Adopting Gatsby after Warner passed away was like trying to dive back into the dating scene after breaking up with a long-term boyfriend: I knew it was time to get back out there, but at the same time I was scared to move on. When we first brought Gatsby home I felt like I was cheating on Warner; like if I opened my heart up and allowed myself to love another dog I would somehow be letting him down. I had a hard time not comparing one to the other: where Warner was silly and excitable, Gatsby was steadfast and sensitive, where Warner was boisterous and outgoing, Gatsby was careful and stubborn. Their differences, though good for me now, were hard to accept at first and I found myself wanting Gatsby to be more like Warner to ease the immense grief that came with his passing.
I struggled to bond with Gatsby at first; partly because Warner was still fresh in my mind and on my heart and partly because he bonded to Kyle immediately, yet didn't seem care about me one way or the other. The friends who found and fostered Gatsby warned us that he preferred men over women, but after being so bonded to Warner, and after being so defined by being his caretaker I was frustrated when Gatsby seemingly wanted nothing to do with me. For many months he was "Kyle's dog" and no amount of walks, treats or pets I gave him could convince him otherwise. He didn't dislike me, but given the choice, he would choose Kyle every time. And trying to get him to listen to me was like trying to get a teenager to listen to their mother: it wasn't happening.
It didn't happen overnight, but slowly he warmed to me and I started to separate my love for him from my grief of Warner. Together, we found our way through our respective pasts and pains and a special love grew between us.
Yesterday, I took Gatsby to the dog park in our neighborhood. I do this every Saturday and Sunday morning; kind of our little tradition (see also: so he will sleep all morning and I can get some work done). As we walked down the street I realized he wasn't pulling me, but calmly walking at my side, something I'd never seen him do before. Of course this was short-lived as we entered the park, and Gatsby was greeted by another neighborhood dog, and I was soon forgotten as the two took off running. A few minutes later, the dog ran up to me with a ball in its mouth, eager to play with me and as I bent down to grab the ball, the dog jumped on me, knocking me down into the mud. All of a sudden, Gatsby was at my side, growling and lunging at the dog, protecting me. Even after the dog ran away, Gatsby stayed by my side for a few minutes, as if he was making sure the dog wouldn't come back, then happily took off running again, like nothing ever happened.
I'd never seen him do before, not even with Kyle.
Gatsby has taught me a lot about starting over. Because of him, I've learned that grief and love can exist in the same heart. Even in my most frustrated moments, I never gave up on him. I tried to be nurturing and consistent, to be understanding of his past and to be positive, even when I felt like I was failing with him. I've learned my heart is big enough to hold two loves, each special and unique, neither interfering with the other. He's taught me that starting over takes patience and that patience cannot exist without grace. The bond that's formed between us is different than the one I had with Warner, but I've learned there is something special about both of them. Together, we've overcome the sadness that existed in our past and formed a bond that will carry us into the next chapter of both our lives. I've learned not to count out second chances, because some of the most beautiful things can come from them.