A dear friend recently passed away. We only occasionally connected in recent years; nonetheless, he was my friend for 40 years, so a part of my memory bank is connected to the time spent together. Sadness and melancholy washed over me for days following his sudden, unexpected passing. My mind constantly went to his grieving wife, children, and grandchildren. There wasn’t anything anyone could do to shake me from my deep sense of loss.
But then my dogs — all three of them — came to the emotional rescue.
With their almost primal sense of knowing, they joined me in reflection, putting their heads down in my lap, offering doggie kisses whenever my face got close to theirs, extending a paw to drag my hand over to them. The fog in my heart slowly melted away with each wag of their tails, which probably set speed records for most-wags-per-minute when I scratched a head or rubbed a floppy ear. As the days went by, I began to feel alive again. Who needs to pay a therapist when there’s free love from our canine companions? Honestly, there is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.
This happened as my departed friend’s wife let our family know that their dog was despondent, moping and searching from room to room — especially on “their” couch — unmistakably missing his human best friend.
All of this got me thinking, once again, about how dogs are perhaps God’s greatest gift to us flawed humans. They don’t judge us. They love us no matter what. Dogs are forgiving. As Andy Rooney said, “The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”
When your dog looks into your eyes and holds that I’ll-do-anything-for-you gaze, they send unspoken yet clear messages:
- “I missed you so much even though you were only gone for eight minutes!”
- “Dad’s home! Dad’s home! Want the rope? The ball? The frisbee? All three?”
- “Geez, can we go outside already?”
- “Got treats? Which pocket?”
- “I’m laying upside-down for a reason! See that belly hankering for some rubs?”
Dogs give more to us than we give to them. That’s why I believe we should ban the word “owner” when it comes to the pups who share our homes. I’m not trying to be politically correct or anything. I’m not trying to be the word or thought police. It’s just that we don’t “own” dogs. Far from it. They are our partners in this strange journey of existence, and I believe that’s how He intended it. It cannot be simply a fortunate stroke of serendipity that Dog spelled backward is God.
The problem is, Homo sapiens aren’t as smart as we think we are. We’re certainly not as good as we believe we are. If we woke up to the truth, we’d mirror a devoted pup’s nature. Imagine the world if we exhibited loyalty and love to the degree our furry, four-legged family members do. No disputes. No violence. No crime. No betrayal. No jealousy. No petty BS. No hate. No war. Just pure, unadulterated love and devotion.
That’s why when I’m ever asked about my goals in life, my response is simply that I want to be as good of a person as my dogs think I am. My work on this earth would be complete.
Could You Love Me Like My Dog?
Seriously, what other of The Good Lord’s living, breathing creatures consistently and sooooo enthusiastically check life’s love-confirming boxes? Puppies’ adoration for their human counterparts is part and parcel of their DNA, exhibited in countless manners. Who else …
- Wags their tail — thump, thump, thump, thump — each time you enter the room (even though you’ve only been gone for 30 seconds) and mean it when they kiss you?
- Forgives anything and everything and never holds a grudge?
- Ceaselessly begs for your attention?
- Whimpers and whines when you’re apart?
- Bumps into doorways and careens into walls in their rush to greet you?
- Is always overjoyed to go on a drive or run an errand, as long as it’s with you?
- Will follow you anywhere?
- Always thinks you look great, no matter what you’re wearing?
- Never changes how they feel about you?
- Pants for you?
- Is color blind?
- With those expressive, molten-brown eyes, lock into your peepers and your soul?
- Never talks about themselves but listens to you while you ramble on, all the while keeping up an appearance of being interested in the conversation?
- Lives a lifetime of loyalty, kindness, and love, never stopping to prove a point?
Three’s a Charm
My wife and I currently have three yellow labs. There’s five-year-old Wyatt, a deaf 87-pound hunka-hunka-burning-love lab. His favorite mode is asleep with his head resting on your arm, leg, foot, or thigh. When he wakes from dreaming his doggy dreams in another room, he, suddenly, out of nowhere, leaps up and franticly snaps his head around, looking for mom to pursue reassuring kisses and, I strongly suspect, to make sure that she is okay.
SaraJayne, at 4.5 years old and approximately 60 pounds, is the introspective one of the bunch. She always seems to be immersed in deep thought, though she’s also the best catcher of balls in our family. Wyatt will nap anywhere, anytime. SaraJayne keeps one eye open, alert to move from room to room, settling only where mom and dad settle. We move with our daily routines. She mirrors our moves, only settling and turning around the obligatory three times before lying down when she feels we’re staying put for a spell.
And then there’s Daisy, still a puppy at 14 months old. Being the youngster, she’s all energy and all play all the time, whether with her brother and sister or bringing a frisbee, ball or rope to the humans, pleading for more action. She bounces along with boundless energy and keen agility on those soft pads of hers. Energetic, playful, alert and adorable, Daisy Mae goes nonstop seeking to be the center of attention … until, like all babies on God’s green earth, she crashes to la-la land and puppy dreams until the zoomies next call.
Those are our three pals, each of whom has a capacity for love that is off the charts. And if I’ve learned anything in this world, it’s that people should have at least two canine companions; one is never enough. When there are two, they always have company when their two-legged family members aren’t home. Besides, it’s natural, as dogs are pack animals.
Of course, with two or more, there’s always a brother and sister roaming around for extra playtime and exercise. Additionally, the younger one learns from the older ones. Dogs get more attention while humans have to do less. Everyone gets something out of the deal. If you have only one dog, do yourself a favor and get another — or better yet, two more. There’s nothing better than a Kodak-moment pile of pups that have curled up into each other on a dog bed that in no manner should hold the lot of them … but does.
I admit I’m biased, but having two or more labs makes everything about life better. Even your time with company gets better. Labs greet guests with a unique variety of warmth, convinced that every person entering your home has specifically come to visit them. They’re overcome with enthusiasm for about three minutes, wiggling, sniffing, licking, smiling and pleading for more pats on the head or scratches to the backside. They’re the best hosts, really. If only they could put together a decent cheese plate.
It’s Only Money
Sure, having two or three dogs will be more expensive with all of the food and toys and treats and trips to the vet, but then again, what else will you spend your money on anyway? I mean, is anything more satisfying than caring for a dog? Of course not.
I should know. During our blessed 40-plus years together, my wife and I have had 12 dogs and counting. We began with a Golden Retriever, then got another, and then brought home a stray Cairn Terrier who looked exactly like Toto from The Wizard of Oz. From that point on, we’ve always had three dogs. When those initial three passed over the Rainbow Bridge, we welcomed Yellow Labrador Retrievers into our lives.
But the breed doesn’t really matter. If you want to live a healthier and happier life, get a dog. Ideally, more than one. Their zest for life is a constant, tail-wagging reminder not to take things so seriously. Live for the moment. Don’t worry. Laugh at yourself. Have another bowl of ice cream. Having a difficult time? Put away the self-help book, spend a day with a dog, and let your inner child wander around the backyard. Take a moment to tug that rope and toss that ball. It’s therapeutic!
This isn’t hyperbole. Really. Until one has loved a dog, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. I genuinely believe that. I also believe that when our dogs cross over that Rainbow Bridge, they meet up with our prior pups, all pain-free and frolicking, waiting for that day that we will join them in a pile of pure tail-wagging, rump-twisting love.
Neither One of Us Wants to Say Goodbye
As far as I can reckon, there is only one thing that’s sad about dogs. They’re here with us for far too short a time. The best explanation I have heard for this abridged visit is that people are born so that they can learn how to live a good life and give love unconditionally. Dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay here as long.
Knowing that we’ll meet again doesn’t lessen the pain when our cherished four-legged friends die. Without question, grieving the death of a dog can be just as — or even more — painful as when a human loved one passes away. In our family, a dog isn’t “just a dog.” Nine times we’ve had to make the grievous call to euthanize to shut down the suffering. The whole process is overwhelmingly emotional and heart-wrenching. When the time inevitably comes, we sit with them that last evening at our home, petting them, kissing them, talking to them, thanking them, choking on words while looking into their peaceful, eternally loving eyes.
Then, the fateful morning — the drive to the vet to end the pain and say our final excruciating goodbye. In the vet’s office, I sit on the floor in a blubbering mess with my dear companion, stroking, kissing and assuring. The first injection is all I can handle; it’s as far as I can go with this journey. I rush out of the office and sprint to my car, crying my eyes out before the second injection. The devastation never fades. Thinking about all the pals and buddies who have gone through the cycle of life in our home, I’m crying as I type this.
But, on the Subject of Cycles …
When one dog passes, we quickly bring a new one into our lives. Call us insensitive, but we believe we have had the same three puppy souls over these 40+ years. The new puppy doesn’t “replace” the recently departed but instead brings them back into our lives along with the individual traits of the new dog.
Not much compares to the joyous task of picking a new puppy. Actually, from our experience, the puppy is the one who does the picking. It works like this: We sit in a makeshift pen of seven-week-old puppies and let them crawl all over us. There is always that one special puppy who reacts to our voices quicker than the others, the one wagging his or her tail faster than the others, the one beaming love through their raisin eyes more powerfully than the others. We’re then bombarded with kisses and puppy breath from the little fat ball of wiggles. The choice has been made: the puppy has chosen their new mom and dad.
What a gift.
The challenge at that magical moment is to resist the urge to take home additional wiggling, wagging, wobbling, wet-nosed brothers and sisters.
Dogs may not be our whole life, but they unquestionably make our lives whole.