Why is there an expression “You look like someone just shot your dog?” Why are we outraged when we read about animal cruelty? What kind of connection do humans have to their canine companions?
You left me in the early evening of an unseasonably cool June day. So terribly quick. You must have been feeling bad all day – maybe longer – and I am so sorry that instead of looking for you when I first walked in from another weekend at work, I just went about the day.
The dog is known as “man’s best friend.” They have saved our lives. They are the animals that help the blind navigate, predict seizures, and travel miles back to bring help to their stranded owners. Yet, they sleep outside. They are not allowed on the bed. They are left alone while we work, and then moved aside when we arrive home to prepare dinner, complete chores, and put the day to bed. They are just dogs, we say. They are given away when we have children. They are left behind when we move. They are expected to endure sickness and pain and discomfort longer than we would ever let ourselves. They are just dogs, we say, and they are just dogs. They are animals who, even though they have been bred to meet our needs, are still driven by basic animal instincts. We cannot logically compare them to ourselves or to our children.
I didn’t play enough, or walk you enough in the later years. I rationalized that I made up for it by taking you camping, wintering in Gulf Shores, and digging for logs in Beargrass Creek. And I imagine in many ways it did. I wanted a lapdog; I selfishly relished a thunderstorm because I could cuddle with you. But you were happier outside with balls and sticks.
Yet, I could live 100 years and still be awestruck and humbled in equal parts – that each day for the last 13 years my dog has greeted me as if the sight of me is the very best part of her day; that any Frisbee throw, whether one or 20, is enough and perfect and she is grateful. She gobbles any morsel of attention I offer with wagging tail and adoring eyes. Yet, I have given so little to deserve this absolute love. I have spent most of my attention on the human beings in my life. It’s what we do as human beings, it’s where we place our value. A human life is simply worth more than an animal life. Yet, no human being, no child, no partner, no parent can, for all the hours of their lives, never falter in their expression of love for each other. We are flawed human beings, and there will always be a minute, an hour, sometimes even days when we cannot even muster a wag of the tail for our loved ones.
I don’t know how I feel about heaven, but I know you must be there. Young and vital – swimming and digging up logs, catching endless amounts of Frisbees, balls and sticks. Yet maybe you’ve changed forms already, divine now – a graceful wisp of spirit.
There are no bereavement days for the death of an animal. Well, maybe if you worked for PETA. We are not meant to grieve the pet for as long we would grieve the child or the parent. We can replace the pet, we cannot replace the human. And I understand this and do not disagree. But I wonder still what we might be missing as human beings by not fully comprehending just how large the capacity for love is within our animals. We can say that they aren’t as intelligent, that they aren’t capable of reason, logic or imagination, but what they are capable of just might be more profound than anything we can imagine.
Your last toy still smells of you, and I’ve been inhaling the fragrance for the last two days. I saved your water bowl, your tennis balls and bone, your leash and collar. Your ashes will be with me soon. Rest in peace my girl.
For the most wonderful dog in the world ... as much of my love as is humanly possible!
In Memory of Canyon
April 27, 1999 – June 2, 2012