You bring them home as a puppy, and everything is just a blur of adorable fluff. It makes it easy to forgive every chewed up shoe, every accident on the carpet; they look up at you with those big puppy eyes, and the cute aggression takes over your brain because oh-my-gah-it’s-unbearable-the-cute.
My parents drove to Oklahoma in the summer of 2005 to pick up Rocky. My mom had seen a Bernese Mountain Dog somewhere, and had her heart set on one. So they drove down one day, and chose Rocky out of the tumble of puppies. (Even now, whenever we see a Berner that isn’t Rocky, the refrain is that the dog is handsome, but not as much so as Rocky. He really is the handsomest of them all.) In what would become the “I labored for over 24-hours with you!” of Rocky’s life regarding his favoritism of my dad, my mom sat in the backseat with him the whole ride home, feeding him bites of cheeseburgers.
Rocky loved our current dog, Aidan. Aidan couldn’t believe we had brought this nuisance home. (This is a cycle that will repeat itself with the new puppies to this day: the weary look of disdain mixed with exhaustion.) Yet Aidan allowed the puppy into our pack, and taught Rocky how to be a good dog. My dog is a good dog because of Rocky. My mom’s Aussie is a good dog because of Rocky. Most recently, I can see Boyfriend’s puppy mimicking my dog in the best ways, and it grips my heart, knowing that those traits began with Aidan, and were instilled in my Gatsby dog by Rocky.
Everyone has seen the story of the 6-year-old who explains why dogs leave us so soon. Oh, you haven’t? Grab a tissue and let me reprint the abridged version (full text here):
The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ‘I know why.’
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation.
He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good Life – – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?’ The Six-year-old continued, ‘Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.’
I would take it further.
Dogs are loving, and caring, and loyal. They learn incredibly quick how to be a good dog, or alternatively, to be scared and defensive. For those of us who love them, they offer only good things in return – even if sometimes we don’t deserve it. I have a great family, and some amazing friends. They, however, are not always kind, or loyal, or literally running to greet me after I have simply taken the trash out (likewise, I am not always kind, loyal, and please don’t make me run anywhere). Our dogs are. They are a constant, living embodiment of the best of us, what we should all aspire to, sock eating tendencies aside. I personally believe they are here, and they became our oldest allies and companions, because we desperately need them to overcome our worst selves.
We take many things for granted in our lives: the sun rising, our cars not being stolen as they are parked outside, that we can start the dryer and leave without it setting our house on fire. We also take our loved ones’ presence for granted, as well. This, this trick of the human psyche is why our beloved canines do not live forever – or at least, as long as we would like them too. Without the loss, without the threat of loss, how are we to pay attention to what they have to offer us?
Rocky’s joy at being a part of our family is palpable. It is a miraculous thing that his heart hasn’t burst with love for his humans. When he stays with me at my house, it’s awesome because he is the best little spoon, head on the pillow with me and all. It’s a position Gatsby just can’t quite enjoy. Rocky is a notorious counter-surfer, eating all things from loaves of bread, to cupcakes, to bags of cashews and peanuts. He is the reason we cannot keep anything on the kitchen counters. How he has never had an impacted intestine is beyond me.
He is my best buddy, a dog who you absolutely could not yell at because it hurt his very being, a dog who offered nothing less than the best and we felt compelled to aspire to give him the best in return. So to say that it breaks my heart to have to say goodbye to him is a massive understatement.
I thought I was prepared for the news, so I walked into Target even as my mom warned me over the phone not to. They had gotten the test results back, and the source of Rocky’s pain was indeed cancer. The vet had wanted to put him down that day, but my parents needed just a few more days with him. They had grandkids coming to town that afternoon, and didn’t want to have to explain death to the 2-year-old just yet. My mom explained this situation to me as I was browsing Valentine’s Day candy, though I couldn’t see the varieties of sugar given the water spilling out of my eyes.
So we’re in a holding pattern, knowing the inevitable is coming. It is unimaginable. The thought of a world where I walk in and don’t hear his deep woof as he comes trotting furiously up to me is enough to bring me to tears. And yet, here we are; that world is fast approaching.
He is only a dog. But he is our fiercest and best companion. Only a creature this full of love would be capable of sticking by our side.