After our 12-year-old Labrador Retriever-mix Oreo passed away, my husband and I said we would never have another dog again. We had adopted Oreo in 2006, when he was only 5 months old. He was an integral part of our young adult lives as we transitioned from one stage to the next.
After a battle with health issues, Oreo quietly passed away at my in-laws’ while we were out of town. In a way, it was a relief knowing that he would no longer suffer, but it hurt deeply knowing that we weren’t there when he crossed the rainbow bridge.
When Oreo passed, we were heartbroken. Our world was filled with darkness. To cope with the pain and grief, my husband and I took Oreo’s old collar on walks around the neighbourhood, taking the same routes we used to take together. We told ourselves we would never have another dog again, as we couldn’t bear the thought of losing another beloved pet. As time passed, the raw pain dulled a little, but we still weren’t ready for another dog. Just the thought of getting a new dog felt like a betrayal to Oreo and didn’t feel right. It didn’t seem fair to him.
After about half a year, my husband began entertaining the idea of having a dog again. We knew that our next dog had to be another rescue. We started browsing online, and eventually came upon a breed called Korean Jindo, which we had never even heard of before. Though we originally wanted another lab, we thought a Jindo would be a more manageable size. Although I still felt conflicted, the void that was left in our hearts by Oreo was calling out to us, aching to be whole again.
Before long, my husband found us the perfect match on Free Korean Dogs’ website. Her name was Chookbok, meaning “blessing” in Korean, and, with her puppy-like drop ears, she looked like a slightly smaller version of a Labrador Retriever. She had been rescued from a dog meat farm in Korea the previous year. Upon reading her story and seeing her sweet face, we opened up our hearts again and applied for her adoption.
Following the application process, we anxiously waited to be approved. While my husband did not want us to get our hopes up and celebrate too early, I was already thinking of names. We decided to go with a “food-themed” name to match Oreo and pay tribute to her Korean heritage, so we named her Kimchi.
When we finally got approved, we were elated. We felt a sense of purpose again, and eagerly anticipated her arrival. The night before her flight, my husband and I barely slept a wink. He was calling the airline and constantly checking his phone for updates because there was a chance that Kimchi would not be allowed to board due to the high temperatures in Seoul.
After what seemed like forever, Kimchi finally came home on July 5, 2019. We instantly fell in love with her dark, puppy eyes. During the entire ride home from the airport, Kimchi was shaking like a leaf inside the kennel. We felt an immediate connection and an intense urge to hold her, protect her, love her.
At first, she was too scared to even make eye contact with us, and the slightest sound would startle her. After nearly five hours, Kimchi finally came out of the kennel, unable to resist the treats that were strategically placed on the kitchen floor. We held our breath, not wanting to spook her as she took her first step in her forever home. She stepped out tentatively, looking all around, her fear overcome by curiosity. She came straight to me, licking my hand and wagging her tail. A few moments later, she began taking treats from my husband and giving him kisses as well. It was better than we had imagined; it was like gaining the trust of a magical unicorn we found at the end of the rainbow.
Kimchi warmed up to us pretty quickly. With her calm, sweet disposition and curiosity, she brought light into our lives again. Kimchi’s arrival filled our lives with joy and a deep sense of purpose. Even though Oreo had left a dent in our hearts that could never be mended, Kimchi filled the emptiness with her quiet presence. I realized that adopting Kimchi didn’t mean replacing Oreo, but quite the contrary; she was the bridge that guided Oreo back to us. While Kimchi and Oreo couldn’t be more different, she is a constant reminder of him. Of course, we recognize that she is her own separate being, but the memories of Oreo that used to bring us sadness were now joyful reminiscences as we joked about their similarities and differences.
I know Oreo is happy for us and is looking down from the Rainbow Bridge with a goofy smile, wagging his tail. I now understand that I shouldn’t feel guilty about having another dog again, that there is nothing wrong with seeking joy after grief, because Kimchi is the sun after the rain, and with her, she brought us the rainbow.
Story and photos by Betty Lin