Tuesday, October 30, 2012

If You've Ever Loved A Dog...

It is a stunningly beautiful fall day. The temperature is in the high 70’s, the sky a cheerful and cloudless blue, and the sun is warm on my back as I sit on the patio. In the quiet, only the honeyed song of bees can be heard. But my chest heaves in the way that it does when I have been crying and my breath catches in my throat. I am so profoundly sad that I seem to be able to do nothing but cry.

Over the past week, within three days of each other, we lost both our beloved little dogs to coyotes. On Thursday morning, Alfie, a sweet Maltese who we rescued five years ago, disappeared from just off our patio outside our bedroom door. When I say disappeared, I mean thoroughly, utterly vanished without a trace.
Unbelievably, on Sunday morning, in the midst of our grief over losing him, Gracie, our beautiful Havanese who we often referred to as “the Princess”, was also taken, without a sound, while twelve feet away from the door. We have to assume it was a coyote because nothing else makes sense, but we’ll never know for sure. The shock and disbelief has left us in such pain that we can do little else but think about these wonderful, loving creatures who were such a part of our lives and whose absence has left us feeling empty and hollow.

 My husband, Tom,  as many of you know, is an Alzheimer’s patient. It would be hard to overestimate the ways in which the dogs helped him to stay calm and comforted each day. Their needs were constant but uncomplicated. They required a structure and routine much the same way that Tom does, so it let him know he had a purpose. His patience and gentleness with them was so poignant to observe. We laughed about what he called his “agenda...let dogs in, let dogs out!” and I marveled at his willingness to get up and do it dozens of times a day without a sign of the exasperation I sometimes felt. He also took on the task of making sure the food and water bowls were filled. It was one thing for which he needed no reminding. Sadly, his memory of these last few days seems to be fairly distinct, though he did wake up in the night and quietly asked me “is Alfie in bed with us?” Neither of us is sleeping well.

It is no accident that nursing care facilities often welcome visits from service dogs for the welfare of their patients. Tom considered Alfie his special buddy. Since we had rescued him we had no idea how old he was, and he had clearly had a hard life before he joined ours, but he gave us such affection that we were more than thrilled to welcome him to our family. Tom’s grief is etched in his face each morning when we wake without dogs to attend to. He breaks down in tears when we walk outside to the place we last saw Gracie and Alfie, and I cannot console him. I know that there is only one thing that will help...a new dog to love. The love and interaction with a pet releases endorphins that are believed to be helpful to everyone’s mental and emotional well-being. I suspect that it will be more therapeutic than any prescription drug.

I know that there are people in our close circle of friends and family who are going through extreme and complicated personal tragedies, and the world is full of disasters that wreck lives and defy resolution. Yes, I do know that and on the scale of tragedies the loss of our precious dogs doesn’t rise to the level of most of those --  not even close. But for us, at this moment in time, our hearts ache so terribly and the loss feels so desperately permanent that it is hard to imagine breathing deeply and completely ever again. I close my eyes and I see Gracie’s beautiful face and I weep to think that I could not protect her.

When we moved to this rural area, we were well aware of the richness and variety of wildlife and have loved watching deer and birds, Javelinas and yes, even the coyotes who we see way down in the field and often hear at night. Never, in six years, had we seen them near the house and perhaps we had grown complacent. Our little 8 and 12 pound pups were tempting targets, I suppose. We used to joke that people around here had dogs that were functional, while ours were only decorative! It has been a brutal lesson, indeed.

I’m sure the time will come when we will sign on for another round of puppy love, perhaps this time with a bigger, sturdier breed. It’s hard to think about right now. There is no happy ending to having a pet. Still, Tom will not feel happy again until we open our hearts to the big brown eyes and loving kisses of another dog. And I can’t be happy unless he is! Meanwhile, I am so grateful to have had Gracie and Alfie in our lives. They made us laugh every single day and we were loved. If you’ve ever loved a dog, you understand.