Once in a lifetime dog

Heart dogs

I’m wondering if people believe in the idea of a “once in a lifetime” dog.

You know, the dog in your life that no other dog can compare to. The dog that is held above all others. The dog that somehow stole your heart even though you have had or will have many others.

I’m not sure what I think of this concept. Ace could certainly be that once in a lifetime dog for me. But then again, I am only 27. There will be many more exceptional dogs.

As I get older, I grow more and more attached to my dogs. I loved our family golden retriever, Kacy, more than I thought I could love a dog. When Kacy died, our next golden easily filled that void, and so on. Each loss is harder than the last for me, and each new dog raises my standard for a “great dog.”

Will all my future dogs be compared to Ace? I hope not. Every dog should be given a chance to be herself and be appreciated for her own uniqueness.

A friend of mine recently lost her dog and told me she had no intention of ever getting another. Her “once in a lifetime” dog really would be her one and only, she said. I thought that was unfortunate. Everyone is different. Everyone handles loss differently, I know. It just seems wrong for a true dog lover to go without a dog for long.

So what is it that puts one dog above all others in an individual’s life? I don’t know.

Maybe it’s someone’s first dog. Maybe it’s the best trained dog, or maybe it’s the naughtiest dog.

Maybe it’s the dog that carries someone through childhood, adolescence or into adulthood. Maybe it’s the dog that stays behind when a spouse leaves for good. Maybe it’s the dog that comforts someone who finds few connections with people, the dog that truly is a best friend.

Maybe a once in a lifetime dog is no different than any other dog. It just happens to be the dog that crosses into an individual’s life when for whatever reason she can devote more time and attention to that dog. She notices that dog a bit more than the others.

I can’t say whether Ace is my once in a lifetime dog or whether there is such a thing for me.

The bond between Ace and I is very, very strong. He is the first dog I can call my own, the first dog I went out as an “adult” and adopted. He helped me transition from working in an office to running my own business. He has brought me to a new kind of happiness, somewhere I could not have gotten without him. Together we have gone on countless outdoor adventures and found ourselves in the quietest, most peaceful scenes.

Ace is just about as ordinary as they come – another big, black dog – but he’s my mutt, a good friend and a good boy.

Have you had a “once in a lifetime” dog?

Ace the black lab mix playing in the snow in Gooseberry Park

Ace the black lab mix playing in the snow in Gooseberry Park

Ace the black lab mix playing in the snow in Gooseberry Park

44 thoughts on “Once in a lifetime dog”

  1. This is a tricky question, it’s kind of like do you have a favorite child?

    I have been blessed with owning several dogs in my lifetime and have became very close to many more while working as a vet Tech. Each one of them special in their own way.

    There has been 3 dogs in my life that I consider very special. I had a Black lab that I spent lots of time training, we really connected. I swear I could just think the command and he’d respond accordingly. We attended a 3 day dog show in Canada and were working toward achieving our Canadian CD cert. I jokingly boasted prior to the show that we would qualify all 3 days & come back the US with our CD. Amazingly we did just that. He was a very special friend.

    I have a 14 yr. old German Shorthaired pointer currently and we have also became very close. I think it depends on how much time and energy you put into developing the relationship with your 4 legged friend.

    They are very special animals 🙂


  2. I have loved all of my dogs in their own special way. But my first dog, Mickey, will always have top spot. I got her when I was three years old and she died when I was a senior in high school. Every childhood memory involves Mickey.

  3. I absoultely believe in this. It’s like your soulmate of animals. To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ve met my once in a lifetime dog, but I have met my once in a lifetime cat. My childhood cat, Pinky, was as good as they come. Calm, patient, loving, always had to be near me. She was the best, ever, period. When she died, even though it was almost 10 years ago now, it was awful. I still haven’t gotten over it. Captain has come really close to filling Pinky’s void, but I feel like no one ever will completely take her spot. She’s the cat that stole my heart.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks for your comment, Amanda! I believe Scout is my once in a lifetime cat, mostly because he was my first cat and I got him at a significant time in my life when I was living on my own for the first time. I’ll be a mess when I lose him. I just can’t imagine any other cat taking his place, although I know I’ll always have at least two cats. Good thing he’s only 5 and will hopefully be around for a long, long time.

      I love Captain!

  4. Jasmine certainly is my once in a lifetime dog. I think (and I really hope) that I will never love another dog like I love her.

    If it was up to me I would not have any more dogs (for different reasons though), but since hubby does want to continue having dogs, I don’t think it’s going to happen for me.

    Either way, Jasmine is the most special dog whom I love like my own child. She is like a part of myself. Man I do hope this won’t happen to me again!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I admire the bond between you and Jasmine. I am not surprised that she is your once in a lifetime dog. I’m happy to hear that you will always have a dog, even if none will be able to compete with Jasmine.

  5. I would have to say that my parents dog Griz was set apart different by how he observed people and would respond. He was a big black newfoundland that sang to the harmonica.

    I met a man this summer who was telling me about his dog Lou. Lou is his ranch dog that has an amazing ability to read his body language and thoughts especially when rounding up the livestock. He said his dog has a natural intuition with people and the thought process of a human which comes in handy on the ranch.

    His dog is now about 10 years old. He’s been looking for a companion dog so that Lou can train a new pup. This man said he’s gone through about 5-6 dogs that can’t compare to the knowledge of Lou. He even bred Lou several times looking to “clone” this dog and his heart. He has resigned himself to believe that Lou is a once in a life time dog and will miss him deeply when he’s gone.

    I just triggered a question for myself to you… This dog Lou is so extrodinarily smart with such a big heart would cloning capture the nature of Lou? Is that possible do you think?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Griz sounds like such a great dog. I’ve heard a few stories about him.

      I’ve also heard many stories about the bonds between herding dogs and their handlers. Those dogs truly seem to be at a whole new level when it comes to intuition, intelligence, etc. It’s probably because working like that demands a close relationship.

      I’m not in favor of cloning at all. I’m no expert on the subject, but a dog with Lou’s exact DNA would be capable of his intelligence. The dog would of course still need all the nurturing, training and time that Lou was given, and many of these cloned dogs end up spending too much of their puppyhood in a lab where they miss out on important social experiences. There are many, many well-bred herding dogs out there. I hope this man can find another great dog to work with.

  6. I’m on my second “once in a lifetime dog” When I graduated High school I got my first one. Oreo was a shih tzu poodle X and I took her everywhere with me. She rode the bus through the busy streets of Toronto, camped with me in northern Ontario and I even took her canoeing on several occasions. We did a lot of activities together including flyball and agility. She was there for me through a lot of trying times in my life and I think that helped cement the bond. I think I was her once in a lifetime person as well.

    My Husky mix Taffy is my other one. Even though I have three dogs, her and I share a special bond. I think in part because she’s not as friendly and confident with new people, and forms only a few really trusting relationships, that she looks to me more. I’ve done more with her, as far as training classes, therapy dog certification and other activities that her calm nature lend itself to. I won’t hesitate to leave the other two dogs with my parents if I go on an overnight trip, but always try to take Taffy with me. It’s not that I don’t love my other dogs, but I just don’t feel that same strong connection.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks for sharing the stories of your dogs! Oreo and Taffy sound like great dogs! I also love that I can take Ace almost anywhere with me, whether it’s to an outdoor cafe or hiking in a national park.

  7. Every dog I’ve lived with has been special, but some I’ve bonded with–and felt they bonded with me–in ways that are almost beyond understanding. My beagle/lab Happy, when I was growing up, was my once in a lifetime dog. I just felt like he understood me totally. My parents were going through a divorce, and Happy was what held me together. He never left my side. He was always there for me, when I felt everything else was changing.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Awww, I’m sure Happy was such a sweet dog. The dogs I had growing up will always hold a special place in my heart as well.

  8. My first dog Sparkey was one of those special dogs – a once in a lifetime dog. Sparkey was with me through good times and bad. Then Sparkey got sick and I was with him through good times and bad. When his earthy days were over, I didn’t think I wanted another dog, it hurt too much, but then I only lasted a few weeks before I adopted my next once in a lifetime dog, Tana. Then when I moved to the mountains I added Kaya to our family, another once in a lifetime dog. There will never be another Sparkey, that moment in my life has passed, but I believe all my dogs will be once in a lifetime dogs.

  9. I think all dogs are Once in a lifetime dogs.

    I’ll never have another first dog. Or a dog who helped me learn so much about dogs as Charlie because he needed help and I wasn’t going to give up my first chance at owning my own dog because he was difficult.

    Or I’ll never know a dog like Reba, my cousin’s dog who was patient with me when I was learning how to treat animals with respect.

    I don’t think any dog can be compared to any other dog, when I would compare Charlie to another dog I would start to feel hopeless. As soon as I stopped comparing him to other dogs I realized the good things about him.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Aww, Charlie is such a good boy 🙂 Good point about not comparing one dog to other dogs. Every dog is different and each one has its own good qualities.

  10. I also think that the first dog in your life is the one of a kind. The relationship you had with that first dog molds you and your experiences with future dogs. I don’t mean comparing past and present so much as that anyone who has there first dog learns the pleasures (as well as the responsibilities) associated with that relationship.

    My first dog, King, a golden retriever, has been gone now for almost 45 years, but I still remember the great experiences we had together. We grew up together, after all, and no other dog can lay claim to that ;).

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      The dog I grew up with was a golden named Kacy. She will always be a special girl! We played outside together in all seasons, went swimming together and she would sleep in my bed at night. She also liked to lie by the piano whenever I had to practice 🙂

  11. This is a fascinating discussion. I was losing what I thought was a once in a lifetime dog and discussing it with my therapist at that time (the AMAZING Petra DeGroot). After listening for a long time, I asked for her thoughts. She said that she believes the human heart has an endless capacity to love, and if you open your heart your next pet will walk in. That is not to say your love for one pet will be diminished as your heart has love for all.

    I’m not explaining it perfectly… It comforted me at the time. So I don’t view my first dog, Sparticus, as a once in a lifetime dog, I view him as my first dog love who will always hold a special place in my heart.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, I think every dog holds a special place in its owner’s heart. And there’s always room in our hearts for more dogs.

  12. Well, I’ve only had a couple of dogs in my life – my childhood poodle, Beau-Beau, and my dad’s chihuahua Little One. As an adult, I have only had cats, and that will probably remain true as my husband doesn’t like dogs.

    While I really loved Beau, I don’t think he was my once in a lifetime pet. He’s fondly in my memories from childhood.

    Now as to cats… my Oscar boy is probably the one for me, though I’ve loved ALL of my cats. He is 13, and I dread the day he leaves me, though hopefully that’s a long ways off yet. (He still acts like a kitten.) He isn’t the sweetest cat (that’s Henry)… in fact he’s downright grumpy a lot. But he’s MY boy!

    My husband had Miss Girl – she was definitely his once in a lifetime pet. He LOVED her and making the decision we did to euthanize her was the most difficult we’ve had to make as a couple.

    I do think we’ll always have cats though, so who knows? Maybe we’ll each find another one like our Oscar or Miss Girl, but somehow, I doubt it! Great post!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’ve only had one cat, so it’s easy to call Scout my once in a lifetime cat. I love him so much and am so attached to him.

  13. I am sure how much I believe in a once in a lifetime dog. However, I do believe that although all our dogs are special in their own unique way, there is usually that one special dog that always holds a special place in your heart.

    Our little Misha will always be dear to us considering she was the only source of comfort, of stability, of some sense of normalcy that guided us through a family tragedy. Yet whenever we look back at all the dogs we have had, Mora, our Olde English Bulldogge, stands out the most.

    She was a large, 65 pounds of pure muscle. But she was the most gentle soul I have met when it comes to dogs. She would pretend to be a lap dog. First, one paw on your lap, then that sweet gaze into your eyes. Then, the other paw, and a short pause. The the back paws. Before you know she was snuggled, all 65 pounds of her, in your lap.

    Thanks for allowing us to remember and to share.


    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Aw, thanks for sharing your stories about Misha and Mora. Sounds like Mora was so cute and knew how to get her way!

  14. Lindsay, I really like this post. I’m not sure if there is an answer to this question. I guess that’s ok. Each dog I’ve had has certainly been unique and that kinda makes them each a once in a lifetime-type dog in a way. I agree that at certain defining times in your life the dog who is also in it at that time, will hold special memories for you.

  15. I believe I have a heart dog, Duke. He was the first dog that truely challenged me as a trainer and taught me a lot about how to handle a reactive and unconfident dog. I was forced to learn new ways to train and other methods to achieve the behavior I wanted. God bless his heart for having the patientce and understanding needed to deal with his “stupid” human. Bailey is also very special to me, she would do/give anything for me up to and including her life. She has been a breeze to train but she is so responsive to me I have had to become fully aware of where my body is, what tone of voice I am using, and how I am looking at or gesturing towards her, if I move an inch she’ll respond by moving a mile becasue that’s what she thinks I want.
    Both of my dogs have taught me so much about being a good trainer and every dog I train, whether it is mine or someone else’s will do the same, but they are the first one’s that gave me my wakeup call, that is once on a life time. It doesnt mean I love them more, it just means they gave me something that no other dog could, or ever will.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I can see why you say that about your dogs. Duke seems like a confident dog now after all your patience and work with him. I didn’t realize he used to be more reactive.

      And Bailey is just so sweet. Ace sometimes reminds me of a Vizsla. His coat is so smooth, and he points, stays by my side all the time and has such a gentle personality. He’s also easy to train because all he wants to do is make me happy.

  16. Very difficult question – I love my 8 yr old westie dog more each day – I’m in my late forties and although my partners in the past have had dogs, this is my first own dog. I’ve never lost a dog before, which I dread so I don’t know how I’ll feel. I hope I will be able to find room in my heart for another dog but I couldn’t even contemplate the same breed, as I wouldn’t want to try and replace my westie. I think all dogs are unique individuals and I would like to think that I’ve been a once in a life time mummy to my dog and any future dogs I may have. Great dog blog, thanks for sharing.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Aw, I’m sure your Westie is a very special dog. I know what you mean about not wanting another dog of the same breed. Most people actually do the opposite and run out and find another dog that looks just like their previous dog. I don’t recommend this.

  17. What a wonderful site! I have to tell about my Once in a Lifetime Dog, Jake. Jake, a shepard mix, was in an animal shelter in New Mexico in the spring of 2008. There had been an animal abuse/neglect commercial featuring Sarah McLachlan playing during that time and it was that commercial that prompted me to go volunteer at the shelter. I bathed & walked several dogs, but when I came across Jake, he refused to budge…I had to carry him outside. He was also refusing to eat. It seems he knew he was going to die (he was slated for euthanasia). I took him outside, he laid his head on my shoulder and I picked ticks off him. I kissed his cheek and told him I was going to take him home, take him away from this. I already had 3 dogs at home and really wasn’t looking for another one. But, I adopted him. Long story short, we bonded like I’ve never bonded with a dog before…and I’ve had many, many dogs over the years (I’m 43). We moved to Wichita, KS in Nov. 2008 and all our dogs came with us, of course. In July 2009, Jake began throwing up quite often. We took him to several vets and finally figured out he had “megaesophagus” (an enlarged esophagus) and food was staying in his throat and he was not getting proper nutrition. For the last year and a half, my husband and I have fed him canned dog food watered down, because dry food was too hard on his system…we cleaned up many messes, too. But, we so loved Jake. Jake had lots of love to give and we gave him lots of love back. He began to get worse in the past couple weeks and the throw up was smelling putrid. We knew it was only a matter of time. On the night of the 27th, Jake got into our other dogs’ dry food and pigged out. That night was horrible and he was so sick and he lost his sparkle in his eyes. He was down to a little over 20 pounds…he was skin and bones, literally. We’d also gotten him a shirt & jacket to help him stay warm, hoping he’d make it through the winter. On 12/28/10, we took him to the vet yet again and decided we’d let him go. My husband and I stayed with him, holding him and telling him we loved him and wished him peace. We cried and cried. (I’ve cried some more today, too!) Jake touched our hearts like none other. The vet told us we did a good job, that megaesophagus was a very difficult disease to deal with and most people wouldn’t have put as much time or effort into keeping a dog alive. Thank you for allowing me to share.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh that is just so sad. Makes me want to cry. Thanks for saving Jake and taking such good care of him. I’ve heard of others dealing with megaesophagus, and I can only imagine the amount of patience it takes. I’m glad the last couple years of his life were spent with you.

  18. Sometimes it overwhelms me how much people love their dogs and how much they will do (like little Jake above, bless him) and other times I get angry at those despicable low lifes who harm dogs – i.e. puppy mills, dog fighting etc., I love my dog unconditionally and really believe dog is god. If I had money, dog rescue would be my mission. Once in a life-time dog, yes I believe in that but I don’t think most dog people are so selfish – they usually have several dogs in their life-time – doggie people are generally the sort of people you can’t help liking. Nice blog and will come back and join in, thanks.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yeah, we humans can be a bit extreme on either side when it comes to animals. I hope I have many “once in a lifetime” dogs.

  19. Cowboy was my “once in a lifetime dog”. It’s been one year and 4 months since he’s been gone and I still think about him almost every day. Sometimes I guess I dream about him, because I think I can feel him when I’m in bed, laying on my feet. We had a special connection. I said I’d never get another dog, but we recently rescued Lucy and of course still have Maddie. I really love Maddie and am growing to love Lucy, but there will never be another Cowboy and it breaks my heart.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thank you so much for commenting and for sharing your memories of sweet Cowboy. I also miss Bubba. I’m glad you have opened your heart to Lucy, and I can’t wait to meet her.

  20. Cesar was my once in a lifetime dog. It was 5 am and pouring rain. I was on my way to the 24 hr store to buy coffee. As I walked I saw something leaning against a fence. As I approached in the dark I saw it was a Lab/Shepherd mix. The moment I saw him, tears welled up in my eyes. He looked like he was dying. I ran to the store, bought him some food and he limped behind me following me home. I had to leave for work and was so worried about leaving this strange dog in my house alone. I filled a bowl of food and water and closed the door behind me and left for work. That whole day I was a nervous wreck thinking I would come home and my house would be destroyed. Nine hours later, I opened the door and found him in the exact curled up position I left him in. His food & water went untouched. I hand fed him some food, took him to the vet and was so shocked to learn he was about a year old. He had BB shots all over his body, fleas, malnourished. I was sick over it and was not allowed to have a dog in my apartment. I nursed him back to health, gave my landlord extra money begging to keep him, he was the most amazing dog I ever had. My best friend & faithful companion. He lived happily with me for 7 years. His short life ended with cancer. But I will never forget him.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thank you so much for sharing your personal story about Cesar. What a sweet dog. I’m sad to hear you’ve lost him, but I know you are hanging onto all those sweet memories of him. What a good dog!

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