Things No One Tells You When You Get A Dog

Bob Pen Abbey 7-23-13

I’m once again up way too early to do anything but write.

Sadly this time it was not instigated by a dog who needed to be let outside, but a dog I must let go.

Sometimes death comes excruciatingly slow and other times painfully swift.  In the case of our gentle lab Abbey, it was some surreal mixture of both.

Abbey was my sister’s dog originally, a Christmas gift for her girls a dozen years ago, who were just babes themselves.  Abbey spent her early years in New Hampshire, Missouri, and North Carolina before coming home to live with me and my dog Malcolm in Illinois and finally Iowa.

I think everyone in my family would claim her at theirs since she spent some time with all of us when one of us had to travel without her.  She found comfort in laying at my dad’s feet, riding in my mom’s car, being reunited with her girls when they came to visit, playing dress up with my youngest niece and helping my brother convince my cat loving sister-in-law that dogs can indeed make incredible companions.

She also had a way with the boys and spent her last couple of hours surrounded by her favorite fellas – Jake, Scooter, Rosco, Gavin, and her all time favorite, Bob.  She was an equal opportunity lover and rallied at the opportunity to take one last walk by the river with her pack, herding us all and making sure no one was left behind.

The decision to end a pet’s life is wracked with doubt.  I’ve had to make that decision twice in the last two years. When they are suffering through their worst moments, I am convinced it is the most humane thing to do. It becomes the most agonizing thing to do when the appointed time draws near.

I can barely breathe through it, stay in the moment, and not distract myself from the onslaught of memories mixed with fear of a future without my canine companion.  A part of me dies with my dog.

Fortunately my vet makes house calls and has allowed both Malcolm and Abbey to pass in the peace of familiar surroundings with their favorite toys, treats, and companions right next to them.  And incredibly lucky for me, I have Bob,  who bears this burden with me and lets me cling to him even as his heart breaks.

To deal with the aching absence of Abbey, I alternate between listening to gut wrenching songs about grief to reading poetry about passing to drinking rain forest tea to collapsing on the couch.  Eventually I reach for my pen and journal, open up a vein and let the following bleed out.

Things No One Tells You When You Get A Dog

No one ever tells you when you get a dog

that they will heal your heart every time it breaks

only to shatter it beyond recognition when they leave.

They forget to mention

you will continue to offer table scraps to the ghost of a good dog

and listen intensely for the pattering of paws across the kitchen floor

or wait for the delirious wagging of a tail to welcome you home.

You never suspect you will miss the insistence on a Busy Bone from the kitchen

once you’ve settled snugly into the couch.

You can’t fathom wishing you would wake

once more to the movement of dreaming feet, muffled barks,

and snores that rival your husband’s.

No one tells you that coming across a favorite toy, food dish, eye drops, ear wipes,

multiple dog beds and blankets will remind you that your life was blessed by a dog.

No one wants to spoil the ending at the beginning.

No one wants to tell you the grief will go as deep as the love

and come in waves at odd moments long after your dog is gone.

They will only ask you when you’re going to get another

and you will say never…

Until one day you remember that dog is just god spelled backward

and the closest thing to heaven on earth.

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Good Dog, Stay

There is nothing quite like the excruciating pain of losing an animal companion.  Whether that be canine, feline, equine, or bovine, when we have to say goodbye to a being that loves us like no other, the grief seems unbearable.

When a person dies, people understand that it will take a considerable amount of time to process the loss.  Yet when a pet dies, the expectation is not so magnanimous.  Some suggest “replacing” the pet as soon as possible.

But as anyone who has ever been loved by an animal will tell you, these creatures leave paw prints on our hearts that refuse to be replaced.  Their mischievous shenanigans, annoyingly cute little tricks, and insistence on undivided attention will be the things we miss the most.

A year ago I had to put my dog Malcolm down after 17 years.  Ours was a very intricately woven bond.  His loyalty was so fierce, I knew he would not leave me even though he was in intense pain.  He not only changed my life the day I walked into Operation Kindness, he saved it.  He more than lived up to his side of the deal and stuck with me through thick and thin.  I needed to live up to mine and be brave enough to let him go.

We had traveled the country together and met more dogs in more places than most people and dogs do.  We’d regularly go out for a walk and return with 3-6 neighbor dogs in tow, making me Penny the Pied Piper of Puppies.

There is something so comforting to me about the company of dogs.  Maybe it’s that my dogs and I can communicate without speaking.  Or it could be that they think I’m a good cook, hilarious, beautiful, brilliant, generous, and have great taste in leashes.  They know when I need to exercise, eat, sleep, or shower.  They know when someone or something is threatening me.  And vice versa.

They allow me to pretend I’m the boss of them, but we all know the truth.  And even though I scold them for dropping the best, most durable balls in the Maquoketa River within 10 minutes of taking them out of the package and other bad behavior, they refuse to point out my mistakes or bad behavior.

My friend Susan and her dog Sophie gave me a pillow that says, “To error is human, to forgive canine.”  That pretty much sums up it up.

For these and a hundred other reasons, I offer the most heartfelt condolences to those who lose their animals companions.  Animals complete us.  They make our families fuller.  They make our lives richer.  They provide unconditional love and acceptance.  Not to mention unlimited writing material and photo opportunities.

My good friend Karen lost her sweet Callie last weekend.  There are no words to ease her pain and talking of Callie will continue to bring tears to both of our eyes for quite some time.

So in honor of our four-legged furry friends everywhere, let’s offer up a prayer or two of gratitude that these amazing creatures choose to spend their limited time among us and teach us how to sit, roll over, and fetch our farthest reaching dreams.

If only they could stay longer.

Share your favorite pet story, trick, photo, memory, etc. below.

This is a picture of me and Abbey, the beautiful, gentle yellow lab who joined Malcolm and me and made the last two years of his life so much spunkier.

Photo by Lucas Mitchell.