A Hole In My Heart That Will Never Be Filled

She loathed those boots

Nearly twenty years ago, I stopped at a service station/bus stop to fill the gas tank in my unmarked police car. In those days, the department had a contract with a fuel company that allowed us to fill up at various spots throughout the city, and one of those places also served as this particular bus stop. Rain was coming down in sheets, but I stopped anyway because but I liked to fill my tank when it hit the halfway mark so I wouldn’t be caught short during an emergency.

I was finishing up, placing the nozzle back into its proper spot on the pump, when I saw three young men approaching a waiting bus. Gusty winds blew the rain sideways at times and I was getting soaked. But the men (all three had a sort of homeless look to them—shaggy hair and dirty, well-worn clothes) seemed to be in no big hurry, splashing through puddles as they made their way across the asphalt, tugging tattered, rolling luggage behind them.

One of the guys held a small puppy in his arms. It was obvious by the way he carried the scared pup that he didn’t care about her. And she was filthy. Her white coat was nearly gray and quite matted.

The first two men presented tickets and climbed aboard the bus. But when the third man, the one carrying the dog, attempted to board, the driver said, “You can’t bring that dog on this bus.” So the man looked around a couple of times and then sort of tossed her onto the wet pavement, and climbed aboard. The bus pulled away with a burp of black exhaust.

The pitiful puppy never moved. Instead, she looked confused and simply stood in the rain, shivering. I ran over and scooped her up and she immediately snuggled deep into my arms. So I carried her back to my car, cranked the heat on high, and headed home to tell Denene that we had a house guest. But I promised that we’d only keep her until we could find her a good home. After all, I already had two active-duty police canines living with us, a huge rottweiler and an overgrown lab that was a true sweetheart. We did not have room for a third dog. No way.

Well, we fed the little poodle and gave her a drink of water. And then we gave her a name and a permanent home. She was irresistible. Pebbles (I don’t remember how we decided on her name) quickly found a place in our hearts, and she was by our sides day-in and day-out for almost two decades. She tagged along on each of our moves, on a cross-country RV trip, hikes, to the beach…everywhere we went. In fact, we never went anywhere or did anything without her.

And she was actually kind enough to endure our little quirks, like the time we bought her a raincoat and boots for Christmas. She hated to get her feet wet, but she loathed those boots even more. She tolerated the raincoat, though.

Pebbles was at my feet every day during the writing of my book on police procedure. She was my first “listener.” And she even caused a bit of a stir with my editor, who called one day to ask why, in the middle of a paragraph about fingerprinting, did I write,” Do you need to go pee pee?” Well, at that time I was using voice-activated software and I’d forgotten to switch it off at a time when I was preparing to take her outside for a break. I guess I missed the odd text when I proofread the chapter.

Denene and I enjoy our dessert around 8pm. And Pebbles enjoyed her own dessert at precisely the same time, four cheese-flavored Goldfish crackers. And we’d better not have been a minute later than 8, either, or she’d drive us nuts until we gave her her “fish.” Pebbles even slept with us every single night of her time with us. She had her own tiny pillow and blanket, too. And a cold nose and pointy toenails. She insisted on touching me from time to time during the night, making sure I was there. Or, if she was cold she’d snuggle as close as she could get. Sure, I hated it so much that I’d roll over and put an arm around her until I felt her go back to sleep. Yep, the three of us were as thick as thieves. Best friends. Pals forever. All for one and one for all.

And yesterday, when she suddenly fell ill, we were there when she left us, snuggling close one final time before she closed her eyes and sighed.

And I cannot begin to tell you what a huge hole was left in our hearts. We’ll miss her, always.

Damn, I loved that dog…

87 replies
  1. Patricia Van Dyke
    Patricia Van Dyke says:

    I lost my little soul mate Baby-So-Sweet on May 28th of this year. Baby was with me for 14 years and she was at my side all day and all night. My heart still aches badly for her each day that passes. I truly feel your pain. God bless you for being the kind soul who cared so sweetly for little Pebbles.

  2. JudyC
    JudyC says:

    So sorry for your loss. Animals and people just seem to be meant for each other. So kind of you to take the wet little critter home. Bet you never regretted it.

  3. Kathy Crouch
    Kathy Crouch says:

    My husband and I have had a variety of pets combination of dogs and cats over the 40 plus years of marriage. Often a military move required us to leave pets behind that bites but when we went to Hawaii 3 dogs and a cat were beyond our means to tranport and pay for quarantine. SO we left them with my in-laws one of the dogs survived but died a few years later. After we retired again we’d take pets from other people stray cats etc. One year we bought a poodle off his brother. He was the most difficult poodle of the litter.
    We joked this poodle was ADHD he flunked obedience school but was teh best dog ever at loving you. Evenif he did fight you for the bed. He died the year we began making trips to Fort Hood for my husband’s health problems. He died before we made so many extended trips. God knew it was time for him to go and picked a good time to take him. I know he’s in heaven waiting with your Pebbles for us. Bless you for taking such good care of that little dog. What a blessing God gave you with her.

  4. Mary Brookman
    Mary Brookman says:

    So sorry for your loss. I can tell by the way you write about Pebbles how much she was a part of your family.

  5. Chris
    Chris says:

    My deepest condolences, Lee. I know the death of a pet can’t and shouldn’t compare to th death of a human, but my wife and I have put 3 cats to sleep in our marriage, and it just plain hurts to lose them. Especially if you’ve had them for a very long time. I cried my eyes out each time. Pebbles sounded like one hell of a great dog.

  6. Carol Ann Erhardt
    Carol Ann Erhardt says:

    Lee, you have written a beautiful tribute to Pebbles. Thanks for sharing with us. Pebbles was blessed to find such a loving home and I can tell from reading this how much she blessed you both. I’m a firm believer that our family which includes our fur babies will be waiting to greet us when we go to our eternal home. Hugs to you and Denene.

  7. Ellis Vidler
    Ellis Vidler says:

    Darn, Lee. I’m sitting at my desk at work with tears (and mascara) running down my face. But it’s a beautiful story. I’m so glad you and Pebbles found each other.

    Godspeed, Pebbles.

  8. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    I think the best measure of a person is how they treat their pets. You’re a good guy and Pebbles knew it. I have a friend who insists that when we die, every animal we’ve loved will be there to greet us. I sure hope she’s right.

  9. J.D.
    J.D. says:

    My heart goes out to you. We lost a great Basset Hound on New Years night, 2007. For a long time my wife didn’t want another dog, didn’t want to endure that again. Then my son brought home an American Bull Dog who was about to be put down at the shelter. He too is a great dog. I know how deep your loss is. God bless you and your family.

  10. Joanna Aislinn
    Joanna Aislinn says:

    Four weeks ago, My BlackJack died unexpectedly. He was a seven-year-old, seventeen-pound, stunningly beautiful, somewhat anxious but very even-tempered all black cat. Three days prior to his death we noticed he looked out-of-sorts but didn’t respond to any of the vet’s intervention. (I was grateful we didn’t have to put him down.)

    I feel your pain, Lee. The way you described Pebbles in bed with you and your wife was exactly how my sweet black boy was with me and my husband. We’d wake up with him stretched full-length between us, belly up. Other times he’d wrap his paws around hubby’s arms or lay behind me with a paw on my shoulder. He was my baby and I miss his presence terribly in my home.

    The pain gets better, but these wonderful creatures that come into our lives leave their mark. You gave that dog a storybook life. In return, Pebbles will always bring peace to your spirit.

    Thank you for sharing Pebbles with us.

  11. Julie
    Julie says:

    There is something so special about pets we rescue. She was fortunate to have you and Denene to give her a wonderful life. Hugs to both of you.

  12. Peg Brantley
    Peg Brantley says:

    Lee and Denene, there are no words that will comfort you now. I know because I’ve been there.

    We are all wrapping you in an emotional hug, and pray you feel it.

  13. Pat Marinelli
    Pat Marinelli says:

    Lee, my condolences to both of you on the loss of Pebbles. You will miss her, but I know that she was loved as evident by your wonderful stories. I’d like to say your heartbreak will get better, but we both know, no matter what, it will always be there. The best we can hope for is having all the wonderful, silly, lovable memories.

    Take care

  14. Auntie J
    Auntie J says:

    Aw, Lee. I’m so very sorry. How wonderful that she had such a happy, long life with you. Seems the blessing of companionship was mutual. I know that someday the memories will be more sweet and less bitter…and I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

    It still sucks.

    My heart goes out to you. I don’t look forward to the day when we have to say goodbye to our first four-footed family member.

    But I have to say…what a great tribute to Pebbles.

  15. Karen Frisch
    Karen Frisch says:

    Prayers and deepest sympathy, Lee. There’s no pain like this. To read so many heartwarming responses lifts my heart. I lost my beloved Sheltie/Aussie mix Merlin in April and still grieve. You and Pebbles were destined to be together. You’ll see her again. She’ll be waiting for you in a better place.

  16. Sally Carpenter
    Sally Carpenter says:

    Awwwwww…thanks for sharing, Lee. Just about a year ago I had my black cat, Snuggles, put down. He had lost weight, wouldn’t eat and was so weak he could hardly move, but he still purred when I petted him. Before he got sick he was 23-pounds of love who jumped on my lap whenever I sat down and hogged the side of the bed. He was a diabetic cat, too, but a sweetie, and smart. I actually taught him how to shake hands (paws?).

  17. Lori Wolf
    Lori Wolf says:

    For having saved Pebbles, the lives of you and Denene will be that much richer, despite the pain you both inevitably feel right now. It’s always anguishing to part company with our animal companions, and my thoughts are with you and yours.

  18. Katie Vorreiter
    Katie Vorreiter says:

    I’m so sad for you and your wife. I dread the day my faithful Pogo will have to say goodbye. It sounds like you & Pebbles contributed a great deal to each others’ lives.

  19. Larry Chavis
    Larry Chavis says:

    My heart goes out to you, Lee. I have a half-Shar Pei named Pebbles. She has been with me for seventeen years now, and I understand the ‘hole.’ Pets aren’t really pets … they’re family.

  20. Sylvia
    Sylvia says:

    Couldn’t help but tear up as I read about Pebbles. I’m so sorry she had to go but so glad you rescued her and gave her a good loving life.

  21. Brenda
    Brenda says:

    I am so sorry! Thanks for sharing the story of her life. What a great life you gave her! How wonderful that you were there at exactly the right time to save her as a puppy. (Our late, dear cat Lucky was rescued by us because we both happened to be exactly where we were unexpectedly too.)

  22. Harriette Sackler
    Harriette Sackler says:

    Lee, my heart breaks for you and your wife. But know that you gave Pebbles a wonderful, loving life. Every time we love a beloved pet, a piece of our hearts go with them.

  23. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    My symapthies, Lee — our little friends leave such big holes when they go.

    (And I’m sure the karma fairies long ago caught up with the creep who dumped her in the puddle that rainy night.)

  24. Janis Patterson
    Janis Patterson says:

    Very few things in this world hurt more than the loss of a beloved animal. My sympathies to you and your wife. My heart goes out to you.

    Perhaps in dog heaven Pebbles will meet up with our darling Harriette, also a much loved white poodle who had a very rough start in life. They’ll have fun together until we can reclaim them.

  25. Symanntha Renn
    Symanntha Renn says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your dog Lee. Dogs do hold a special place in our heart. This post made me tear up, and laugh out loud. I would have loved to have seen the look on your editor’s face when he ran across the sentence “Do you need to go pee pee?”

  26. Kat McLaughlin
    Kat McLaughlin says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Animals are near and dear to my heart as little Pebbles was to yours. You were blessed to have her in your life. My thoughts and prayers are with you and yours during this time. Kat

  27. Nancy Kattenfeld
    Nancy Kattenfeld says:

    So sorry for your loss, Lee. Share my condolences with Denene. I think Pebbles knew how much she was loved.

  28. Dani G.
    Dani G. says:

    ~*sniff*~ The best part of the story is what a good guy you are though. I don’t know how anyone could have done better. I put my little lost ones on my computer screen so I can see them and feel as though they are just “on the other side”.

  29. Diane A.S. Stuckart
    Diane A.S. Stuckart says:

    Lee, so sad to hear about your baby Pebbles. I just lost my heart dog, Delta, 2 months ago, and I still cry every day for her. It is amazing how entwined our furbabies become in our lives. And what a wonderful story of how you came to find her. A few minutes earlier or later, and you two would have missed those 20 wonderful years together. To paraphrase an unknown writer, our goal in life should be to become as good a person as our dogs already think we are. Hugs to you!

  30. T. L. Cooper
    T. L. Cooper says:

    What a beautiful story! I cried! Really I did! You being there just when she needed a new home is nothing short of divine providence! It’s so wonderful the joy she brought to your life and you brought to hers. 🙂
    Losing a pet is never easy. I still tear up and smile simultaneously every time I think about my dog who died almost 21 years ago, a border collie named TJ!
    You will always cherish what Pebbles brought to your life!!

  31. Sandra Parshall
    Sandra Parshall says:

    I’m so sorry, Lee. Losing our little ones is always heartbreaking. I met Pebbles in Baltimore, at the live auction. It was obvious how much you loved her, and how much she loved and depended on you.

  32. GunDiva
    GunDiva says:

    Lee and Denene,
    I’m so sorry about Pebbles. It is always heartbreaking when one of our family leaves us. She sounds like a wonderful family member and I’m glad you were able to be with her for all those years. You gave her twenty years of a loving household instead of the cold streets that could have been her home.

  33. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Thank you all for your heart-felt comments. We’re trying to cope today, but it’s awfully lonely around here. She was tiny, but managed to fill the entire house.

    You know, I often think it was Pebbles who rescued me. She was there for me during some pretty tough times in my life.

  34. Patricia Harrington
    Patricia Harrington says:

    Lee, you and your wife have all my sympathy and understanding. I lost my precious Mooka, a German Shepherd mix a month ago. And I can hardly go on walks each day, in the same way that we’d done for years so faithfully.

    You will see your Pebbles again, as I will my beloved Miss Mooka.

    Take care,

    Pat Harrington

  35. Lee Barwood
    Lee Barwood says:


    I read your columns and only lurk, but today I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face, sending sympathy for a grief I have known too. Your Pebbles was a treasure, but you were a treasure to her too. In fact, she is probably prancing around right now telling all the other dogs at the Rainbow Bridge how wonderful it was that you were there at the precisely perfect time to rescue her all those years ago, and what a wonderful life you made for her since.

    My life has been full of canine foundlngs, and each has left his or her own hole in my own heart; my last loss was a 17-year-old half-Pomeranian, half-Poodle who left a crater far larger than she was — and took more than a little of me with her when she passed. I have only one dog now, a 15-year-old Bichon who came to me as a rescue at the age of 12, full of gallantry and courage, love and patience, after I was widowed for the second time. He saved my life when I thought I was saving his. They are such gifts — love embodied — and they do leave unfillable holes when they leave us.

    My condolences, and may the memories bring sweetness to your days.

  36. Mary Ann Peden-Coviello
    Mary Ann Peden-Coviello says:

    I’ve been reading this blog for some time but never felt compelled to comment. Now, through the haze of tears, I am. This was such a loving tribute to a truly loving little spirit.

  37. Fran Stewart
    Fran Stewart says:

    Do you know the story of the rainbow bridge? When beloved animal companions leave us, they travel across the rainbow bridge to a place where they can romp and play to their heart’s content. Every so often, one animal will leave the group and go back to sit at the end of the bridge, ready to greet his or her loved human whose time has come.

    I’ll see Pebbles playing happily in her new home for a good long time.

  38. Morgan St. James
    Morgan St. James says:

    Lee, I don’t know you but my heart goes out to you. I read your post with tears in my eyes. There is something even more special about a dog or cat you’ve rescued because you know what their life would possibly have been without you. The fact that they love you without reservation or qualification intensifies the feelings you have for them. For eleven years I had the privilege of life with a little Papillion I rescued . Popcorn passed away back in the mid-seventies, and I miss him to this day. Know that you and your wife were the beam of sunshine in Pebbles’ life.

  39. phil messina
    phil messina says:

    I’m sorry Lee.It’s hard to lose our small friends. You have a lot of great memories and you gave Pebbles a great life.

  40. Sue-Ellen Welfonder
    Sue-Ellen Welfonder says:

    Oh, Lee… there aren’t words. Your own header says all that can be said: losin a beloved dog rips the heart right out of us and nothing can ever ever stop the pain and sorrow that’s left behind.

    We will see our pets again at the Rainbow Bridge. I absolutely believe that. Not a doubt in my mind. But the wait until that reunion is so hard to bear. I’m so sorry.

  41. JT Ellison
    JT Ellison says:

    Lee, you’re in my prayers today. I’ve been there. And she will forever live in your heart. Bless you for saving her!

  42. Lisa P
    Lisa P says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about Pebbles passing. Our furbabies are everything to us. That loss is difficult but it will get easier. I know how that is. My husband and I recently lost a cat (due to complete kidney failure) we had for almost 13 years.

    Treasure the time you all had with her. She sounds like she was an awesome dog!

  43. Brian Thornton
    Brian Thornton says:

    Lee- man, what a moving bit of writing- she was obviously an exception gal. So sorry for your loss.

  44. Kari Wainwright
    Kari Wainwright says:

    Pebbles was so lucky you were near the bus stop that day. You blessed her life and as a dog lover, I know she enriched yours beyond measure. I’m really, really sorry for your loss.

  45. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    *wipes tears away* I remember you and Denene had Pebbles with you at Bouchercon a few years ago. At the time I thought it was so cool that your pet traveled with you. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  46. Jena
    Jena says:

    So sorry for your loss, Lee and Denene – I can’t imagine life without my dog. My heart goes out to you both.

  47. Trudy B
    Trudy B says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss Lee. Isn’t it amazing how quickly they become a part of your life?

  48. Karen McCullough
    Karen McCullough says:

    Lee, Pebbles was obviously a huge part of your life, and a wonderful blessing. I’m so sorry she’s gone. It’s not easy, but in time you’ll be able to remember all the good times without the raw ache of loss. I know. Been there, done that. Sending healing thoughts to you.

  49. schnauzer
    schnauzer says:

    When a much loved dog leaves us, they take a piece of our heart with them, as you noted. But they leave a part of there own behind. So one day if we are lucky, and have loved enough our hearts are no longer “human”, but completely canine. We are the better for the change.

    I can’t remember who said that, but they were right.

  50. Maryann Mercer
    Maryann Mercer says:

    Lee, I am so sorry to hear about Pebbles, but I know she was as loved as any companion could be. We lost our Maxcat after almost 19 years. It’s not easy. Never is.

  51. Molly Swoboda
    Molly Swoboda says:

    So uplifting to hear about Pebbles’ triumph over troubled beginnings to become the heart of such a special family. To love and be loved sets us apart and makes us ready for our next great adventure. Wishing Pebbles well on hers. ~m

  52. Holly McClure
    Holly McClure says:

    If dogs don’t go to Heaven, I’m not going either, and I’m a priest. My heart goes out to you in the loss of Pebbles You gave her a long, excellent life, and when I think of the synchronicity that put you at that gas station at just that moment, it was meant to be. what a gift for both of you that you had so many loving years together.

  53. Allene
    Allene says:

    I know about that hole in the heart, Lee, I lost my tiny Maltese, Cotton, just a few weeks ago. She came to my chair wanting to be held. I picked her up, snuggled her close, she whimpered a couple of times, leaned against me and went on. It broke my heart. Her companion, Lex, still looks for her and checks every morning to see if I put feed in Cotton’s bowl.

  54. William Simon
    William Simon says:

    Lee you and yours are in my thoughts today. Pebbles was a fortunate little girl, to have found a home such as yours.

    The older I get, the more I prefer my animals. They don’t do the things so-called ‘civilized’ people do, and if they have to, they don’t do it for fun.

    Two dogs (Boo and Emma), and one cat (Thomas) are the current terrors of the block at the moment. Boo (a rat terrier) jumped a Rottweiler once to show her who was The Man, and Emma is tiny, fierce, and a connoisseur of ice cream.

    Burke was my guy. Half Rott, half Malanois. He went to the Rainbow Bridge back in 2004, and there’s not a day that goes by I don’t miss him, or think I hear him lumbering up the stairs.

  55. Deborah McCann
    Deborah McCann says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. Poodles are a special dog, smart and always wanting to please their owner. Animals we save I believe know we have done so and give us more love than we ever give them. Sending you and your family a hug and prayers from me and my “boys”.

    Shadow, Cinnamon,and Debbie

  56. Melanie Atkins
    Melanie Atkins says:

    Lee, I’m so, so sorry. I lost my best friend, a tabby named Flip, in November of 2008, so I’m aware how hard it will be for you and Denene to go through the day without Pebbles. Pets are family, and losing them hurts.

  57. Carla
    Carla says:

    Lee, I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s hard to let go of a beloved friend and furry family member like that. I hope it gives you some peace to know that she passed gently and surrounded by the people who loved her so much.

    I’ve had to call on this poem too many times than I care to think about lately, but I hope it gives you some peace.


  58. Rick Bylina
    Rick Bylina says:

    Don’t know you. Don’t know Pebbles. But she will live on forever in my thoughts. Every time I go to the bathroom, she’ll get bump in the mind meter. “Do you need to go pee pee?” Indeed!

    My condolences, but just remember, all dogs go to Heaven.

  59. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    One knows from reading your story how graced Pebbles was during her time with you. You honored her life from the mmoment you met until the moment she departed, and then beyond by sharing her story. Thank you for the gift of Pebbles story. I share your sorrow.

  60. Katt Dunsmore
    Katt Dunsmore says:

    Lee I am so sorry for your loss. You will never forget her or stop mourning for her, but as long as you remember her, she will still be with you.

  61. Elaine G
    Elaine G says:

    Oh, Lee, I’m so sorry she’s gone, but what a wonderful life she had because you were where she needed you that first day. Lucky girl, Pebbles. And lucky “people” to have such a loving companion at your side for so long. Cherish the memories.

  62. Diana
    Diana says:

    Lee, I understand how you both feel. We have two nineteen year old cats who we have had since they were kittens and are dreading the coming separations.

    Sending you many deepest sympathy and a hug from Australia,


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