I read somewhere, once, that you never get over your first dog. And I think that's probably true.
If you are fortunate enough to start out with a wonderful pup, no other dog will ever compare. Likewise, if you begin with a horrible or difficult beast, well, you probably won't ever go back to owning dogs.
Lucky me, I began with the former. A springer spaniel only a few months younger than I was, Maggie and I grew up together. She was, technically, my dad's dog, but in the way that nothing that's yours is ever really yours once you become a parent, Maggie was mine.
She patiently let me dress her up and treated my cat as her puppy. She cheered from the sidelines when I invented the little known sport of closet sledding (which involves a sleeping bag, a very long closet with hardwood floors and a good running start), rested her chin on my knee when I sobbed out my childhood miseries and didn't tell a soul when I almost burned down the house hanging Strawberry Shortcake's red dress over the bare lightbulb in my closet to make my own "darkroom".
She slept on the foot of my bed almost every night of her life, even when she was so old she had to be gingerly lifted up onto the mattress each bedtime. I can still feel the emptiness in the pit of my stomach that I felt the day I came home from school to find her gone.
After Maggie came a series of disastrous dogs. Chessie, who was cute for about 6 weeks and then turned out to be a slightly sadistic, poofy creature who had absolutely no interest in our family. Chip, a dog so neurotic that I'm sure the trail he wore between the gates in our backyard will be found by future archeologists and mistaken for a defensive ditch built by some ancient culture. And the two labs Will and I acquired in our first years together, Morgan and Hennessy. They weren't exactly disastrous. Although that time Morgan ate one out of each pair of shoes I owned was pretty bad.
But they were never Maggie. Not even close.
And so years of doglessness passed. Until one day, six years ago, when I got a bee in my bonnet to get another dog. The right dog this time. A dog just like Maggie. Literally. Another springer. A female, liver colored springer spaniel to be exact. Why mess with a good thing?
Nigella -- who almost instantly became "Jelly" when a 2-year-old Evelyn misunderstood the name we had given the dog and declared "My Jelly!" at their first meeting -- is the dog that got me over Maggie.
She is very like the original, in looks and temperament, although different enough to hold her own, equal place in my heart. Like Maggie, she thinks our cats are her puppies. Like Maggie, she is patient and kind and always ready to sit with you, in good times and bad. Being dressed up in a tutu or covered with stickers or used as a pillow is fine by her. She would rather be wearing a headband and socks curled up next to you than be alone without the embarrassing garb of a dog much loved by children.
When she is not at my feet, she often sleeps at the end of Evelyn's bed, which was Briton's before her and mine before that, long ago. Same bed, (almost) same dog. She is their Maggie. She is the dog my children will never get over.
And thank goodness for that.