We had just sanctioned ending the life of one of the truest friends a person could have. A friend who gave infinite love and unlimited forgiveness. Who trusted us. We were told it was the greatest gift we could give her, that her cancer plagued body would deprive her of everything but pain. I want to believe that, but I can’t completely accept the premise nor shake the guilt. And I miss her.
Every time this has to be done, we say never again. It’s just too hard. And like most other dog lovers, we ignore those words and set ourselves up once more.
Because there is no love quite like that between human and dog.
I got my first four-legged friend when I was 12. Our next-door neighbor had a cocker spaniel who went galivanting one evening and several weeks later delivered a half dozen pups. The father has remained anonymous to this day. When I learned the news, I instigated a campaign to harass my parents until they agreed we needed an increase in family size. It wasn’t that difficult a sell.
Two of the little ones were promised, but I had my pick of the remaining four. I would have taken them all, but that was an argument I would not win. I loved the one I selected and named him. I said, “I’m going to call him Pal because he’s my pal.” Brilliant, huh? We were inseparable.
Then I grew, went to high school and then college, and more of dog duty fell to my mother. One day, while away at school I received notice that Pal had died. And I had my first experience at the loss of a special and truly loved pet. There are more painful events. You can lose a loved human. But dog deaths are right up there on the difficulty level.
It was as I grew older that I began to wonder why we put ourselves in such situations. I think I know. It’s a tradeoff. You trade 10 to 15 years of unrestricted love for indescribable pain when he or she comes to the Rainbow Bridge. It must be worth it, because, as I said, most of us eventually find ourselves with a new love bundle before too long. I still miss Pal and there are tears in my eyes as I write this.
Pal was the first of many. At one point in my life I discovered my family had three dogs! We had recently lost our single pet and were ready to begin anew. We went to the pound and found the perfect dog. That isn’t quite true. My wife found the perfect dog. My daughter found the perfect dog. The problem was, the perfect dog wasn’t a single dog. You guessed it. We came home with the incredibly ugly Fudge for my daughter and the incredibly stupid Xanthippe for my wife. One friend said, “On an intelligence scale from 1 to 1000, Xanthippe earns a 7!” But what Fudge lacked in looks and Xanthippe in smarts were made up by rating a million in love. And as I looked at these new entries in our lives I realized not for the first time the awesome responsibility that was placed on us. These precious beings trusted us and others to be kind, provide food and walks, and give them a safe life. In return, they would provide unbounded love.
This was my first experience with more than a single dog. Of course, I did a lot of the walking and I soon mastered the art of handling two.
But then there was Dido. Dido didn’t come from the pound, or anywhere else as far as I could determine. She just appeared on our front lawn, half the size of our other already small pets. She was as cute as could be and well underweight. I walked her all around the neighborhood trying to find her owner, for who would not want her back? I was unsuccessful and that’s when Dido opened negotiations. She promised that, if she could live with us, she would be very good and do everything we wanted. We capitulated. But Dido had lied. She soon took charge of the house and became the alpha dog. And we were a three-dog family!
I’d never had a large dog. When my wife and I decided to get a new friend, we visited an adoption agency and found the cutest most loving Dachshund. We stepped away to discuss it (I wasn’t 100% on board yet) and in that brief time the cutie had been selected by another.
On the way home, miserable with our loss, we stopped at a PetSmart to buy a toy for my daughter’s dog. And what was there? A Greyhound adoption agency displaying its wares! We both were hooked and before a week had passed we had the large black male Merlin running around our home. He was so big.
But he had a problem. He was terrified of all the sounds and sights of neighborhood living never experienced in his years in a cage. He froze on his walks, often in the middle of a street, the source of so many scary noises. I had to lift him to safety and often wondered how I’d get him home. The head of the adoption agency proposed we also adopt Onyx, another black male, and everything would be all right. She was wrong. Finally, after some training, Merlin did get over his trauma and became the best of walkers. But now we had two large dogs!
The head of the agency was a diabolical woman. She called and asked if we could foster Cassie, a 10-year-old who had spent her post racing life on a breeding farm because she had been such a successful runner. It would only be a couple of weeks, we were told, until an adoption was arranged. Of course, it took less than a day before we fell in love with the new arrival and once again we were with three dogs, this time big ones.
We lost Cassie first because of her age and brought in Callie. The greyhounds, the “cats of the dog world,” were loving, sweet animals who were the source of great joy. They are all gone now and we have four boxes of ashes and four preserved paw prints.
We’re down to small again, or at least medium, with Basenji and Border Collie mix Hugo who put some life into Callie’s last days and lots of joy into our present ones.
I don’t want another big dog, but my wife and I have decided that if the death of Greyhound racing in Florida creates too many Greyhounds to be adopted, we’ll take the plunge.
I am more convinced than ever, the pain of loss is more than made up for by the joy of love. That’s why we keep welcoming four-footed friends into our home.