, and even though everyone says this, I’ll concede that love at first sight is a real thing. My red-brindle cuddle friend and I looked lovingly into one another’s eyes and snuggled the whole drive home to Minneapolis.
My life felt oddly new. It was one of my happiest days. Holland and Ian and I made up a tiny family, and we spent the next four months together when we weren’t at work. My husband and I would leave concerts and parties early just to go home to him and play. He was our favorite, and his sassy personality made it impossible not to build our lives around him.
Fast forward four joy-filled months to what was the saddest day of my life. Ian and I were getting ready to host a Halloween night party at our “new” home. We hung orange lights around the windows and made a “grown-up” cider with pears and apples. I fed a few slices to Holland, who, with his big brown eyes, was always lurking nearby for the slight possibility of getting people food. It was the first nice day out in a whole week of rain, and I could tell my boy — who was obsessed with meeting new people in the neighborhood — wanted to go outside and get his adventure on. But I resolved to keep to my plans and continued working on Halloween affairs. I remember thinking, “He can’t be the star of every day. I’ve got to get ready.”
The doorbell rang about 50 times that night with trick or treaters — many who were being driven from house to house on our block. It was a new experience for us as previous downtown dwellers. There was a lot going on, and Holland was getting overly excited. I put him in his crate in the bedroom, and he immediately cried, something he never really did much. After about 20 minutes, I let him out to greet a close friend who had just arrived.
Less than five minutes later, Holland was ripped from our lives.
It happened so fast, and at the same time, in cruel slow motion. I remember every detail. He ran from the arms of our friend, past Ian in the doorway, past a gaggle of trick or treaters, and darted down the block at a harried speed I’d never seen from him before. I yelled for him as he dashed across the street. A couple of trick or treaters tried to hold him but he wriggled away. As Ian lunged to grab his collar, Holland turned to run back across the street but met the wheels of a speeding SUV. I heard him yelp, saw him roll, and saw Ian drop to his knees in the middle of the roadway and scream his name in agony. It’s a scene I will never forget as long as I live, as much as I want to rid it from my mind forever. Holland passed away in minutes. We drove to the emergency vet with false hopes as I held him in my arms.
He was gone.
How did this happen? Why did it happen? Where is he now? Did he know how much he was loved? Is this our fault? Did we fail him? The questions ran like a cruel news ticker through our heads, along with gory flashbacks from the accident, the horrifying drive to the vet, and returning home to a quiet house, festive decorations mocking our pain.
In the week following his sudden death, we received not only humbling tokens of sympathy from friends, neighbors, and family, but also what we believe are comforting “signs” from Holland’s spirit. He used to do this unmistakable “Bulldog butt wiggle,” and Ian would tell him to “shake it up!” The first time Ian and I left the house after the accident, the first song on the car radio was “Shake It Up” by The Cars. We drove to a nearby restaurant, but just cried through our fried rice. We talked about getting a new “friend” someday. Our fortune cookies revealed the same fortune: You have an open mind and are quick to make new friends. On the way home, Hall & Oates “Your Kiss Is On My List” came on; it was Holland’s theme song and was displayed on his Instagram page (yes, I was that kind of dog mom). He loved car rides. We felt him with us, and it meant everything.
The next day, I tried to go outside and rake. I got about five minutes in before breaking down. The elderly neighbor across street motioned for me to come over. She’d heard what happened, and in her quiet, slow-talking way, she gave me a few sage words: “I’ve had many pets in my 75 years. I remember them all, and losing them all was hard. But you have to know it’s not your fault.” I gave her a hug goodbye and went to put my headphones back on, looking at my Pandora app and the song that was playing: “Nobody’s Fault.”
In the weeks after he left us, we learned that Holland’s short presence in our lives impacted us immeasurably:
I miss him with burning intensity as I write this. I miss our long adventurous walks, the way he built his relationship with Ian and me differently. The way he’d proudly lie on the couch to show he was “being good” when I got home. I’d take all the good and bad again just to hold him and talk to him. Sometimes I speak to him in the car when I’m alone. The other day I cried, “You left us too soon!” and the answer in my head came right back: “I was there exactly when you needed.”
In memory of Holland Oates.
Do you see signs from a dearly departed dog? Tell us your experiences in the comments.
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About the author: Jen Boyles is a content strategist and freelance writer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, land of single-digit temps and snuggly pups like her criminally cute new bulldog, Hawthorne Bearface. He is succeeded by the late but legendary Holland Oates, whom Jen writes about here. Jen is newish to the world of puppies and every day is reminded that she has a lot (like, a LOT) to learn. Support is welcome in the forms of tweets to @Jen_Boyles, where she muses about her days as a music critic and current situation of #adlife, #sephoraaddiction, and #netflix.