It’s a powerful connection.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I put this letter in our local newspaper a few years ago.

After it ran, I got a message from a woman who said the day she had to take her beloved, older dog to the vet to be euthanized, she came home, collected the mail and paper, and sat down in an empty house.

Her eyes must have been burning from all the crying she had done.

Something made her pick up the newspaper.

This is what she found:

Dear Mom and Dad,

I wanted to take a minute to tell you how much you mean to me. I’m afraid that because I can’t speak your words, you don’t really know. I try to tell you in all the ways that I can, but just to be sure, I’m writing you this letter.

I remember the day you first brought me home. Boy, was I scared. I had been brought to the animal shelter by those other people, the ones who didn’t want me for reasons I can’t remember anymore. And I was sure I’d never leave those kennels. I was sure I’d be there forever.

Then you both showed up. I didn’t want to hope. You looked so kind and smelled so nice and your little son and daughter were gentle and I could tell they were bright, intelligent, chips off the old block. When you took me out of the kennel and hugged me and let me kiss your cheeks and jump on your clothes, I knew I would lay down my life for all of you if you would let me. I knew I would love you until the day I left this earth.

But I was still so scared, because hope hurts. It really does. “Maybe” can be painful. Because when you think about what could be and don’t actually get it, it’s like a bruise. It hurts to lose something, even though you never really had it.

When I heard the words “adoption” and “approved” and “go home,” I couldn’t believe it. I was still in shock and awe as we pulled out of the shelter and I was sitting on the blanket in the back of your car between the kids and I could feel your excitement.

I have to tell you, the fear didn’t leave me right away. Those first few nights, I was so scared that I’d end up back in that kennel. After all, the other people didn’t want me, why would you?

I tried so hard to be good. I know you were upset and disappointed in me when I’d make messes, but sometimes I couldn’t help it. Something would scare me or I’d just really have to go. I felt really bad and I figured you’d take me back for sure.

But something started to happen. We developed a routine. Dad would take me out in the mornings before he went to work and when I was good, he’d tell me, like he was proud of me. It was the same voice he’d use when one of the kids brought home a good grade. Dad, do you remember that morning we saw the deer? I really wanted to go after them, but I knew you wouldn’t like that, so I just stood with you for a minute and watched. Just you and me. I was so happy to be with you.

Then mom would feed me breakfast and we’d see the kids off to school on the bus. I made sure to stand by in the driveway and watch. Nothing was going to happen to those two. I made sure of it. I’d wait until I couldn’t see the bus anymore before going inside. I did that every day. I started to think of it as my job. To protect the family.

During dinner, we’d hear about mom and dad’s day at work and the kids’ day at school and every once in a while, someone would slip me something tasty under the table. The days at the kennel were slowly fading from my memory because I realized I was a part of something very special. I finally found a place where I belonged.

I watched the kids grow up, get older, nearer to graduation. I had the same mixture of worry and pride when one of them drove the car down the road by themselves for the first time. Dad, I remember looking at your face and I wondered how you did it. How you could let them go. I know it’s part of the cycle of life and that’s just how things happen, but it had to be hard. I walked over and nuzzled my head under your fingers. You scratched my ears almost absently, but I hoped you understood that I was saying you’d always have me.

Then the kids moved away. Went off and found their own apartments, made their own lives. And one winter day, I found mom standing on the threshold of her daughter’s bedroom, looking at the stuffed animals and the pink paint and for a second, it was as though maybe time had stood still. I walked over and licked her hand. Mama, you smiled at me and I honestly think you knew what I was saying. I leaned my head against your leg and we stood there for a few minutes before I heard you whisper, “You’re my only baby left.”

Our lives took on a different quality; the house was a bit more quiet, a little less active. Evenings were no longer spent rushing kids to play practice or softball games. Friday nights became about the Home and Garden network instead of football games and band competitions. And it was nice.

Well mom and dad, I’m older now. I don’t jump up quite as eagerly for my morning walk or when the kids come home to visit, but it’s not because I don’t love them. I do; so much. I just can’t move quite as well as I once could, or hear quite as keenly. It might take me a while to put my head in your lap when I know you need a friendly face, but the sentiment behind it is just as real, just as powerful as it has ever been.

And as I lie on my pillow, the one I’ve had since the day you got me from that shelter so many years — a lifetime — ago, I know some day, maybe soon, I won’t be around. I won’t be with you. I wish I could see you through it all. I wish I could be there when the kids get married or have their own babies. I’d love to play with grandkids, but I just don’t think that’s in the cards for me. But please believe that in spirit, in my love for you, I’ll never truly be gone.

Which is why I wanted to write you this. I wanted to tell you that no matter what happens, I’ll always be a part of your lives. You took a chance on me so many years ago and I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget that you looked through the wire at an animal who had already been discarded by one family and opened your home and your hearts.

That’s the kind of bond, the kind of love, that no one can break, no one can destroy and no one can lose. That’s what you’ve given me and I’ll always be grateful. And I’ll always love you and I’ll wait for you in that place I’ve heard about. That place with the meadow and the bridge and the rainbow.

And I’ll wait for your hugs and kisses when we meet again, just like the first time.

Love always,

Your four-legged baby


The woman said to me she truly felt like her dog was speaking to her and that he hadn’t really left her and never would.

The words, timed so beautifully, written by a lonely shelter worker at her desk the week before, seemed to transcend time and space. They connected all of us — both two-legged and four-legged — on the mystical, universal plane that maybe can’t be seen or touched, but is there, nonetheless, bringing us together in our shared experiences and understanding of what life is really about.

And that — that — is why writing is so unbelievably powerful and important. Whether it’s a message on a post-it note, an email to a friend, a love letter to that special someone or even an essay on how you spent your summer vacation, words have weight. They have an energy, a potential to reach people in a way that we may not fully understand at this moment in our journey on this planet.

Writing — songs, blog posts, poems, novels, letters, anything — keeps us human. It keeps us connected to one another. It keeps us grounded the to past, present and future.

To be even just a small part of that is as compelling as it is humbling.

And to be able to comfort someone after losing a four-legged friend may be the best part of it all.

Animal-lover, mind wanderer, extroverted introvert. Director of Communications at Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, Chambersburg, Pa.

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