It’s been quiet on Project Monte recently. Two weeks ago, I traveled to Oregon to bring a new Saint Bernard puppy into the Lomonaco home.
Our new puppy is named Cuba (affectionately, Cuba Gooddog Jr.), after the town in New York where Monte was rescued from. His registered name is Shadow Mountain’s Victory for Monte.
When I decided to bring Cuba into our family, I received a lot of comments, emails, and messages from readers on my various blogs. Most of them were very supportive, somehow understanding how much losing Monte hurt my heart. Others expressed surprise and even indignance, indicating that they were shocked that I would get another Saint so soon. Some people said, “you know he won’t replace Monte.” When you blog as much as I do, criticism is part of the territory, and to be expected. I don’t feel the need to justify my decisions to each person who may happen across my blogs, nor do I expect all of these people will agree with all my decisions. C’est la vie!
Cuba is no replacement for Monte. He is his own dog, and yet so like my Monte boy in many ways. He loves to snuggle. He loves spending time with me, Jim, and his big sister Mokie. He loves food and play and toys. He especially likes to tug. He likes hiking through the woods, training, learning, and living in a home where his well-being is an extremely high priority. He likes to roll over when you approach him and show you his belly so you can scratch it. He makes the silly puffy-lip panty-face I so loved about Monte. When Monte came to our home, he was malnourished and unhealthy. He didn’t know how to use his underdeveloped muscles well, and was clumsy in his movement. Cuba’s pretty clumsy too, even though he is extremely healthy and has only known a good diet since birth. He’s just awkward and gangly and doesn’t know what to do with those huge paws of his.
Cuba makes my heart sing, as Monte did.
Every time I look at Cuba, I think of Monte. I wish so much that I had the chance to know Monte as a puppy, that there was a way I could have prevented the atrocities he was subjected to in his early life and so that I could have smooched his puppy face.
It makes me laugh and tears my heart apart at the same time.
I still miss Monte, with a pain so fierce it’s hard to write about sometimes. I yearn for him and sob for him. I hold the clay casting of his paw print and run my fingers along it, glazing the impression with a layer of tears. I have a pillow case full of his fur from last coat blowing season, I hug it and cry.
Maybe I sound insane. It feels like I am sometimes, crazy with grief still, like I have the emotional version of missing limb syndrome. I feel like the best part of me has been amputated. When I return to my home after being away, sometimes it still feels shocking that he’s not there to deliver a toy to me with a tail whirling around in circles like a propeller.
Like when I lost dad, I find the grief comes in waves. I have bad minutes, better minutes, and minutes when I laugh with a fond but heavy heart, recalling our many adventures together.
Monte was a gift from the universe for me, and such an inspiration. He was my life coach and guide, and taught me everything I needed to know about the person I’ll always strive to be. He held me to a high standard of compassion, commitment, and respect, and I always endeavored to live up to his expectations of me.
I know he watches over me when I cry. I know that wherever Monte is now, he looks down on me and smiles, slobbering from the heavens, understanding why I needed this puppy. This house isn’t a home without a Saint Bernard, and this isn’t my family without a Saint. Bringing Cuba into our house doesn’t heal the hurt in my heart, but he does mend the rift that tore our house and hearts apart when we lost such an amazing soul. It gives me a momentary reprieve from grief so intense I couldn’t do anything but sit and miss Monte, I was hardly functional. I neglected my work, neglected Mokie, Jim, everything. I could hardly get out of bed, it was so hard to wake up to a new morning without him.
I think Monte is probably also happy to see Mokie have a friend again, to play and romp with a Saint Bernard. I think he’s happy to know another Saint Bernard will get to enjoy the adventures and life he had with us. I know that he understands I need the occasional laugh to combat all the hurt that has filled the void left by his absence.
I’ve been blogging about Cuba’s socialization adventures on the Rewarding Behaviors blog. I’ve tried to go all out on Cuba’s socialization. Part of me is doing it because Cuba deserves it and I know as a trainer it is what needs to and should be done to ensure proper social and emotional development. Another, equal part of me is doing it because this is what I felt Monte deserved. This is how I would have raised him had I been able to enjoy him in puppyhood. This is what I would have done to prevent him from ever having to feel the chronic stress and fear of reactivity. This is the gift I would have liked to give him if I’d had the opportunity. This is what Monte deserved but never had.
And so his legacy lives on. Cuba truly is a Victory for Monte, and I am doing everything I can to give Cuba the kind of upbringing that Monte, my ill-bred, ill-mannered, yet perfect, wonderful, amazing, inspiring, mentor and companion deserved.
Wherever you are Monte, I hope you know how much momma misses for you. Watch over this puppy and keep him safe, as I always tried to do for you. That’ll do, pig.