Man’s Best Friend

My family experienced a terrible loss last summer: a vanquished king. My husband’s first (thus far only) dog–yes, El Rey Louis Dandy–passed away. A constant loving, grounding presence in most of my husband’s life, gone.

I started to write this not long after Rey passed, but it was too difficult.

The thing about dogs is their loss is always unexpected. No matter how you prepare, no matter how old and frail and sick, no matter the decisions a family makes out of love and sacrifice. Nothing prepares you for the shock of the loss. A dog spends such a short time on this earth — completely insignificant amount of time, in the grand scheme of things. If our lives equal a blink of an eye, a dog is the muscle twitch preceding the blink. Most of our life is consumed by everything and nothing; rarely do we give huge chunks of it to our pets. For them, though, we are everything. Every second of their short life is focused on their owner. Where is he? Does she want to play? Will she rub my belly? Can I get him to share his food?

If you’ve ever been around a dog, you know what love looks like. A dog is content to sit and stare at you. I imagine they think things like “look at him, he’s so beautiful.” or “She’s mine and I just love her so much.” You’ve seen their tail start to thump the ground if their owner casts them a brief glance, their ears twitch at the sound of his voice.

They don’t seem to register rejection, or annoyance, or anger. They’ll skulk away for a moment, sure, but then they realize they aren’t with the love of their stupidly-short life and come trotting back to let you shoo them away again. They stare out the window or at the solid front door, always waiting, yearning, hoping for you to return.

I’ve known a dog to smile — teeth bared, breath snorting, tail furiously wagging — when anyone she loves walks into the room. I’ve known one to leave his treat beside my pillow, a Valentine’s Day gift. I’ve known one to follow you around and drop a ball at your feet and stare, waiting as long as it took for you to toss it for him. And he’d follow you still, with his big, brown, love-filled eyes, even when you never threw the ball. When I was small, our German Shepherd would lay perfectly still so I could use her as a pillow or a seat.

Dogs are selfless and glorious and perfect. And as much as it hurts to lose them, it would be sadder still to never love one.

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My “Sister” is a Bitch

I mean, seriously (she’s a dog):

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But also, she can’t even look at me when I’m talking to her? Rude.

Heidi (II) is the most recent in a long line of pups my family has owned. Since before I was born, we’ve had a Heidi (the original), Lucky, Pete, Becky, and Sasha.What makes this one so special?

This Heidi is my mom’s baby.

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This is a big deal because my mom is not really an animal person. She hates cats. She tolerates dogs. She’s responsible for several guinea fowl murders (they cackle and poop and are ridiculously ugly, so the jerks were one hundred percent asking for it).

Heidi II came along when Mom was empty-nesting hardcore. My brother was graduating college in a few months. I was getting married a few months later. And really:

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Can anyone help falling in love?

Being named for the family’s first dog is a great honor. The Original Heidi was, quite honestly, the best dog ever. She adored us. I remember napping on her, and riding her like a horse, and, I mean, just look at her:

She freaking pulled us around on a saucer in the snow.

This Heidi is crap compared to her namesake. She’s a diva. Here she is rolling her eyes at us:

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Such a bitch!

She barks if my mom hugs me too long. She wedges herself onto the couch between my dad and me. And yeah, she’s “not allowed” on the couch, but who would dare stop her?

Honestly, my brother’s gotten the worst end of the deal. He’s used to being the baby. The precious child. You know, living the “it’s all about the baby” kind of life. And now here comes our parents’ new furry child to fill the gaping holes we’ve ripped in their lives by simply growing up, and my brother has become the dreaded middle child, aka chopped liver.

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Blissfully ignorant of the fact he’s soon to be irrelevant.

But seriously, Heidi is all right. She’s sassy and has dumb moments like Sasha. She likes sneaking onto couches like Becky (even though Heidi is way better at it). She’s sweet like Heidi the First and loves to play fetch almost as much as Pete did. Her personality is strong, and it’s a funny, familiar combination of our past dogs. And she keeps my parents young and laughing. So I guess she can stay. Even if she tries to bite my feet when I visit. Even though she chewed on my mom’s wedding dress because I tried it on. Even if she’s not at all what I had in mind when I would beg my parents for a baby sister.

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