Nobody expects to suddenly lose a loved one, but dogs like Nola can sure help.
grieving wife hugging adopted dog
Credit: Courtesy of Petco Love

In September 2020, the world Lee Jennings and her husband Asho were building for themselves came crashing down.

Two months earlier, Jennings moved her family from North Carolina into a new apartment in Virginia, and by August she and her husband had gotten their two children settled at college for the start of the new semester. With a new job, new city, and newly empty nest, the couple was looking forward to the next promising chapter of their lives. Then, Asho Jennings died suddenly from a massive heart attack.

"We had just moved to Virginia, and he was the only person I knew," Jennings tells Daily Paws. "He was my best friend."

Losing your partner of the past three decades can be a crushing experience all on its own. But that combined with an unfamiliar setting and no nearby friends to help you through, and the feeling of isolation becomes profound. That's why, once the shock waned and the grieving process began, Jennings' children suggested she get a dog as a companion.

"We'd had a dog in North Carolina who grew up with the kids," Jennings says. "Another dog was something we had thought about, but we lived in an apartment. But once Asho died, I didn't want to stay in that apartment because I didn't know anyone."

Jennings found a small house to rent with a backyard and room for a pet. She started casually looking at shelter and adoption pages. Soon, a friend directed her to Jamie Nicholas's Facebook account. Nicholas, a foster mom for Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, was fostering a sweet-faced, gray pit bull mix named Nola who was looking for a very special home.

Eight years old at the time, Nola was a senior doggo who had recently given birth to a litter of puppies. She had some health issues, including heartworms, that needed monitoring, but she needed an attentive person—somebody to spend a lot of time with—most of all. For Jennings, that made Nola—health issues and all—perfect.

"She just had a litter of puppies, she needed some extra care," Jennings says. "So the time that I would spend crying or wallowing in my grief, instead that time is spent on her.

"They told me she was a senior dog, and I said, 'Well I'm getting older, too, so I guess we'll do it together.'"

From there, the adoption process happened quickly. Jennings says she saw Nicholas's post on a Friday and by the following Sunday, Jennings had visited the pup and made up her mind.

"[Nicholas] was sharing this story with us about this amazing woman and the connection that she shared with this sweet dog," Homeward Trails founder Sue Bell says. "As soon as it was clear that she was going to adopt, we were all giddy. Happiness for both of them."

Jennings brought Nola home in July 2021 and they immediately bonded even further. Since then, Nola has recovered from her worms and is a happy, loving companion. Some days are still tough for Jennings, but she finds comfort in the stocky pup who, in turn, seems to bask in the energy Asho Jennings left behind.

"I've got his big recliner," Jennings says. "That's the chair where we all sit when we're having a bad day. You kind of sit and curl up in his memory. When Nola first came here, I set up her bed near the recliner, but as time went on she started dragging it out, right in front of the chair, like she's laying at his feet."

Stories of finding comfort through companionship and the love of a pet are why Bell founded Homeward Trails in the first place. Now, the beauty of Nola and Jennings's story has helped move that mission forward, thanks to a $6,000 grant from Petco Love and BOBS from Skechers, as a part of Petco Love's Love Stories campaign.

"This money allows us to get animals who deserve every chance to leave the shelter the attention they need," Bell said. "A grant like this is lifesaving to dozens of animals."

For Jennings, coming back from the worst moment of her life, things are once again beginning to look hopeful. 

"2022 will bring new things for me," she says. "I feel like we were brought here for a reason. I'm starting a new job, and I've got a new pet.

"She gives me something to focus on, other than my grief."