The Dog Shaped Hole in my Heart

This is the one. This is the story that has been blocking all the other stories, a virtual plug. It’s a cold snowy Sunday in March and this feels like the day to try and yank it out. Bear with me, or not. Like labor, this one may be long and erratic and there will be crying at the end. Also during.

For those who know me in the real world, and for those who have followed along online, Walter has been one of the main characters in this cuckoo production called My Life. One of the constants. Like sunshine and snow and happiness and sadness, Walter was always there. And if he wasn’t around, he was just outside. Or napping on the porch. 

Fifteen years. That’s what we had with him. It’s so much longer than many people get with a beloved pet. And somehow it feels like such a ripoff. I wanted more time. I wanted him to be around forever and then some. 

For those who don’t know me in the real world, Walter was a dog. The dog, actually. My one and only. I think there’s a search bar in this ancient blog- find it and type in Walter and you will find many posts, mentions, pictures. Walter was as thoroughly interwoven into this story as his fur was into our clothes and furniture. 

We got him at the Humane Society thanks in part to a crusty but sweet old friend who told me, as we stood there in the cold back Big Dog room with the various yaps and barks echoing off the cinder block walls, “every kid needs a dog”. Also thanks in part to an immediate connection. 

I will go to my grave knowing that Walter and I were supposed to find each other. It was destined. I needed him more than anyone could have ever convinced me, and he surely needed me. We were like two bruised and damaged planets that happened upon one another in a vast and desolate galaxy. Which one of us held the other in their little gravity grip? I’d like to think it was equal forces. We held each other down.

And now I’m floating in that dark black hole again. My gravity is gone.

Whoa. That’s what you’re thinking, right? This chick is nuts.

Well yes. Have we met? I am indeed nuts. That’s part of my charm.

But I’ll argue with you if you feel that grieving a dog classifies someone as crazy. Grief is no stranger in these here parts. It’s a frequent visitor and as I get older I realize that grief comes in all shapes and sizes and intensities. 

Grief is shaped like a dog. It has velvety soft ears that flap happily on walks. It has coarse fur that comes to a downy little swirl on a barrel chest. Grief stands next to me in the kitchen, eagerly awaiting for some chicken to accidentally fall to the floor. Grief is a grimy blue collar that now rests atop a wooden box.

I’ve lost people and it hurt. I miss my mom with such a deep, primal stab so huge and raw that it still takes my breath away after several years. I miss my dad. The feelings with him aren’t as painful as the mom ones, they are softer and less sharp but just as deep and they poke me with just as much frequency. 

I’ve lost grandparents and aunts and uncles and acquaintances. Favorite musicians and writers and actors. They are all missed and well loved. 

But the loss of Walter has been the one that sticks. It’s the stringy blobs that cling to your fingers while kneading dough. It’s that quote I love about the scent of a violet that’s been crushed by a nonchalant heel.

It didn’t even occur to me that he was aging. He was a puppy, in my eyes, up until the end. 

He was innocence and purity and forgiveness and unconditional love. 

He was walks. He was hilarity. 

He was the king of finding food literally EVERYWHERE. 

He was patiently impatient. He was a foot warmer and sometimes tried to be a lap dog and a shoulder dog.

He waited in the front window and he was the first thing you saw when you pulled up to our house. That sweet yellow face, more white than yellow in later years. Those hopeful brown eyes with the ginger lashes. He was always waiting. 

He loved snow. He loved the first warm days of spring and rolling in dewy grass. 

Walter never played fetch. He didn’t give a shit about sticks. 

He had exactly one toy he liked, a stuffed Grinch, and when that toy was destroyed he was finished. I once found the exact same Grinch at a thrift store and when I triumphantly presented it to him, he looked at it and then walked away. Been there, done that. Movin’ on. 

I was not a good dog mom. Far from it. We were poor and there were times I could barely feed my human kids. Walter got what was available. But he survived. We all did.

When I wrote an essay about having to go to the food shelf, and it went all kinds of viral, there was a comment from someone that said “pretty dumb to have a dog if you can’t feed your kids” and while they were not entirely wrong, it still shook me to think of cutting corners that way. 

As I said earlier, I was blissfully unaware of time stacking up on him. Oh, for sure I saw the fur on his face turning lighter and lighter. I noticed how it took him a while to stand up. I felt his lumps and bumps multiply and grow. 

But it didn’t really sink in until a woman we were passing while on a walk paused and said “he’s getting around great for being such an old man!” 

THE AUDACITY. I was actually offended for him. That was the first time I looked at him through a stranger’s eyes. And I saw his winter white face, his bony back, his lumpy bumpy body. And I loved him even more. But I also started thinking about the things we try really hard to not think about. 

Soon after that he could no longer hop up onto my bed, even with the ottoman I’d brought in from the porch. He slept on the couch, and more often than not, I’d sleep out there with him.

Walter bore witness to the raising of four feral children. He helped a depressed lonely woman (that’s me!) get outside and exercise. He was a reluctant viewer of a few awkward trysts with shadowy lovers. He loved us all without a shred of judgment or pity or obligation. 

I am not ready to talk publicly or I guess, write publicly, about his last day or his last hour. I still haven’t looked at the pictures that our dear friend Whitney took that evening. Looking at them will cement it. It will be the final goodbye and I cannot do that, not yet. 

I will say that while I am haunted by guilt, even now with 14+ months passed, I know deep down that we sent him off with the dignity and the fanfare that he deserved. Hell, I’d be okay with a last day like that. 

A good walk. So many good treats. And surrounded by those I loved, and who loved me.

Death was something that I feared greatly. It was the ultimate terror, the worst thing that could happen. But now, it’s a little less scary. 

Because even though I am probably one of the least spiritual or religious people around, the thought of seeing him, waiting there at the window for me, is comforting. 

For now, I wait. I take walks that aren’t as fun. I smile when I see random food on the ground. I sometimes absentmindedly reach down about mid-thigh to scratch a knobby furry head that isn’t there. I feel him sometimes, just like I can tell when my mom is riding shotgun with me or my dad is shaking his head at my high pitched panic over a minor household crisis.

I wait. And I miss him. 


We made up a song for Walter back when we were all younger. For the life of me I can’t recall the tune we based it on but the words were:

Walty McWalterton, prettiest dog I know

Walty McWalterton, always on the go

He’s pretty

He’s yellow

He’s such a fine fellow (carry that last note with some soprano gusto)

Walty McWalterton, prettiest dog I know

We sang this to him as he passed. And sometimes I find myself humming it just because.


  1. Homie, this is so lovely. I’m so sorry for your aching. Also, if I find out who made the comment about having a pet when you’re poor, I’m going to punch them for you.

  2. What a special tribute to Walter the Wonder Dog. Love you Jenny!

  3. What a beautiful tribute 💔 And I agree that pet grief is the one that really sticks. Animals are so pure; their love for us is so unconditional. It always feels unfair and unjust to lose a loved one, but it's a hundredfold with a fur baby. Walter was very blessed to have you and he couldn't have helped but know he was so loved.

  4. This is such a beautiful love story. I knew I was going to have to steel myself to read it. We have special songs for each of our pets too. Hugs to you.

  5. What a great tribute to Walter. Sending love.

  6. So beautiful. 💙

  7. What a Beautiful and devastating post.

  8. Oh Walter. I loved reading about him and his many covert culinary adventures. Dogs are the best. I miss mine too much to invest in another puppy and just like you- now I have 3 cats. Entirely different on ALL levels..
    Great writing and a wonderful tribute to your ride or die pupper. They stay with us forever:)

  9. I'm crying for you and for all of us who loved Walter.

  10. Just such a great tribute. And I'm so sorry for your grief 💔

  11. Wow Jenny-so moving-Walter would be so proud of you!!

  12. I can totally relate, my Baxter is always on my mind, and coming home without him there to greet me is awful. Sending love to all who have lost their best friend

  13. Jenny, this is such a beautiful and loving tribute to Walter!! Funny...I was just thinking about him at some point in the last few days, and how glad I am that (a) I met him and got to love on him more than once, and (b) he was there for you and the kiddos all those years. And yeah...I get it about the grief. 100%.

  14. Oh Jenny
    So,so sorry for your loss
    Crying as I read this
    This was a really tough winter for some of us
    I see you and I send hugs all the way from Greece

  15. Dang, this one is rough. I remember when one of my favorite pets died I sat on the front stoop and wailed for so long into the night sky. I thought someone would open a window and tell me to shut up. I am still gutted when I think of her. I'm so sorry for your loss of sweet Walter, this is seriously a beautiful tribute to this kind of love and relationship. I hope everyone gets to experience the unconditional love of Walter in their life.

  16. The grimy collar in my house is red. 16 months gone now. My beautiful boy.


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