This story was originally published in Fort Lauderdale Magazine

Chelsea was my first dog. The first dog that belonged to me and me alone at 21 years old. We hung out, we talked, we got drunk and made up ditties. OK, I did that, but she was right there with me. We went through heartbreak together and went on vacation together. We laughed together about the time she tried to climb into the cockpit of a plane after I foolishly convinced the pilot she was calm enough to be out of the crate. We spent 14 years relying on each other. And then I got pregnant.

She was tired by then. We had done a lot together, and I don’t think she wanted to take the rest of the journey with me. Part of me thinks she knew I was pregnant. It was like passing the baton. Like I had someone to take over as my buddy. Her kidneys gave out, and she spent two agonizing weeks trying to get better. Eventually she wasn’t able to walk, eat, or drink.

We called the vet to come to our house, and I said goodbye with her head in my lap. I was devastated. I even visited the doctor because I was worried about what my heartbreak was doing to my unborn child. Turns out nothing.

Most people look down on me when I say it only took two weeks for me to get another dog, but my husband, Mike, and I couldn’t stand the empty house. There was no replacement for Chelsea. I know that now, and I think I knew it then. But something had to be done.

Let me take a minute here to say I know the difference between dog people and kid people. Dog people say their dog is their child. Kid people say they’re crazy. In my experience, it’s like football. If you have no children, Dog is your starting quarterback. If you have one child, Dog is relegated to the sidelines, not as backup, but more like the team’s physical therapist. If you have two children, Dog is now the stand-in water boy that you definitely need and want, but he gets in the way a lot, so it’s a good thing he’s so darned friendly.

We needed a water boy. So we took a trip to the pound looking for a set of eyes that called out to us. There were tons. But we needed someone special; someone young enough to save us from going through the same hell in just a year ortwo, but not so young that we would be potty training our first child and this dog together.

In a dark room, in a dark cage, there was Wembley. A black lab with dopey eyes staring up at us. She said, “OK, here’s the deal – I’ll let your kid walk all over me, lick him when he sticks his fingers up my nose, and even teach him how to chew the husks off a coconut with his bare teeth, if you’ll spring me from this joint.” To which I said, “You have yourself a deal, dog.”

Black L

And so Wembley became our dog. Not my dog but our son Jack’s dog. Her name was his first word. He asks for her all day when she’s not around. He won’t get in the car seat unless he’s going to see Wembley. He won’t go to bed unless he has said goodnight to Wembley. And it’s not all one-sided. The most exciting part of Wembley’s day is 4 o’clock, when the garage opens and that kid who breaks the “no feeding from the table” rule struts in. He throws the ball for her and doesn’t mind when she chews the faces off his toys. He yells at her, “OUT” and for her part, she doesn’t move, she just looks at him as if to say, “Oh you! You’re so funny with your bossy voice and no pants on.”

Wembley is a great dog. But she’s not Chelsea. I’m grateful to her. She makes my son happy every day, and that makes me happy. She’s gentle and good. We don’t hang out. I don’t get drunk and stumble home now, so I don’t need her to take care of me. We’ve never made up ditties, and there’s little chance of her joining us in the Bahamas when there’s three other tickets to buy. She gets yelled at for things that are not her fault. These are things that Chelsea never had to deal with, and Wembley takes them all in stride. Every dog has its place. And in our home, Wembley is the ribbon that ties up my family into a nice, if not always neat, package.