So lucky

Last week, I was walking Sancho when two Catholic schoolgirls approached us and asked if they could pet him.
“How old is he?” they asked, almost in unison. I told them that he was 13. One of the girls gasped.
“Wow, dogs hardly ever live that long!” she said. Staring into his eyes and stroking his ears, she said, “You’re so lucky! You’re so lucky! You’re so lucky!”
I thought it was an odd thing for a tween girl to say to a dog, but she was right.
On September 3, 2004, we sprung Sancho from the Berkeley animal shelter. He was skinny, neurotic, and couldn’t figure out what his dog bed was for. A couple of months later, he was fatter, sleeping on the bed, and still neurotic. We took him out for two-hour walks and were exhausted well before he was. The living room was awash in the kind of toys that could withstand a young pit bull jaw. We took him to beaches, to the mountains, to Napa, to Carmel, to Monterey. And when we were working and couldn’t take him anywhere, he had adventures with his coterie of doggie friends at playgroup.
A few years later, there was an orthopedic bed, organic food, raw marrow bones, and plenty of table scraps. There were Saturday afternoon trips to Fisherman’s Wharf, where he was transfixed by the sea lions. There was the time we got to ride in the back of a police car together, in an effort to help the cops identify a neighborhood perp. Sancho led the way on walks, picking all of our daily routes (and giving us a stern stare when we didn’t want to stick to said routes). These walks were followed by evening massages and cooing. At night, when he didn’t feel like sleeping, we’d hang out in the living room, giving him tummy rubs until he eventually dozed off.
Sure, there were frustrations. There were the endless vet bills, the separation anxiety that never seemed to go away, the ripped-up carpets, the loud snoring, and his sassy attitude toward skateboards, vacuum cleaners, and recycling trucks. Such irritations were quickly forgotten, though, because the main side effect of unconditional love is a short-term memory about things that are less than pleasant.
We had to say goodbye to him today. We thought we would have more time with him. There were so many things we wanted to give him. More treats. A final trip to his playgroup. A final trip to the park. A final meal with all of his favorite foods layered carefully into his bowl. In the end, we gave him the only thing we could — a final breath that was surrounded by love.
I’m reminded of the words of that schoolgirl: “You’re so lucky! You’re so lucky! You’re so lucky!”
Yes. But Sung Hu and I were luckier.

— words of farewell by Sarah, my girlfriend.

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