Ode To a Dog

Why losing a dog hurts so much.

We lost one of our family members on Sunday night…

Dogs. Have you noticed it’s the closest word to God? That has always fascinated me. Probably because I love to write and I love etymology. There has to be some meaning in the spelling of words.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

How can we love something — an animal — so much that we consider them part of our family? They don’t look like us, they don’t speak our language, they aren’t human, they sometimes stink, they sometimes bite, they need to be walked, fed, cared for. .. Geez, it’s exhausting just thinking about it! So why then? Why do we do it? And what does this teach us about love? Does it teach us about their capacity to love unconditionally? Or does it teach us about our capacity to love? We always focus on the fact that dogs love unconditionally but maybe it’s time we give ourselves a little “love” for loving so much back. If love makes the world a better place, I think how we love our dogs is a good place to start.

We watch these Hollywood movies with a character who is being put down, treated like crap, pushed around, bullied and tormented and we want so badly for him to succeed. We root for him ,we cry for him, we feel his struggle, his heartache. Every muscle in our body twitches when he doesn’t stand up for himself. Then, he finally musters up enough courage to dig deep, stand tall, face the bullies, and show them — and us — what he is really made of. My God it feels so good to watch him win! We cheer!! We rejoice!! We yell and we high-five each other!! The underdog just won!! The underdog just proved to us that GOOD does prevail and that the world is actually a safe place to be. Why do we root for the underdog? Because we need him. Because when we stop rooting for the underdog it means that we have given up. The underdog is vulnerable and pure. He is love. He is the underDOG.

Some fun facts — Dogs are known as the first animal to be domesticated. They are a huge part of our society taking on many roles from companion to worker to life saver, and they have done so for many centuries. In a court case in Warrensburg Missouri in 1870, a farmer was devastated because his neighbor had shot his dog and the farmers lawyer, George Graham Vest, apparently gave a speech that went a little something like this:

Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow, and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens…

The speech became known as the Eulogy to a Dog (all of a sudden lawyers don’t seem so bad do they? … ah the power of the dog ;)) The term we all love: “man’s best friend” apparently originated in The New-York Literary Journal, Volume 4, 1821 and has stuck ever since. Ah yes, and here’s one for all my fabulous drinking buddies out there — the term “hair of the dog” was actually “hair of the dog that bit you” and it was referring to getting bit by a dog with rabies. How apropos. We have “Three dogs night” that refers to cowboys cuddling with thier dogs on a cold night which brings me to pictures of men and puppies, is there really anything cuter than that? Guys, you want to pick up chicks? walk around wtih puppy… but you know that already.

Our dogs. We leave them for long hours, we expect them to understand what they can and can’t chew, we yell at them , we say “bad dog!”. We make them sleep outside after getting them acclimated to warm comfy beds, we scold them for begging after feeding them table scraps and what do they do? They love us. They sleep outside all night and are they are still so damn excited when we let them in the next morning. They stay away from the table when guests are present and they are still happy to cuddle when the guests leave. Why? Because they are simply doing what feels good. Loving. Love feels good. Man; we have got a lot to learn. Read that last sentence again — with the punctuation.

All of that being said, what does all this mean? I have no idea. But what I do know is, when I come home from a long day and I am greeted by my awesome princess who wags her tail so hard that her entire butt shakes from side to side, it puts a smile on my face no matter what kind of day I have had. I also know that my obligation to her (the invisible contract that I signed to love, care for, feed, walk and nurture her) means the world to me. There is no amount of “bummed out-ness” because I had to leave a party to take care of her or no amount of “this sucks” when I have to get up to walk her that can ever outweigh the amount of “I love you, I love you, I love you” that she gives me every day, all the time.

We lost a family member Sunday night. Rugby died. All of us were around him all day while he was so incredibly sick and could barely move, but he still waited. Animals have a way of doing that. They try to spare us that moment when they take their last breath. They understand that we are not able to handle it like they are. They know that they are stronger than we are… If only we understood that, we could learn so much. I walked away from Rugby for 2 minutes. 2 minutes. I was in my kitchen and I heard him make a noise and I knew. I ran outside, put my hands on his chest just so that he knew someone was there, then he took his last few breaths.

I’m not sure why I felt like I had to be with him since I don’t believe animals really care about those last few moments they have on this earth. I believe they live life to the fullest and that is why they would rather slink off and die alone. Living our lives with disregard to everything around us and then putting a ton of emphasis on our last moments, days, months or even years seems so … primitive, doesn’t it? But that’s what we — humans — do. And we are supposed to be the evolved species?

And so here’s to all the barkers, chewers, tail chasers, butt sniffers, butt scooters, butt lickers, mailman chasers, cookie lovers, beggers, paw givers, roller-overs, kissers, sniffers, runners, fetchers, barkers, sneezers, cuddlers, fuzzies, not-so-fuzzies, beach lovers, stick-your-head-out-the-car-windowers, tail waggers, lickers, droolers, ear nibblers, jumpers, tug-of-war-players, running-in-your-sleepers . Here’s to our companions who remind us how to be compassionate, playful, joyous, patient, young at heart and that love transcends all. Here’s to our best friends, I can’t even begin to imagine a world without thier love in it.

Rugby and Khala this one is for you! Keep running and playing with us in our dreams.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” -Anatole France

Love, love, love…

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