Madison Elizabeth Freckles Kay Kouniakis
The human capacity to love is such a beautifully humbling thing and, if we’re lucky, in this life we have so many opportunities to embrace and express this emotion.
The love between family members is constant and dependable; the love in a friendship is buoyant and joyful; the love of lovers is all-consuming and earth-shattering and the love of parent and child is unconditional and never-ending. All of these relationships are life-changing and shape who we are as people. These are the relationships that make life worth living.
I’ve been incredibly lucky in love. I have the most incredible group of friends. My family is full of generous, kind, caring and supportive people. My husband is the greatest person I’ve ever met and our daughter has shown me how deeply one’s well of love can flow.
There is another kind of love whose power to transform cannot be overstated: that of a pet.
Murphy was 15 years old when this was taken.
I grew up with dogs in my life. I’ve been a cat mom for almost 14 years now. These beings have had such a profound impact on the course of my life and have been a source of comfort through some pretty dark times. I would even go so far as to say that everything I am and I have today is thanks to a dog.
My first dog was Nicky. A plucky little American Eskimo my parents rescued from an abusive situation. He was devoted to just our family and was incredibly protective. Saying goodbye to him was one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life. He set me on my path to being an animal lover.
Then came Murphy. Another American Eskimo (my family had a type) who was perhaps the kindest most innocent soul I’ve ever encountered. He never wanted anything more than food or love. He’s the dog that set the bar for all other dogs in my life.
Mia the laser cat.
When I moved out on my own, Mia, a tabby cat, came next. She’s a tough one to love. She is not friendly. She will cuddle me when she senses I’m in distress and she’s protective of our daughter but everything is always on her terms. Shortly after she came into my life, Montgomery, the Scottish Fold cat, entered the picture. He’s the exact opposite of Mia: sweet, loves affection and playful. He keeps me company when I’m sick or very sad. He’s been a source of great comfort.
Next came Murray. A beagle-terrier mix my ex-husband and I adopted him from the SPCA. He schooled us in patience. He was a handful, to say the least. Our house was turned upside down for months as we all adjusted to this new living situation. He eventually became a wonderful dog after A LOT of hard work. He stayed with my ex after we split up because we decided he needed the consistency of his dad. He now has a lovely new mom, a beautiful little human sister and a huuuuge backyard. He’s a very happy boy.
About a year after my divorce, I adopted Hannah from a rescue. She was some sort of Spaniel cross but they really didn’t know what. She was a ray of sunshine. She breathed life into me. Unfortunately, two weeks after the adoption was finalized, the rescue called me to say her family was looking for her and they wanted her back. It was absolutely devastating. Saying goodbye to her almost killed me.
After Hannah, I hit a serious low. I was in a bad place after the divorce. I didn’t really go out much. I spent a lot of time alone, self-medicating and feeling sorry for myself. I was being consumed by shame, guilt and self-loathing. When Hannah was taken away, the life was sucked out of me again and all those negative feelings amplified. I know the people around me watched in horror as I became a shell of the person I was.
My parents came to me one day about a month after Hannah left, probably out of terror, to offer to buy me another dog – they knew I wouldn’t go the adoption route so soon after Hannah. Part of me resisted the idea of replacing her but another part of me knew I needed to fill that hole in my heart before it consumed me. I agreed.
That’s when Maddy came into my life.
She is a beautiful little Cavachon (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel crossed with a Bichon) who reminds me of Elizabeth Taylor from Sex in the City. The moment I laid eyes on her, I was instantly and irretrievably in love with her. I think it took her some time to return the feeling but I was devoted to her from the get-go.
She was the CUTEST puppy you’ve ever seen. I took her everywhere. Walking her was the joy of my life. Cuddling with her was heaven.
After a month or so, I realized I was becoming something resembling a human being again: I was talking to people and going places. I was laughing and enjoying parts of life that I hadn’t for some time.
She taught me how to live again. She taught me how to love again.
When Maddy was about six months old, I decided I wanted to try dating again. I figured I’d give eHarmony a try. I filled out all the questions with great care and made a promise to myself that I was going to be incredibly picky about who I would go out with.
I really lucked out: the first date I went on was with my future husband.
When we first started messaging back and forth, I remember thinking ‘this funny, smart and sexy dude is out of my league.’ But I was so filled with confidence that I went for it. I know that confidence came from the reassuring little dog I always had by my side.
My husband, who grew up without pets, likes to remind me now and then that it was in fact Maddy he fell in love with first. I don’t blame him.
Maddy offering a ‘high’ five.
He spent about as much time wooing Maddy as he did me. He used to bring her toys that he slept with so that she got used to his smell. He would walk her all the time and take her to the park to play. In a way, she brought us both to life and bonded us together.
Now here we are with our amazing daughter and our beautiful home. Our life is by no means perfect but it’s lovely. Most of all, it’s a life. And always, there with us, is that constant little presence. Watching over us and loving us.
It’s with so much pride that I tell you my daughter’s first word was ‘Adden.’ For the longest time we couldn’t figure out what she meant. Then it dawned on me: ‘Ooooh! She means Maddy!’