Tuesday, November 8, 2011

To All the Dogs We Have Loved

Macho, Forrest and Jenny

Scott and JoAnn lost their beloved Whippet, Forrest, last night. He was part of their lives for 13 years, a long life for a big dog, but not nearly enough. He will leave a hole that nothing will ever quite fill. That’s just the way it is when you give your heart to an animal. People who choose not to have pets never quite understand the heartbreak or the way in which we choose to give them such a huge piece of our lives.

It’s not just sentimentality or emotion run amok. There just isn’t any way to explain how much love there is in the relationship between us and our dogs. Cats, I know, are dearly loved as well, but they don’t go on trips with us, camp out in tents or take long walks. It’s just not their thing. Our dogs learn to fit in with whatever our life is at the moment. They thrive on adapting just to please us. We are more than master (and some of us never get the hang of being alpha). They don’t ask us to quit our jobs. They just wait patiently at the window for a sign that you are returning and then rev up the welcome so that by the time you reach the front door there will be no doubt in your mind how much they missed you. The same is true if you just walk to the mailbox and back. No one in your life is ever as glad to see you, no matter what they say.

No relationship in your life will ever ask as little and give as much. My thoughts, of course, have gone straight to the grief we felt, and still feel, over losing our dear Macho. He was with us for ten years, far short of the 17-18 year life expectancy for a Havanese. But he gave us everything he had. When he was so sick, and we were living in a trailer awaiting the completion of our house, he valiantly jumped up the high steps and adapted to our tiny living space – to be with us was all he wanted. Each morning he would walk through the construction with me, checking on what was new, even the doggy door that was being installed. He never got to use it. He died three weeks before we moved in. No dog, no matter how appealing will ever fill that space or show us more love.

Why do we put ourselves through this experience that is bound to end badly? Well, why do we love our human companions? Why our children? Loss is part of life. Every living thing has an ending. But few things in our lives are really as uncomplicated as this. Our dear dogs are pure love, forgiving us when we forget to fill their water dishes, sensing when we are upset or ill, patient when we leave them for hours, and always, always believing in their hearts that we are the most noble, most excellent, most deserving creatures that ever walked on two legs. If they know our flaws, they just don’t care. Unconditional love, indeed.

Rest in peace, dear Forrest.


  1. These bonds are indeed remarkable. So sorry for you and the kids; As with much of our grief, it will never go away entirely. After my little Pom, Buster, died, I couldn't look at another Pom for two years--it just made me cry.

    There is such a naked innocence and purity in their devotion. While Dave was in Skylark, I lost two dogs and two cats leaving me pet-less and very alone after he died. It took three months before I was able to risk loving and losing again and brought hope an eight week old clown, a standard poodle, named Molly.

    She is my shadow and playmate. Do you think it is because we can be perfectly ourselves that their companionship sometimes is valued over our two-legged friends?

    Thank you for this piece--I will no doubt spend time today thinking about all my doggie friends of times gone by, and bring a special treat home for Molly (or rather, give it to her while she is waiting patiently in the car after having turned on the hazard lights).