Scattered nose prints show up lower on the glass these days. The light brown head has turned snowy white. Huge stand up ears seem a tad shorter. And those incredible green eyes are now a riveting blue.
There's a new face in the window at the Herrington house. But the look of unconditional love is still the same. That unmistakable vigilant gaze of a loyal dog awaiting the return of its master.
Today's face belongs to "Billy," my happy-go-lucky white Husky. The one of yesteryear to my exquisite shepherd mix, "Sabre."
For 11 memorable years, the oversized great room window was Sabre's domain. His handsome face would surface when ever I pulled out of the driveway, head turning as he followed my car with his eyes. Upon my return, the hum from the garage door would prompt his head to pop up, a sign he had been lying beneath the window throughout my absence.
Sabre died two years ago today, leaving a void in my life seemingly impossible to fill. I had adopted this standout dog from the Northern Chautauqua Canine Rescue when he was nine weeks old. For a full two months after his death, that faceless window would serve as a stark reminder that my big boy was gone forever. My grieving eyes could not bear to even look that way.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone who had just lost a beloved pet vow, "I'll never get another dog. The pain when you lose them is just too great. I can't go through it again." Before long, you'll run into these same people walking a new dog on an old leash. Were they missing a face in their window too?
It's been said that one's last dog in some way or fashion will pick its successor. I may have been skeptical about that at first, but not anymore. Read on.
After Sabre's death, I set out to memorialize him in a full-length feature story for the Sunday newspaper. The theme revolved around the lyrics of Terry Jacks' 1974 blockbuster hit, "Seasons in the Sun." While researching "Seasons" on Jacks' website, I came across another well-known song from that era, "Which Way You Going, Billy?" I couldn't get either song out of my head, and before I had even started to write my farewell to Sabre, I knew I would call my next dog Billy.
I now had the name, but no dog. At a time like this, the internet proves invaluable in affording a prospective adopter the opportunity to see photos and inquire about homeless dogs up for adoption in various shelters. I emailed three rescue websites for more information on a few homeless dogs, including a German shepherd, but all my well-intentioned attempts fell through. One dog was already spoken for; another jumped through a window and went missing; and a third was adopted out before I could visit that out-of-state shelter. Then I happened upon Bright Star.
The Rochester-based Bright Star German Shepherd Rescue dishes out a good deal of canine eye-candy for GSD lovers. But at the time of my search, some mixed breeds also made it onto its adoption page.
One of them was "Andy," a young white and buff Husky mix with sky blue eyes. Two things jumped off the screen. Andy's adoption posting had gone up on my birthday, May 9. And he was one of five dogs rescued off the euthanasia list at a high-kill shelter in Miami, Fla., to be transported up north for a second chance at life.
Andy's foster mom out in Canandaigua assured me that "after fostering over 80 dogs, I can honestly say that Andy is the best darn dog I've ever had." With that supreme vote of confidence on Andy's resume, I knew I had to stand out from several other potential adopters who also had their eye on him. So along with my adoption application, I emailed a copy of my OBSERVER article about life with Sabre. That turned out to be the deal-maker.
I made the two-hour trek to Canandaigua alone, not knowing what to expect. I sat waiting on the front porch while Andy was brought out for the introduction. Wagging his tail in delight, he came over to me without hesitation or prompting and licked my face. Sealed with a kiss!
I now had my Billy. The name change occurred on the spot. And might I add this rescue pooch has certainly lived up to his glowing Bright Star endorsement. He's all that and a side of fries!
My new dog and his name both stemmed from my efforts to keep Sabre's memory alive. But there was more to come.
I was well aware that Billy, along with several other dogs, had been transported in a van from Florida to New York. I just didn't know when. After some tedious online research, I was in for a jaw-dropping discovery.
As Sabre's final hours approached and the dying process had begun, Billy's 1,500-mile voyage to his yet unknown home also was under way. Sabre drew his last breath on the morning of May 4, 2012. The same morning that Billy was picked up in Cheektowaga by his Bright Star fosters, his long journey over and his new life about to begin.
While one beloved dog was leaving my world forever, another was making his way into it. The circle of life.
Perhaps my adoption of Billy could be chalked up to a series of coincidences. But I prefer to believe that Sabre had a hand in choosing his successor. Billy will never take Sabre's place in my heart, but he has taken his place in my life.
And given me a reason to once again glance reassuringly at the great room window.
Mary Ann Herrington is an OBSERVER staff writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org