A good dog will ruin you. Anyone who has ever loved a dog knows this. Even bad dogs can be ruinous. They bury into that tender spot just beneath our heart and stay there, like a chigger or a tick. Each time we leave them at home, their noses slashing smudges on the window beside the front door, that small place under our heart breaks open. A new and larger scab forms over that spot, and each subsequent leave-taking grows more painful.
Dogs know this. They know how to make us love them beyond anything rational. We constantly try to remind ourselves, “he’s just a dog. At least he has a warm house to sleep in while I’m away.” But it doesn’t matter. We know that the dog has vowed to be part of our pack, to find his place in our lives, to fit around our daily tasks like a pool of still-warm jello until it finally hardens and he becomes part of us.
Rocket was the dog that ruined me. When he died a few years back, I wasn’t sure I could love another dog, and so far I haven’t been able to. We called him Rocket Dog, Rocket Ship, Rock Star or, at the end, just Rock. We made up songs about him to the tune of Elton John’s “Rocket Man“. He was an avalanche rescue dog, and I took him to work with me every day. He would sleep below the bench in the patrol room quietly, but the moment I would ask him to “go to work,” he’d pop out, his nose wet, his tail wagging.
My mom’s dog, Annie, passed away yesterday. She was a golden retriever. A little bit spazzy and she breathed too heavily on me when I visited, Annie was the most loving dog I’ve ever met. She had many nicknames; we rarely called her Annie until she got sick. Instead we called her Spaz Dog or Hootenanny or, most often, just Hoot. She only wanted to please her people, and would usually run out onto the street to say hello to a passing human.
She also loved the elk that patrolled around my parents’ cabin, and would often try to blend in with them. On several occasions she narrowly escaped a vicious kick from an elk; but like any golden retriever, she wasn’t deterred from negative feedback. She just couldn’t believe that another living thing didn’t love her. She just wouldn’t buy it.
The love of a good dog is a blessing like few others in this world. It is untainted, unbiased and completely unconditional. It is a gift.
But there’s a catch. Dogs don’t live long enough. They leave us just when that scab has grown too large, just when their jello has hardened around the routine of our lives; without them we feel loosened and off-kilter. Old leashes gather dust in the garage of our heart, but we can’t bring ourselves to throw them out. Perhaps the fact that dogs die too early is a lesson reminding us that nothing in this world is perfect. Even the perfect love of a dog is not permanent. This would be a helpful lesson if I was a Buddhist. But I’m not. I’m just another ruined dog owner.
Goodbye Hootenanny. Your love made the world a little brighter. Bravo girl.