He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion. Unknown
I wasn’t blessed children, but I have always been blessed with dogs. To me, my house is not a home without a dog or two. Growing up, we had a succession of dogs. A dachshund named Fritz von Upton, a poodle named Raisin, and a dachshund named Sander von Kitzel Koch. I have some sharp memories from my childhood, and the clearest of those revolve around the dogs we had.
My parents treated their pets with respect and love, and my brother and I grew up understanding that the friendship of our furry companions sometimes far outshone that of our two-legged pals. The silky warmth of an ear; the smoothness of glossy fur; the bright eyes focused on the ones they loved; the click click click of toenails; the squeak of the bed springs and the comforting warmth of a body settling next to you; the tentative and then confident face lick when they’re worried about something; the happiness and joy they show with whole body wags every time you come home (even if you’ve only been gone for a few minutes); and most of all knowing that no matter how bad you felt or how badly you acted, your dog loved you with all his being. In my mind, the love an animal has for his person parallels the love God has for us. I think the saying that “dog is God spelled backwards” has quite bit of truth to it.
Dad bought Fritz for my mom because he was a traveling salesman. My mom was pregnant and, having grown up in a house with thirteen siblings, lonely, so my dad got her Fritz as a companion. Apparently he was all of 3 pounds, and – in my mom’s words – “Full of beans”. My mom used to get up on a chair when he would chase her broom because he scared her! But he made her laugh and kept her company. She’d never had a pet growing up. She got used to him though, and grew to love having dogs in her life. I was born about 9 months after her and dad got married, so Fritz and I were just about the same age. Fritzie had disc trouble like so many weiner dogs, and we ended up having to put him to sleep when he was 5. It was especially hard to see my daddy so sad. Oh, how I missed that little dog. He was my bosom buddy.
My dad, me and Fritz Circa 1961
Then came Raisin, our little black poodle, and after that, Sandy – whose name was changed to Augie Doggie and then shortened to Aug because my mom’s name is also Sandy. Both Raisin and Sandy were, in a sense, rescue dogs. Raisin belonged to a single mom with twin girls and I suspect his owner gave him up because he was a biter, although she never came out and said that. Eventually we had to re-home Raisin with my uncle after he bit the neighbor boy. That was a very sad day. It’s testament to the love we feel for our animals that Raisin was given another chance.
Augie was 7 when we got him, and his owner was going away to college. I was only 11 or 12 when we got Aug, but I remember being incensed that someone would give up a dog because it no longer fit into their lifestyle. I was also very glad we could love Aug and I think he was too. Augie died while I was in college, and that year my boyfriend gifted me with a beautiful border collie/collie cross whom I named Beauregarde. Beau was all fur and softness and scared out of his wits about everything after being nearly beaten to death by his first owner. He was about a year old and I worked so hard to gain his trust. What a great life lesson. The gentler I was with that beautiful dog, the more loving and compliant he became. Beau’s extreme intelligence intrigued me and I started studying everything I could about border collies.
When Beau got to be about 8 years old, I started worrying about what I would do when he died. So I got a puppy – I said it was for Beau, but it was really for me. And this time I got a purebred border collie – that was Jack. Oh puppies! Fat little bellies and they have that puppy smell that’s so enticing. I spent hours training Jack and he was an amazing dog. He could learn a trick in no time flat – sit, stay, say pretty please, crawl, back up, fall down and play dead, roll over…the list goes on. I could tell him to go get the blue walrus and he’d bring back the blue walrus. He’d put his toys in the toy basket when I asked him. And he stalked Beau mercilessly (how could he resist that gorgeous plume of a tail waving languidly as Beau walked by) but Beau loved it. They were great pals.
By the time Beau died, I had been divorced and had met Jim, my second husband. Sometimes I don’t know how Jim, Jack. and I got through losing Beau. At the vet’s suggestion we took Jack with us when we had Beau put to sleep (he had cancer) and let him see Beau after he died. The vet seemed to think that Jack would grieve, but he wouldn’t pine because he would understand that Beau had died. That vet was a wonderful man. He sat with us for quite awhile and explained that we were making the right choice in ending Beau’s suffering; and that Beau did not have a fear of death like humans do. I don’t know if you ever had to put a dog down, but it’s extremely intense. And the thing that always strikes me is how you can quite literally feel the life leave. A perfectly still live body has a presence that a dead body doesn’t. I don’t quite know how explain it, except to say that it’s overwhelming. It feels like God is in the room to me.
Me and Jack, early 80s (bet the hairstyle totally gave it away)
A few years later we got Keats, another little purebred border collie puppy – same breeder that sold us Jack – in fact, Jack was Keatsy’s uncle. Jack bossed Keats around all the time and they had a great time, and when Jack got to be about 14, he had a stroke and died. As before, we took his pal Keats with us when we went to the vet. Keats was devastated and it took us a long time to heal. Each time I lose one of my precious companions I feel like I can’t possibly do it again. And the thing is, we know. With pets, particularly dogs and cats, we have some expectation that we’re going to lose them someday, because their lives aren’t all that long.
Keats as a pup – 1998
So the question to me is whether the joy and companionship and love they bring to our lives is worth having to go through the pain of losing them? And I think it is. If not, then what’s the use of having any relationship here on earth? And right now I’m struggling with that reality, because my little Keats is failing. It starts with the realization that he’s got some gray hair. Eventually the bright eyes start to dim a bit from cataracts. They get a little stiff and sleep a bit more. And they sleep harder. Hearing gets a bit iffy. He can still get around, but he’s slow. So analogous to humans. I’m fairly certain this is our last summer with him. As I write this I can barely keep the tears back – but I try not to think about it because if I start crying, he’ll be over here licking my face and trying to show me that everything is okay, and that’ll make it harder. This is the dog that goes to the vet and licks the vet’s face while getting a shot, just to show there’s no hard feelings.
We have Lou, our latest addition, and he and Keats have been together for about 6 or 7 years. I know he’s going to miss his pal. Jim and I have been delicately dancing around the issue. Neither one of us wants to face it head on – that’ll come soon enough. But we’re both starting to brace for it. I think one of the hardest things about losing a pet is seeing the pain it causes the other people in your life. So this summer is kind of bittersweet. Time is passing by so quickly, it doesn’t seem possible that fall is almost here. Sometimes I wish I could turn time off, at least for a little while. But in the end, I continue to be amazed that we are given the care of these wondrous creatures. And I take great comfort in knowing that the Bible tells us not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without our Father knowing. He will watch over all his creatures.
Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man without his Vices. This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of Boatswain, a Dog. George Gordon, Lord Byron, “Inscription on the Monument of a Newfoundland Dog”.