One day he was lying on his beloved blanket giving the side eye, sighing, rubbing against the couch, and doing the butt dance as we walked through the door. Then he was gone. The problem was we weren’t ready for him to be gone. We tried everything to prepare ourselves. We tried talking about his passing before he passed. We tried to convince ourselves he wasn’t getting sicker or older. We kept saying one more day. Then the day came. The problem was when the day came – our dog could no longer get up. He could no longer go outside by himself. He was in pain. You could see it in his eyes. We had to make the heartbreaking decision our dog couldn’t make on his own.
Like millions of other pet lovers – we made the decision to take our dog’s pain away. We had the kind-hearted vet come to our house. We let her do what she needed to do so our dog would not whimper and would not suffer. Then she left and what we had in return was a quiet house, but honestly, our family is not a quiet family and we don’t live in a quiet world. We had days where we’d leave, come back, call our dog’s name, and there was no dog. We’d stay up late expecting our dog to push and push against our side, but there was no pushing. We had a big dog dish in the middle of the floor and we kept walking around it.
Then we tried to fill the void. We tried to fill the void with the dog movies and shows galore: Benji, A Dog’s Purpose, Dog’s Way Home, the Dog series, etc. Our hearts swelled as other dogs mimicked our dog’s antics such as tilting his head, running back and forth when he got excited, and trying to be a lap dog although he wasn’t a lap dog. We began looking up puppies for rescue. We imagined what it would be like again to have a dog complete our home. As good as the thought sounds – there was also a sense of guilt. How could any dog take the place of our friend?
We cried when we didn’t think people were looking. We cried when we just couldn’t help it. We said today it will get better. The funny part is I didn’t concentrate a lot on the end when Mugsy joined our family. Perhaps, I thought our dog would be in the Guinness Book of World Records and live in human years until he was a forty year-old dog or older. Perhaps, I thought it wouldn’t hurt as much as it did. I had lived through other pets dying and they also hurt my heart, but this dog’s passing along with hurting my heart also hurt my soul and my mental state. I realized the other pets came in and out of my life due to college, moving away, etc., but this dog was there from day one. He was a human in our house. He was a son and a brother. We gave him the treats he loved, we took him on the hikes that had water so he could splash, we talked to him constantly, and we wanted him near us. Sometimes, his desire to be near us, however, made him squeeze through doors or sit by us in the living room when guests were over. The sad part is as annoying as some of these characteristics were when he was alive, we begged for another day of him pushing by us and running to the mailbox when he was gone. Frankly, our house had a different energy when he was gone. I think our lives also had a different energy. Our emotional caretaker was no longer at arm’s length to be touched. He now had his angel wings.
Not being able to reach out and touch my dog – made me wonder what people’s lives must be like who have never had a dog. Sure, you don’t have the barking, the pooper scooper, fur on clothes and seat cushions, bitten up items, sitters when you’re out of town, but you also have never witnessed unconditional, goofy, endearing, unconditional love. As the old saying goes – you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I can say I always knew I had something special with my dog, but what I didn’t realize is the role he played in my family. What I didn’t realize is how much I took his presence in my life for granted. When people use the phrase: “man’s best friend” – I completely understand it. A dog without saying a word can say – I understand, care, and feel for you. They love you whether the dishes have been cleaned that day or you are late for a meeting. They don’t shout at you or nag you. They don’t have a lot of expectations except to love you. They would jump in front of a train for you without even thinking. They know right at the moment you need a lick or a hug.
So when I saw the movie, “A Dog’s Way Home” – I closed my eyes and imagined how great it would be if I looked up one day and there he was. There he was in our backyard no matter how long he was gone. Realistically, I know this could never happen, but the thought brought sunshine to the cold theatre. For a second with my eyes closed, there he was in all of his glory. I now know my dog has gone home, although, it is not my home. The reality is my home is no longer his physical home. Sometimes it hurts so much I have to force myself to get on with my day. However, to move forward with the grief, I have this great image in mind. I believe his new home is a home where he is young again and catching his big, red ball. It is a home where he goes on hikes for however long he wants to go. At this new home, he can sniff around and find new treaures every day. There are birds to chase and many bones to dig up. A home where I know I’ll see him again someday. I just hope as he lives in dog heaven our dog remembers how much he meant to our little clan of three. I just hope he knows we were his #1 fan as much as he was ours. I hope he hears my prayers when I am lying in my bed and missing his last big sigh every night. I hope as our family prepares to welcome a new pet someday into our household that our dog is our guardian angel from above picking out the perfect dog for us. Picking out the dog who will find his way, even for a short time, to our home.