When I was eleven years old, I spent hours researching every bit of information I could about dogs. I scrolled through articles on training, treats and toys on my family’s desktop computer. I searched through animal shelters and breeders, determined to find the perfect companion. My parents wanted a female yellow lab puppy, and eventually I found a Labrador retriever breeder in our state with a litter of puppies coming. When they were born, we visited a couple times and picked the prettiest one in the litter. We finally took her home one rainy night and named her Bailey after an island we used to visit in Maine.
As a young dog, Bailey was a healthy balance of wild and obedient. She excitedly ran at other dogs, but knew to stay in our yard without the help of an electric fence. Despite being considered a little too hyper in puppy kindergarten class, she quickly learned every basic command. She barked ferociously whenever she heard someone at our door, something she still does, but she is gentle towards all people.
Bailey has been in my life for endless milestones. Middle school, high school and college. Sleepovers, dance recitals and proms. Friends both old and new can always rely on experiencing her warmth and wagging tail whenever they visit my house. There’s even a yellow lab next door that has been her playmate and “boyfriend” for years. On nights where I went to bed crying as a teenager, I usually woke up to her laying beside my bed the next morning.
Although I have endless fond memories with Bailey, we haven’t always had a lot of quality time. Growing up, I had school followed by hours of dance or work, and I usually spent weekends out of the house with friends. In college, I lived an hour away from home and spent breaks working and travelling. It was clear that although Bailey loved everyone, she was much more attached to my family members that were more present.
This past Christmas, my favorite gift was a tapestry with a picture of Bailey on it that my mother gave me. I excitedly hung it up in my dorm, and it became the first thing I saw when I woke up and the last thing I looked at before falling asleep. One night early into my spring semester, I looked over at it and began to cry. Bailey had just turned 11 years old and I was a senior in college not planning to live at home for long after graduating. It started to occur to me that I wouldn’t have much time with Bailey during her final years. Even worse, I realized moving far away could mean I wouldn’t be able to return home when she dies. These feelings of guilt and anticipated grief washed over me in waves until our story joined the rest of the world in taking a different path.
The COVID-19 outbreak changed everything and erased the end to my college experience that I had envisioned. Initially, it was hard to see the positives in a sea of disappointments and tragedies, but I am overjoyed to have Bailey as part of my daily life again. For the first time in years, the majority of my days are spent around her. My schedule is now structured around walks with her instead of the commutes, meetings and classes that dominated my college life. My work breaks now consist of games of fetch, feeding Bailey baby carrots and sitting in the sun with her on my deck, coffee in hand.
Bailey isn’t big on cuddling, so I think she gets annoyed with how frequently I pet her and plant kisses on the top of her head. Although she seems to notice that everyone is home more than usual, she has no idea how rare and meaningful this time is. When I look back and remember this period of devastation and uncertainty, I know I will also treasure all the extra time I was able to spend with my furry best friend. When the day comes where I will have to say goodbye to her, these are some of the memories I will hold the closest.