I’ve always had a soft spot for cats, dogs, and other household pets. When I was just a boy, we had a black cat we’d named Blackie (I know that sounds racist, but he was named actually after a local Frenchman who ran a convenience store right next door to us – the store was named “Blackie’s”). Blackie was my first ever pet, and as such – he earned a particularly love-filled spot in my heart that never completely healed when we were forced to get rid of him. I was only four or five years old when we did. Fast forward to me now in my thirties, and I have yet to have a pet to call my absolute own, though I now share ownership with my wife of a five-pound teacup chihuahua named Brewtus. It’s not that I’ve never wanted a pet of my own, it’s just that they usually leave me far too fast, and far too remorseful.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately over the past year about my previous failed marriage. Mostly because I’ve recently enjoyed my first anniversary with my new wife, Peyton. Anniversaries and other milestones cause me to reflect on aspects of my former life and how it might still have an effect on me. Not in a bad way, mind you – just a sort of remembrance of what I’ve gone through to get to where I am today. What I’ve learned, really. It helps to take stock of your own life once in a while.

Back in September of 2010, I already knew my former marriage was over, but I was still living at “home”, in awkward pain, with my wife. Due to certain circumstances, we had a loose agreement on when I’d be leaving, so I was there, like a wraith, in and out of normalcy with her as the bond and marriage between us deteriorated with increasing speed.

One thing I regretted the most about leaving was that I couldn’t take my dog, Ludo. Since Blackie, Ludo was the only real pet I’d had that was actually “mine” – aside from a ferocious black cat I’d named Jetta (but she is a different story, for a different time).

Some of you may remember Ludo, and others have never had the chance to see him. He was a snippy little dog when my wife first got him – she told me he was a gift for me. I forget his mix/breed (I’m bad with that stuff) but he was tiny and when we first met on a sidewalk in Saco, here in Maine,  I was sort of bummed because I’d wanted a big dog that would roughhouse with me. Ludo looked like he was too little to do anything but break.

He grew on me really fast, though, and after going over several names with my wife we decided on Ludo because he had a grimace like the large Muppet character from Labyrinth, with David Bowie – which is one of my favorite movies of all time. One of Ludo’s teeth jutted from his bottom jaw and stood out across his top lip in a hilariously endearing way.

It took him a while but he finally curbed his snippiness, for the most part, with other animals. He was still protective of us, but he was a loving little guy. He would push the tiny dome of his head, ears down, into your body when he wanted attention. He loved to play catch. He was super-fun, and there are photos of the two of us running down the beach in action shots that I still look at from time to time.

In my marriage’s death throes, I had resigned myself to sleeping on a small cot in the living room at night so my wife could have the bedroom and her privacy. There was a baby gate separating the kitchen area and her room from the living room and the dog room, and at night, we’d take it down so the dogs could come sleep with us. We still did that then, and even though he could have gone into the warmer bedroom (our house was constantly cold) with a more comfortable bed, he would curl up with me on the cot and watch movies (yes, actually watch) and watch me play video games as I sought to distract myself from the pain of failure in life and marriage.

Sometimes, I would cry and Ludo would wag his tail and make me pet him or bring over a toy so I’d have to throw it to him. He would make me laugh, too, by protecting me from creatures he saw on the tv…like the goblins on Labyrinth…always looking back after he barked as if to say “Hey, man…you seeing this shit?!” His personality was like a balm for my grief, but it also made it that much worse when I had to eventually leave him.

Finally, the day came where my wife and I had a blowout and I announced I’d be leaving even earlier than anticipated because I couldn’t deal with her or the situation anymore…and I moved out in an emotional day’s worth of transport. She asked if I wanted to take Ludo in a rare lull in our fighting, and I declined because I didn’t even know if I was going to have a place to live, let alone be able to take care of myself. It wasn’t fair to Ludo, and I would also have had to separate him from his dog “sister” Wednesday, and they always played and slept together and actually got along amazingly well. I didn’t want to do that.

It hurt me to my core not to take him because he was really all I had during my troubled times when my family couldn’t be there for me because of the time of day or schedules conflicting, etc. I was utterly alone. I felt like I was letting him down, that I was failing him and abandoning him.

Eventually, once the fighting stopped and I had already moved into my new apartment a town over – my wife said I could visit him whenever I wanted as long as I gave her notice. That was actually really nice of her, but aside from the pain that would be renewed upon seeing her at the time, it’s not like Ludo was a kid. I give dogs credit for being smart, but I wondered how long he’d even remember me.

I saw Ludo only twice in person after my ex-wife and I went our separate ways. It broke my heart all over again each time. He would jump all over me and sit on my lap like no time had passed, and I would cry openly, squeezing him into my face.

“Hey, boy,” I said, the last time I saw him. I somehow knew it would be the last time, and my eyes teared up as his tail wagged and he licked my cheeks. “You’ll always be my little buddy.”

I never saw him again in person, though I still think about him occassionally. Now, I am in a healthy marriage with a woman I couldn’t love more if I tried. Together, we are the dog parents of the chihuahua I mentioned above – Brewtus. Though I still feel as if I failed Ludo, I realize now with some distance that I made the right choice. He has no doubt had a much better life than the one I would have afforded him with my former turbulent lifestyle, full of financial woe and constant moving. If Ludo saw me today, I would just be a weird stranger to him, no doubt. Now, with Brewtus – I have a second chance – and though it scares me to get too close to another pet again, I have grown to love the little chihuahua – and I’m fairly certain he loves me – and that’s something. Something I never thought I’d experience again.