Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Hard Goodnight

"A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself."  
--Josh Billings

"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went."
--Will Rogers

Almost ten years ago, when Big K and I were newly married, a bone-thin, terrified dog showed up in our back yard.  Being dog people, we took her in--just until we could find her owners, we assured ourselves.

She had a collar, but her condition spoke of profound neglect.  It took us days to get her inside the house, even longer for her to allow us to touch her.  By the time we got around to printing out "Found" posters, we were sure enough that she had been abused to turn around and take them right back down again.

A trip to the vet and a couple hundred dollars later, and she was officially ours.  We dubbed her Sassy.

It didn't take her long to settle into Princess mode.  Although initially more wary of Big K than of myself, she soon fell head over paws in love with him.  She was such a diva that she often would completely ignore me in favor of her new-found Daddy.  Up I would get in the morning, stumbling groggily to the back door to let the dogs out, and my dog would come running.  Sassy, on the other hand, was for all intents and purposes deaf to the sound of my voice--but as soon as her Daddy spoke, she would obediently and cheerfully trot to the back door.

He hung the moon and stars, for that dog.

I remember her sniffing curiously at Big C when we brought him home from the hospital, red faced and wrinkly in his infant carrier.  New baby territory was yet unexplored, and neither of us were sure how the dogs would react to this new intrusion into their lives.  

From the play mat, to the walker, to the curious-tugging-on-doggie-ears stage, though, she remained patient and tolerant with both babies.

If not always enthusiastic.

She would jump like her legs were spring loaded, and many a time I found myself in the kitchen, cooking, looking bemusedly around for whatever food item had just been lying on the countertop.

And then realize a second later that that damned dog was nowhere to be found.

As she got older, though, she took to the floor.  Plenty of flour and crumbs and various other things to be found there for her, after all.  I used to joke that she was never cuter than when I was in the kitchen, cooking.  She would sit there, head cocked to the side, patiently waiting for something--anything--to drop.

I always thought of her as Daddy's princess--so much so that I don't think I realized how much of my dog she had become too, until this weekend.   

This weekend, we had to say goodbye to our sweet girl, and I found myself in the kitchen, alone and crying because there was no furry little Hoover taking care of my kitchen crumbs.  No doe-like brown eyes, watching me patiently as I bustled around, occasionally meeting mine as if to say, "No rush.  I'll wait."

There's no grief like losing a child, but in our house, losing a dog comes damned close.  As much as I love my children, some days they are more of an effort than others.  Some days they are high maintenance, and exhausting, and they pout and grumble and fuss, and say things like, "YOU'RE NOT MY BEST FRIEND!" over a &^$%#ing cookie.

A dog loves their human like nothing and no one else on this earth does.  They love with no justification, no limitations, no ifs, buts, or maybes.  You are as much adored for discarded flour off of a kitchen floor as for a dish of filet mignon.

When you walk through the door, no matter what kind of day they've had, no matter what kind of mood you're in, that tail wags.  Every damned time.

There were plenty of days I wasn't deserving of that kind of love, but that never mattered to a dog.   Definitely not this dog.

It happened quickly, which was both a mercy (for her) and a heart-numbing shock (for us).  Two days later, we are still wandering around the house, listening for a second dog's bark and dropping crumbs we don't bother to pick up, because they'll never last long enough for us to find the broom, anyway.

Even gone, she is giving us gifts.

When informed that Sassy went to puppy heaven, and seeing his daddy cry, Big C walked quietly into the other room for a minute, and came back bearing this:

"I am sorry for Sassy to go away."

Then, emotionally exhausted, Big K fell asleep on the couch, where little C had crawled up to lay with him.  Quietly, lovingly, he comforted him like this for the longest amount of time I can remember him--or any 3-year old I know--snuggling with an adult.

Lack of empathy?  Really?  Tell me all about it.

As painful as it is losing a pet, every single one we've had has left an indelible impression on our hearts, leaving us different people than we were before.  If humans had the capacity for love that dogs do, the world would be a better place.

Goodnight, sweet girl.

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