Once in a while, you get shown the light. By a dog.

by Janelle Hanchett

I’m not entirely sure, but I think I like my dog better than everyone on the planet except my kids but even that is questionable. Did I say that out loud?

We have a blue heeler named August West. We call him Auggie. When we  got him, our Labrador had just passed away and because my husband and I are ruthlessly devoted to questionable decisions, we got another dog right away and consequently I looked at Auggie as a rude interloper and pathetic substitute for what I really wanted.

Trying to understand my feelings, I googled “Getting a new dog after your dog dies” and read about 900 articles suggesting that one shouldn’t get a dog immediately after a dog dies because the new dog will seem like a pathetic substitute and rude interloper.


So then I was grieving both my dog and the addition of a new dog who I low-key hated, which added guilt and shame to my already mountainous guilt and shame surrounding the sudden death of my Labrador.

In short, I believed Auggie was an astronomical mistake, and yet, one I could not, or would not, ignore.

He was this round black and white spotted little thing with soft, floppy ears and keen, engaged eyes. We said he looked like a fat seal. George noticed one of the markings on his side was in the shape of a heart.

And he is a fucking working dog. I knew if I didn’t train him thoroughly, giving him all kinds of jobs, he would find himself a job, and it would probably be Eat The House.

So, against a large portion of my desire, I devoted myself to training our August West, who, in case you aren’t familiar, is the alcoholic in the Grateful Dead song “Wharf Rat.”


So there I was forcing myself outside with this dog multiple times a day, taking him to puppy training where he would leap for the sky in pursuit of other puppies while I stood on the leash (as directed by the teacher), thereby causing him to occasionally do these gravity-defying acrobatic flips in the air.

I was convinced Auggie was the worst pup in the class with the worst parents.

But I kept going on account of the house-eating situation.

And one day, I noticed something. I noticed the fat seal learned commands by about the tenth time we did it. I noticed he looked at me and cocked his head to one side, waiting for the next command. I noticed he followed me around the house like a duckling behind its mama.

He appeared, in a word, to exist just for me, and I noticed.

I taught him to sit, stand, go down, and wait. I taught him fetch and “leave it” and “catch it.” I taught him to shake hands, sit on my right and my left. I taught him to go around behind me and come to the front of me. I taught him to walk on a leash, stop when I stop, go when I go, sit when I pause.

And as we worked together, I noticed that when I was with him, I was free of the pain in my brain. He came a few days after my dog died, six weeks after my grandmother was murdered, and 12 weeks after my grandfather died. He came in the middle of me writing my memoir on alcoholism and motherhood.

He came when I was enduring a pain I had never known, and reliving through my writing a pain I believed would never be surpassed.

I noticed that when I was with him, I was in my body, on the ground – outside of the swirling mess in my brain — communicating with an animal intuitively connected with me. It was so simple, so loving, so tangible:

Sit. Correction. Sit. Correction. Sit. Success. Treat.


It wasn’t vague or complex or twisted up in emotion. It felt clean, direct, and pure.

It was a dog watching me, observing me, learning me, and me, learning him, committed to teaching him, and what I noticed is that one day I looked at that fucking dog and realized he was healing me.

After I’d write a section of my book that tore my heart into shreds, I’d head outside with Auggie and sometimes I’d give him whole strings of commands with signals only. No words. No sounds. Just a couple of friends working together.

The way he watches me. The way he sits in front of me, waiting, observing, at the ready. The way he jumps on my bed when I’m resting, puts his paw on my chest as if he’s patting me. The way he wags his tail when I say his name, and sleeps on the kitchen rug while I cook.

I have never loved a dog like this. (Don’t tell my last dog, who I loved, too. But this is like WEIRD.) I didn’t even know this was possible, and I wonder if it’s because he came when I was pissed off and broken and full of terrified rage, and I was committed to protecting myself from humans, from the violence and agony they cause, and here comes Auggie as if to say, “Okay but you never said anything about fat seal pups. Can you let me in?”

There’s that Dead song that says “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

For me, I guess it was a dog I wasn’t ready for.




“Fiercely talented word-warrior Janelle Hanchett grabs your guts with her frank, brutally funny, and moving memoir of modern motherhood and addiction. You won’t want to let go of this book.”

Ann Imig, editor of Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now

28 Comments | Posted in I fucking love my dog. | January 28, 2018
  • Maureen Wanket

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  • Anna

    I love this. I have a dog I didn’t want, who is also my best friend. I got her because a dumb ex of mine let my dog out and she got hit by a car.

    Cue a ball of wrinkles and stubborn being dropped into my lap. 7 years later shes my best friend. And still stubborn. I wouldn’t trade her for anything. (Even at 5 am when she wakes me up to go on a walk). Dogs are good for the soul.

  • Danielle

    I am allergic, so I have never had a dog of my own. I just cuddle my three-year-old (who amazingly knows when I really need him to cuddle me back) or the plush white tiger cub my bestie from high school gave me 20 years ago.
    Love this. Thank you.

  • Stephanie Jankowski

    Gah. My heart. I love your words. That is all.

  • Judy

    Now I must buy your book… xx

  • Tina Engberg

    We had to put down our rescue Chiweenie, Bonita, and didn’t last but a week in that empty transition. Not so much as a goldfish around here. We found Milo, who was far higher maintenance and so wound-up we thought we’d have to give him back and bail on the rescue. But the training we started went well and he’s fully a part of the family. And so much more in tune with our family than the sweet but fussy Bonita. I think that dogs sometimes just know how to love on us when we need it most.

  • Karen Robinson

    “…and realized he was healing me.” I burst into tears when I read this. My dog helped me heal after we lost our daughter during labour. We got him 6 weeks after we lost her. He’s the only reason I got outside and learned to smile again. I know he helped save me from deep deep depression.

  • Ellena

    I got a dog when it was stupid to get a dog. I was married to a selfish boy-child-pretending-to-be-a-man-type. I convinced myself to move across the country with him and left behind my incredibly secure job and living, and then, he lost his job that he was told was letting him transfer. (Which I knew was the case) but hey, we had bought a house and I had been waiting and waiting and waiting to get a dog until I had a house. But then I was like “we can’t get a dog. We might not even have this house once we get, ya know, FORECLOSED.” But then I met my doggie. Oh my goodness, she’s my precious little fluff of love and happiness. I ditched the guy t go back to the security of my old job (the ex was more interested in remaining jobless than providing security for his fledgling family) and when we filed for divorce I basically said, “you get the house. I get the dog.” Which was, again, stupid because now I had another life to fend for as I went though the process of trying to rebuild my own. Somehow we made it. There were times I sincerely think I would have killed myself as I went through that, because the anxiety and depression of that was unreal, but literally the only thing that kept me alive was thinking , “but who would take care of my sweet puppy girl?” When I felt like a piece of shit for taking it upon myself to try to pave a better life for myself and start all over, she would look at me with the staunch loyalty and adoration that only a dog can, and I would know that I had made the right decision 🙂

  • Renee

    Omg. I’m crying. The best dog I ever had was a puppy my ex and I got for his kids. When my black lab was dying of cancer my ex told me, “you still have bubba” and I quite literally screamed at him that this little hound, “IS NOT MY DOG!” Then he lay with me for 3 days after i had the lab put to sleep. Fast forward to our divorce and the only 2 things specifically given to me in the papers were this dog and another, a great Dane. That hound saw me through divorce, 3 moves, new relationship, pregnancy, birth and then he too passed from cancer. BEST DOG EVER! And he wasn’t even supposed to be my dog.

  • Ellen

    Thank you for sharing your gift with us. Every time I think I can’t love you more.

  • Kathy S

    oh honey, I loved my dog, and my heart broke when she passed away. I’m torn between wanting another, and feeling disloyal if I replace her. It’s been 7 months

  • Justine Solot

    My old dog died and broke our hearts. I have three little kids and my husband does weekly chemo. People thought we were crazy to get a puppy, but he has brought so much joy to a dark moment in our lives. He is my furry antidepressant. I am puppy crazy.

  • melissa

    i’m in love with your dog! i don’t have one at the moment, but stories like this make me want to drive immediately to the shelter without a second thought.

    your book doesn’t come out until may?!?!? ffs, that’s too far away!

  • Claire

    He sees you. And he’s an Aussie! 🙂 I’m not really a dog person but this really got me in the feels. X

  • Chloe

    Wow! I love this. I have a new puppy I didn’t want (but my husband and son did) – I’m currently raging (and sometimes secretly loving) that I have to do all the training. Thank you – this put it in words so perfectly. x

  • Maureen

    I had a female GSD that came into my life at the worst of an abusive marriage, I took her every Saturday for years to training, eventually we were doing manwork and obedience demonstrations, her whole life revolved around me and she was my saviour too, when I put her to sleep on her 13th birthday (only discovered that little fact after I came back from the vet)I was completely devastated and honoured that she had shared my space and my life.

  • Becky

    I love you. I love this. And while I’ve been teetering on the edge of being ready for another dog (it’s been 3 1/2 years since my bff had to leave us), you just convinced me. Heelers have always been one of the top breeds I want, but as a rescue. Is Auggie from a heeler rescue, by chance? Doesn’t help that I’m on the east coast where they’re not nearly as prevalent….

  • Peggy

    I just love you,Janelle.
    You have the guts to say things this woman thinks!
    Bless that dog,and you. Maybe it was karma.

  • Rachel

    This is so beautiful and devastating I can barely write a reply.

    When my daughter was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, my dog was there for me in a way no human could be. I would bury my face in her lion-like mane and confess my deepest, darkest fears. I cried and sobbed and cussed. To the rest of the world, I had to be Strong Mom. But not to her. She knew. And she still treated me like I was the greatest human in the world.

    She died last year. I didn’t think I was ready to welcome that kind of heartbreaking love into my life again. But reading this makes me think I should at least try.

  • Tora

    Oh my gosh. It’s like you looked into my soul and said what I could never put words to. I got one of my dogs a month after my once-in-a-lifetime dog died. An impulsive decision made in the midst of grief.

    I resented him. I resented him for a long time. He was so NOT my boy whom I’d just lost. He was anything but, in mind, responsiveness, stubbornness, destructiveness…

    But…I carried forward and taught him his manners, taught him commands, taught him to be a good dog.

    And, as you say…“Okay but you never said anything about fat seal pups. Can you let me in?” (He was, too, a fat seal pup). Now he’s the silly, goober ray of light that keeps us all laughing.

    Dogs are the world’s best healers.

  • Weaelina

    I also got a dog right after losing a 14 year old cat that was so attached to me it followed me out one night when I had to shut my car windows. I was eating dinner a few feet away from the door when I heard the terrible screams as the coyote grabbed it st my door. Realizing the cat was nowhere in sight, as it always was, I ran to the door to find tufts of fur and claws and nothing in sight. I ran about calling and screaming, but he was gone forever. I collapsed and did not recover for days.
    So I decided to get a dog, because nothing would eat it.
    And I got my first, a 12 week old pup that was a super anxious border collie spaniel mix. I had no place having her, but the shelter pushed her hard and I caved because as a pup, she looked like my dead cat.
    I hated her a lot of the time that first hear, as I could not convince her that I was in charge, no matter how many thousands of dollars or hours I invested in her.
    Now, six years later, we are attached at the hip. She is my barometer for what is good for me or bad for me. She only enjoys healthy activities, and gets angry if I am online for hours on end. Shit, she might be my master.
    Dogs are so awesome. We need animals. They are honest and pure.

  • Liz Higgins

    OMG crying. I love this so much.

  • Diane McCurdy

    I hate people…..they are so imperfect and mean. I only like my cats (and even they are getting on my nerves.)
    Also, there is a special place in Hell for anyone who abuses animals.

  • Angie

    I’ve never been a “dog person”. My earliest memories of dogs are my food being stolen from my plate and being held upside down while a dog attacked my face (I say attacked but it was actually just licking, to a small child though it seemed like an attack). They drool, they stink, they shake off at the worst times, they destroy things, and they are loud. My family has always been about cats. My husband is the opposite and just barely tolerates cats. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was when my sister-in-law gave my husband a surprise puppy to come live in our 1 bedroom apartment! Who even does that? Who gifts an animal to adults that haven’t asked for one? But there she was, this 11 week old, pure white ball of fluff with one blue eye and one brown. That was it, I was a goner. Five years later and with the addition of another dog baby, I would never go back and I couldn’t imagine our lives without either of our fur babies. I just had a baby (of the human variety) in September and one of my biggest concerns was making sure the baby didn’t usurp the niche the dogs had carved out in our home and hearts. Thankfully, it’s all going very well and the love just keeps growing. I can’t wait for my daughter to get bigger and realize the amazing “brother” and “sister” she has that are dying to play with her.

    PS – Auggie is friggin adorable!!

  • Leigh

    I’d decided a while ago that a Heeler would be my next pup, this solidified it. So sweet.

  • Yocheved

    Working dogs are the BEST. They are super smart, and take tons of work to train, but once you hit that sweet spot, they are yours for life. My last Australian Shepherd trained herself to be my epilepsy alert dog, and would guard me until I was able to get up again. When she died, she took a huge part of my heart with her.

    I’ve had other dogs since then, but none of them have been loved the way my Aussie was.

  • Denise

    How did I miss this post when it came out? I’m late to this party and it’s as usual, just right as we just got this crazy, active weimeraner just as I’m trying to unplug and pare down everything in our lives. We’ve been wavering about whether he goes back to the breeder (big job, needs tons of exercise, is already neurotic) or whether it’s too late, he’s already stolen our hearts, our hearts that say yes to big jobs, need lots of exercise and are also neurotic but can calm a sweet puppy with the right routine. After reading this, I think I know my answer. Thank you, as always, as always…

  • Vivian

    Thank you. You captured love for a dog too perfectly. I just lost 2 dogs in 6 months and the sadness lingers. Thank you.