Finding your heart dog is one of the most profoundly beautiful things you can experience in this lifetime. It’s such an unexpected gift—wrapped in fur and tied with a poop-bag closing bow. Just when you think you have yourself all figured out, a dog finds you, cracks open the hard, real-world exterior you’ve worked so hard to build, and together (without even meaning to) you expose your hopes, dreams, and ambitions.

It’s a rollercoaster, a love like no other, a once-in-a-lifetime connection that opens up a portal to your soul. Sometimes it takes you back to your childhood self to breathe life back into old dreams, and in others it pushes you forward, forcing you to engage in life, live in the present, and actualize new goals and aspirations. The by-product of either path is a deep inner knowing that is often lost in the busy hustle-bustle of adult life… and, in that, you find yourself; you find home.

But time is a funny villain and eventually the thing that once built this magical connection, this bond you never knew you needed, then turns around and steals it away. And when you lose that dog—your heart dog, your everything—it’s like the world collapses around you.

You want to scream about the unfairness of it all: Why him? Why her? Why me? Why now? And you swear you will never open yourself up like that again. How could you? It’s not a bond that could EVER be duplicated or replaced. And you wonder how other people move on and get new dogs.

The short answer is: they don’t…

…At least not easily and sometimes not on purpose.

The reality is that the decision to get a puppy after losing your heart dog is a hard one, filled with doubt and mixed emotions. Maybe you feel like you’re ready, that you’ve given it time and embraced the grieving process. Or maybe the lingering sadness that you so desperately wish would go away remains, haunting you with every “on-this-day” memory that pops up on your iPhone.

More than likely—and depending on the day—it’s both.

Your Heart Dog And The Dog That Helps You Love Again

And as you cling to your other pets, or adopt friends or family’s pets as surrogates in the wake of your profound loss, there are just so many questions:

When IS the right time? Will a new dog make it better or worse? Am I betraying the memory of my heart dog? And if I do fall in love again—if that’s even possible—am I ready for the pain that accompanies the inevitable truth that the lifespan of a dog is eclipsed by human years? Can I go through that again?

But dogs are tricky: they find you when you least expect it (and often when you need it most). And as you contemplate the impossible decision of getting a new dog, that same “dog-magic” that brought you your heart dog starts to quietly buzz again.

Everyone has his or her own version of it. Some people think that a new puppy is a love letter from their heart dog—your dog’s way of softening your grief. Others think it’s a reincarnation of the same dog, sent back with a slightly different purpose and lesson.

But as you cling to the guilt you feel, beating yourself up for even considering that your heart dog could be replaced, a puppy “appears.” Maybe on a site, or someone sends you a link to a puppy with the note “I know you’re not ready, but…”

And at first you think, no, it’s not the right time.

“It’s not my puppy,” you tell yourself. “It’s meant for someone else.”

“But maybe…? In another lifetime… if only…”

Pretty soon you can’t stop thinking about it, that puppy… someone else’s puppy.

“It looks like a Charlie. Or a Lucy.”

"Is it a boy or a girl? It wouldn’t hurt to check…”

“The next pup doesn’t have to be like your heart dog, but if you’re lucky some of his/her traits will help you remember your dog in the best possible way.”

And as you start to read the stats, something in your heart shifts. At first, it’s painful, part of a series of emotions you’d carefully tucked away when you lost your heart dog. Followed by a twinge of guilt for pushing past the pain to even look. And finally on the back of that comes the excitement and sheer joy of possibly knowing the love of a dog again.

And maybe Charlie’s not yours, but the page that seemed so permanent, so stuck, starts to turn, making way for the story to begin again…

Dog magic.

The next pup doesn’t have to be like your heart dog, but if you’re lucky some of his/her traits will help you remember your dog in the best possible way, in a way you might not have without a nudge of remembrance from your new pup. And even if this isn’t the case, you’ll love your new puppy ridiculously, go on new adventures, and have new experiences you’ll never EVER regret.

And it’s okay to miss them, this magical mythical creature called a heart-dog. It’s okay to wish your dog back at any cost and feel like your loyalties are torn between past and present, then and now—to be willing to give up ANYTHING to mush all of your dog chapters together and have them all at once, layered on top of each other like a security blanket.

They are the dog that changed everything and the dog that came next—and that’s okay. They’re both part of the greater love story that exists when you allow your life and your heart to be transformed by the love of a dog.

And if it helps, just know a dog chose this life for you, this legacy of hair encrusted dinners, of muddy paws—of love.

And before you know it, you’re back in it… heart completely invested in this next chapter of your journey, the next 12 to 15 years of your life, bookended by the lifespan of a dog.