A thousand years from now when the aliens finally get here and sift through the rubble that we have left of this planet, they may well wonder about the connection between Homo sapiens and the other sapiens who inhabited this once habitable world: the fanatics who were attached to their felines, persons with primates, those who exercised with the equines, women raised by wolves, those avid for aviary, and the strangest of all, maniacs who were mad for their mutts—dog lovers.
We let dogs into our houses and our hearts until they have us trained and at their mercy. Sometimes, all it takes is eye contact, a wet nose, the wag of a tail, a slobbering tongue, and you’re a goner. Then our lives get embedded with canine metaphors: we’re dog tired and our dogs are barking because we have just worked like a dog on a dog day. We refer to our Greyhound bus service as the “Dog;” it rains cats and dogs; we put a sausage on a roll and call it a hot dog, doggonit. We oldsters danced the “Philly Dog” and the “Dirty Dog,” we talked of “puppy love” and asked (musically) “can your monkey do the Dog?”
Every dog will have its day and I’ve had my share of them. It’s a love affair that can only end with my heart being broken, and yet I’ve spent my life going back for more—over and over again. I’m a sucker for them. I like it when they lick my face; I feel as proud as a parent when they teach me a new trick or show me one that they’ve known all along but were just waiting for me to catch on to. I’ve been trained to throw balls and sticks, take them places, clean up their messes, and give them a trip to the veterinarian if they so much as look like they’re feeling poorly. I get them shots and monthly medications, premium food, spoil them with treats, and buy them toys. I’ve told them my troubles, cried on their shoulders, and mourned their passings.
Sure, we live with felines also, but they’re as different as, say, cats and dogs. Cats are very independent, aloof and entertaining. They know tricks but refuse to be trained. They want what they want when they want it and have no conception of separation anxiety: they’ll love you and leave you. It is said that cats are how people would like to be and dogs are how people really are; perhaps that’s why we relate to our Fido, Rosie, Grover, Molly, Ginger, Scout and Sophia dogs differently. We admire our felines, worship and adore them. Our canines, well, they’re our buddies, pals, running mates—they protect and comfort us. They’re our commitment and responsibility.
There are 340 breeds of dogs recognized in the world today. If you take into consideration the variations that can (and often do) occur, you might find yourself in love with any one of what we used to call the Heinz 57 varieties. To a dog lover, there’s no such thing as an ugly dog, and puppies and elder dogs bring smiles just at thoughts of them.
Veterinarian science had come a long way since my first dog got me. Now there are wonder drugs, x-rays, ultrasounds, surgeries, anal expressions, nail clippings and even teeth cleanings. I’ve known canines getting cancer surgeries, blood transfusions, morphine shots and Asian herbal medications. By in large, the veterinarians that I’ve had minister to my critters have been more than exceptional—caring, understanding, knowledgeable, professional, patient and empathetic—from instructing me how to care for an infant kitten to taking my dead dog from my arms and comforting me. The entire staff at my current vet are aces. It’s a small family practice, close to my home and heart. They have been there for me, always going the extra mile and taking their time to answer any questions with educated and honest answers. There’s a special place in heaven for them.
There are dog trainers, walkers, whisperers, psychics, massage therapists and astrological chart interpreters. What can you say? Dogs are born, they live, and they’ll die; it’s called a life cycle. It’s—and there’s no other word for it—devastating when your dog dies. Your soul’s foundation drops away, you’re damaged beyond repair, your chest has a hole in it, you become unfocused, and you grieve. Disbelief. Anger. Resignation. Tasteless food, fitful sleep, seeing shadows of where your best friend once made his spaces. Getting up in the night remembering not to trip over the dog and re-remembering that the dog is no longer there, will not be there again. Ever.
You only miss them when you think of them, but—as the song goes—you think of them all the time. And … time it will take, as you get over the dear one that you’ve lost, your best friend, the unconditional love that you shared. Your mantra becomes “don’t cry because it’s over—smile because it happened.” Your recovery becomes fraught with cliché.
Time never heals all wounds, but through long experience I know that, at the right time, someone will come along and tell me of another dog who needs a boy and I’ll be off again, older but no wiser.
It’s said that love is the exchanging of pieces of hearts, and I know before it’s over, I’ll have given and gotten from canines enough to send me to my rest with, hopefully, a complete dog’s heart, and that … that’s more than fine with me; actually, it will be a privilege.