Dear Mark,

I just finished reading your book about Sprite.  As others who have written you, I also recently lost my best friend.  Her name was Pax, the peacegiver.  She was a golden retriever/black lab mix. For over 13 years we were together.  Although I told her every day of her life that I loved her, I still wish that I would have said even more to her as I held her while she was dying.  I guess what I really wish is that I could have kept her with me just a little longer.  I don\’t have to describe the hurt that is still within me, as you must share the same sense of constant loss.

That there had to be another dog in my life was a given, as it always had been since I was a child.  His name is Starbuck, a six month old golden retriever; a bouncing, happy, excited flash of golden fur.  He is named after the character in the movie The Rainmaker, who embraced life with enthusiasm, vitality, and a little mischievousness.  That is my pup.

There is something I wanted to share with you, although I am still trying to understand it myself.  Well-meaning people who hear of our loss often offer encouragement by suggesting we get a new dog, replace the old.  Although their  only intent is to ease the pain, we tend to characterize their remarks as evidence of callous indifference; not understanding or appreciating all that our pet meant to us.  But privately, down deep inside, it is ourselves whom we are chastising, for we mistakenly believe it is us who are failing our dear friend, because we do so desperately want to have a dog back in our lives. 
Although many of us go ahead and do just as our friends recommend and a new dog does come into our lives, we still feel a sense of shame and confusion in opening our heart to a Starbuck while it is still breaking over the loss of a Pax.  But as our time grew short in her last days, it was as if Pax gave me some kind of knowledge and understanding to keep with me after she died.  It was this.

Dog lovers have always known that a dog is the only creature that loves us more than it loves itself.  We accept it as a fact of life.  Take that notion of love one moe step.  They also want to keep on giving us that love, even after they are gone.  It is their legacy to man.  Only another dog can give to us the happiness that comes with four feet, a wet nose, and a flopping tail.  We should not agonize over the decision, nor waste time with terminology.  As surely as we are made in the image of God, we are also made whole by the love of a dog.  Our ability to be ourselves, to be human, depends on having that animal besides us.  Scientists tell us that the affection of a dog physically and mentally benefits us to the point of increasing the length and quality of life.

As I said earlier, I may not know how to express this phenomenon, but I believe it is true.  I have faith.  I will never look at Starbuck and think I have replaced Pax, no more so than Pax replaced Annie, or Annie Pudge, and so on.  That is the ultimate gift they give us.  Like the phoenix, their love can only continue if we accept that rite of passage.  That it hurts so much is part of the cycle because only then can a broken heart be forced to open itself even wider and take in the love of another dog, and thus bring about healing.

Thank you for writing your book.  I wish you well.

Mike from IL