Recently we were at an event and of course the subject of dogs came up. Three different men – big, strong, cigar-smoking, scotch drinking men – shared that they had recently lost their best buddies and they were suffering from the loss. One man was especially devastated because he’d “got a backup” to help soften the blow when his older dog died – and the “backup” fell ill unexpectedly so he lost both within a short period of time.
A married couple told me their eight year old pooch had to have surgery that left her unable to run the way she used to. They find it difficult to deny her joy and leave her home when they go for a run but they do, for her sake, even though it about kills them.
I understand. I bought my dream house a year after the two monsters in the photo came into my life. It’s a turn of the (last) century American Foursquare. Four bedrooms upstairs, the usual living, dining, kitchen and parlor downstairs. Five years ago, when my heart dog Bear (on the right) was still with me, I made the decision to move my bed into what was supposed to be the dining room. He couldn’t manage the stairs anymore and since we’d slept together nearly every night of his nine years, I wasn’t about to leave him downstairs at bedtime.
After he left me the following year (May 2010), I moved the bed back upstairs. The habits that came with having him curled up on the floor next to the bed, where my hand would rest in his thick fur through the night, were too difficult to relive each day, and put me off kilter in my sleep.
Then Chance found me in May 2011. He was tied to a train track and hit by a train, so his mobility is challenged. For the first month or so, I carried my top-heavy 60 pound boy up and down the stairs each morning and each evening, and ended up with a raging case of tendonitis. Then I got smart (with his help) and realized if I put a sling under his back end, he managed just fine with the front end – too fine, actually – he had a tendency to want to fly down the stairs whether I was at the same speed or not!
But last fall, Bear’s ‘twin’ sister Lady who is almost 14, started having issues with her hips and climbing was clearly painful. So back downstairs came the bed, and we all sleep in the dining room again.
Why do I rearrange my life for them? These animals are not my ‘kids’, although I treat them that way. They are part of me. Bear was my heart. I turned to him for comfort and reassurance during some very rough times. Even though he was less than six months old when my mother died, he knew something bad was happening and made it his mission to distract me from my grief when he could, and squish into me with his warm, pudgy body when he couldn’t.
Lady is my soul – she’s the black furry mirror of my passion, my selfishness, my ego, my fiery temper – mitigated with a healthy dose of generosity for those that are smaller and weaker, and kindness to people who need a moment of grace. Chance is humor and perseverance, a clown in a dog suit with strength of character and a spirit that just doesn’t quit.
They make us better people, these creatures we bring into our world. They improve our daily lives, but they also improve US. They teach us tolerance, and adaptability, and strength, and humor. They show us kindness, and patience, and forgiveness, and always love, each of the days we are lucky enough to share with them. Their joy is transferable, pulling us out of a bad day with their pure happiness to be alive. We care for them, yes, feeding and walking and scheduling vet appointments, but they take care of us equally. Their care is more constant and more true – and never resented as being inconvenient or expensive or messy.
Yes, I believe in Dog. I wouldn’t want to live in a home without them, much less a world without them.