Twenty years ago, I walked into dog rescue quite literally by accident. While home from France for the winter holidays, I went with my bestie Carey to the Connecticut Humane Society to help search for her first dog. Initially reluctant to join her, I thought seeing all the undeservingly homeless dogs would break my heart. Which, predictably, it did. The surprise plot twist was that I found myself walking out the door holding the leash of my own adoptee. Somehow, I was not deterred by the fact that I lived in another country, nor was I concerned that my mom had allergies significant enough to prevent any dog of the fluffly variety from setting foot (well, paw) in their house. I left the shelter that day with Tucker, a 12-year-old buff cocker spaniel with a heart of gold. Over the next several years, we formed an unbreakable bond, from which I developed a boundless love for the breed.
The second cocker I adopted was Ladybug. She was sweet and wiggly, and hailed from southern California. Where Tubby (Tucker’s nickname, for obvious reasons) had been shy and cowered in the presence of strangers, Ladybug loved absolutely everybody. She immediately snuggled her way onto my parents’ couch, and into the heart of everyone who crossed paths with her. Five years old when we met, she brought us a decade of joy, and inspired in me a love of all things ladybug-themed. When Bug developed renal failure and subsequently died, I was inconsolable. The day we buried her, I returned to our house in Fairfield with our surviving dog, Jellybean. As I sat hugging her and crying in the kitchen, I noticed a little ladybug crawling across the counter. Although I’m not a big believer in signs, I found it incredibly touching and comforting.
Three years later, beloved puppy mill survivor Jellybean was found to have a brain tumor. I panicked and opted for aggressive treatment. Despite our best efforts, she declined rapidly, and just a few short months later we said goodbye. Bean and Bug were the absolute best of friends, at least one part of them touching at all times. On the tearful drive home from the vet after bidding farewell to JB, I tried unsuccessfully to convince myself that she and Bug were reunited at a great bacon buffet in the sky. Then I walked into our house in Easton to find dozens of ladybugs crawling up the windows of the living room. I could hardly believe my eyes. Was it possible that Ladybug had come to take Jellybean home? I had no idea what to think, but it was at the very least an amazing coincidence.
Ladybugs have continued to make cameos in my life, each time around the passing of a dog. Last summer, our hospice foster Lady left us, and again that day I found ladybugs in our house. I tried to debunk the connection, reasoning that when Lady died, it was summer, which is ladybug season. However, when senior rescue Daisy Mae left us last week, it was January. Low and behold, just after hearing that it was her time, we found a ladybug on the counter. The ladybug phenomenon is not limited to this house, or even this town. At the time my sister’s cocker Leo was dying, they were living in Portland, Oregon. Two days before he passed, she and I were on the phone when she found a ladybug crawling up her refrigerator. 48 hours later, I went outside in Mystic, Connecticut and found a ladybug on my car windshield – and I knew Leo was gone. At this point, it has happened too many times, in too many places, during too many seasons to be sheer coincidence. I’m not sure what I believe happens when we die. If there is a heaven, though, our dogs are there – with Ladybug first in line to welcome everyone.