The One That Got Away

This week, I’m pausing The Gap Year and diving into another topic that is very dear to me. I know it’s going to dredge up a lot of emotions that I bury 24 hours a day, seven days a week; but I’ve been feeling particularly nostalgic about it lately anyways, so why not throw some salt in the wound?

So let me tell you about the guy that broke my heart.

His name is Quill, he has a very long tail that knocks everything off of coffee tables, and he loves tennis balls.

Oh yeah, and he’s a Golden Retriever/Yellow Lab mix.

My senior year at UGA, I got involved with the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, a nonprofit that trains puppies to become guide dogs and service dogs for veterans, and on December 5th, 2014, I was handed the tiniest, fluffiest, chunkiest cloud of yellow fur that I had ever seen. There’s no way I can do his preciousness justice, so just see for yourself:

SEE?! HE WAS THE CUTEST BABY EVER. IT WAS NUTS.

Training Quill was sometimes infuriating, sometimes exhausting, sometimes embarrassing (turns out, puppies are not born with the inherent knowledge that the mall carpet is not an acceptable place to poop!). Training him was also exciting, hilarious, fun, and rewarding. Watching something click, seeing him finally understand not only the command, but also its purpose, was so incredibly gratifying. I dreaded the day he would have to leave me to go complete his formal training, but seeing him understand his purpose was bigger than that fear.

Quill came into my life at a moment when I was really struggling. Like I’ve mentioned previously, I have anxiety. When we got back to Athens after winter break for my last semester at UGA, my anxiety quickly got out of control. My new course load was extremely challenging, I was a leader in my campus ministry, and now I had a dog that was 100% my responsibility. The constant panic resulted in a season of depression; I didn’t leave my room for long stretches of time, I couldn’t sleep, I had no energy, and my friendships suffered.

January – February of 2015 were not easy. But through all of my crying, my panicking, my sitting on the floor against my bed rocking back and forth, Quill was there. He would come lay down next to me, letting me know he was there and that he didn’t want me to be upset. He would wait calmly until the panic would stop and then he’d grab a toy and cheerfully go back to entertaining himself. He never whined, never tried to destroy anything, never bothered me. He was just there for me to hug, cry on, and hold when the panic was blinding.

No matter how bad it was, I knew I had this little life that I had to take care of. Having Quill forced me, even if for just a few hours, to get out of bed, to go outside, to think beyond the anxiety. He went with me to counseling once I decided to get help, and having him sitting right at my feet made me feel comfortable opening up.

In just a few months, I went from breaking down just because he had an accident on the carpet (anxiety can trigger so randomly) to loving that dog more than anything. He had become my emotional support. Knowing he was there with me, always, helped me through those months. His unconditional love astounded me. Regardless of how capable I was of reciprocating his affection, he loved me. Dogs have this way of demonstrating the purest form of love; it doesn’t want anything or expect anything, it just is.

Unfortunately, things changed in ways that I didn’t anticipate and Quill had to finish his time in Athens with another UGA student. We parted ways in June of 2015 and my heart broke. I felt like I left my heart behind when I drove away, and for weeks after it felt unnatural. I had forgotten what being alone felt like, because with Quill, even when I was alone I wasn’t really alone. He was there for the grocery shopping, weekend chores, long walks and TV marathons. And then suddenly… he wasn’t. So my heart broke all day, every day.

The guy who took him was kind enough to let me visit with Quill and to see him up until he went back to the Foundation to finish his training. Saying goodbye that last time didn’t feel that bad; I had gotten so used to our goodbyes that it had stopped hurting. Little did I know that after unsuccessful guide training and unsuccessful police dog testing I would have the opportunity to adopt him.

And in a cruel twist of irony, that option wasn’t on the table anymore. Having to say no to the thing I wanted more than anything, the thing I desperately wanted to say yes to, was even more heartbreaking than giving Quill up the first time. After I broke the news to my parents, I sat at my mom’s feet sobbing. I couldn’t understand how the one thing I had hoped and prayed for could align so close to perfectly, just to hang in front of me, close enough that I was reaching for it but far enough that I couldn’t hold on.

If I had known that was it, I would have hugged him a little harder during that last goodbye. I would have kissed his big, goofy lab head and told him one last time that he would always be my little bub. I would have watched for just a second longer as his wavy golden retriever tail wagged and wagged. Because the way we left it that day was as a “see you later,” not an “I’ll miss you forever.”

We never found out who adopted him. Me and Quill’s second raiser both filled out contact sheets in case his new family wanted to reach out, but it’s been seven months and we haven’t heard anything. I like to think that he’s part of a happy family with kids and maybe another dog (or cat, he loved cats). He always loved little kids, so I know he would be content to chase around toddlers every day.

No matter where he ended up, I’m confident he’s happy. Because that was the best part of what made Quill Quill. No matter the circumstances, he was always the happiest, purest, gentlest giant.

And I’ll love him forever.

⇒B

3 Replies to “The One That Got Away”

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