Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Giving Up More Love For Man's Best Friend

Tonight my dog Ringo was having a little stomach distress and wasn't eating as he usually does. This usually occurs after he overindulges (read: steals most of Rufus' food too.) Now I know this happens frequently with dogs and you can usually find them eating grass or whatever to calm their tummies and they are back to normal by the next day. But instead of just accepting this and leaving it at that, my wife and I go into full panic mode and have to hold him and cuddle him and rub his belly and pet his head and say soothing things to him like he is some 20 lb. 4-legged hairy infant with a penchant for pissing where he shouldn't.

I know I have spoken before in this blog about my love for dogs and how much we pamper and spoil our little dog-kids, but I couldn't dream of being any different. Our "boys" as we call them are such an intricate part of our lives and their happiness and well-being is important to us like it is for our children and one another. Some would blame "empty-nest syndrome" but we were always like this, even before kids came on the scene. And for you cat people, we feel the same way about our two "girls" too.

Often you will see stars like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and their pooches in the media and hear about how they insist on special brands of bottled water for them and how they dress them in designer doggie-wear with matching sunglasses and carry-bags ad nauseum. I won't tell you I shower my dogs with diamonds and filet mignon because I don't. But I can tell you that I love my animals with more heart and soul than any self-absorbed celebrity ever could.

Recently we had to have the house tented for termites and were forced to move out for a few days, which meant putting the four critters in a kennel. This was a new experience for all of us and I tried to impress on the girl at the counter that these were very special animals and that they needed the utmost care and attention. She offered me an upgrade where, for a few more bucks each day, they would spend some extra time with them, take them on longer walks and in general not ignore them as they would the rest of the dogs in their charge. Of course I leapt at that without hesitation. Of course, whether they did anything different we will never know.

There was a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach the moment we left them at the kennel and I had to fight back tears as we drove away. I knew that the kennel was a pet hospital with round-the-clock vet care available and caring, animal-loving technicians and helpers (at least, according to their website) but I also knew what a traumatic experience it would be for them and how their separation anxiety issues would be stretched to the limit. Teresa and I shared our fears and concern for them as we left town. We were both overcome with sadness for having to "abandon" our boys like that, but unfortunately we had no other option available.

We spent the next few hours driving to my parent's house where we were to spend a couple nights before returning home and retrieving our pets. Unfortunately once there we received a phone call from the exterminator rep saying that a problem had come up when the gas company guy broke something removing the meter and created a gas leak. Since the exterminator company was unable to tent the house, it was rescheduled until the repair could be made. It ended up taking three extra days before we could return home.

I remember being so angry that some fool just sentenced my boys to three more days in jail - albeit a clean jail with walks, food and fresh water - and wishing I could somehow rescue them. The fact that this delay resulted in additional expense and a major inconvenience for us (we had to check into a hotel, buy clothes, meals, etc.) was minor to how awful we felt about having to keep them in a kennel longer than anticipated. The eventual reunion was a tearful one with guilty apologies going out to all the "kids."

I thought about this tonight as I was reading my friend Tom's blog, Reinvention: The Journal of a Dog-Lover, Book-Reader, Moviegoer and Writer , and how he is struggling to resist the overwhelming temptation to bring a dog back into his life after the death of his beloved Basset Hound, Maggie, almost two years ago. I know exactly how he feels because I went through the same anguish just three years ago after we had to put our Pomeranian, Tina, down because of a terminal illness.

There's this terrible vacuum that's created when you lose a loved one, whether it is a friend, a family member or a pet. You have all this directed love to give; this very specific type of caring and nurturing that needs an outlet, and yet there is none to be had. Dog lovers like myself and Tom understand this only too well. I wouldn't expect everyone to feel this way about their pets, but to some, animals bring out something very special in them. Just watching them play and interact, or even just snoring on the couch, it makes me feel like someone has reached out to my soul and given it a great big hug. Add to this their unbelievable capacity for showing affection and devotion and you have a winning combination.

To me, my boys are the very embodiment of love. The gentle cuddling and affection they show us continues to amaze and astound us even two years later. They remind me so much of babies sometimes it's hard not to think of them like that. They cry when we leave them and get all excited when we return; they love to give hugs and kisses and grab our hands when they feel the need to be held or touched; and they are most comforted and protected when they are laying beside us in bed sharing our warmth. It's a wonderful feeling being a dog owner, especially to two wonderful dogs like ours. The joy they give us and our family is incomparable. Which is why I know it will be devastating when they finally pass on.

But we know as dog owners that losing our pets is inevitable. No matter how you try to steel yourself from the grief, there is no escaping it. And while some might wonder why we choose to endure the sorrow of losing one dog after another, I believe we can all agree that the joy they bring and the lessons they teach us about ourselves are more than worth that painful price.

A few weeks ago we finally got around to watching a movie called Marley & Me, based on a book by John Grogan. It's a heartfelt story about his life with his yellow lab and the experiences that he and his family shared with this lovable yet neurotic dog. Watching it I couldn't help but identify with many of Marley's entertaining exploits and how the family coped with his often hyperactive personality. And yet by the end of the movie you learn to appreciate the unconditional love and affection a canine companion can bring to one's life.

Here's a quote from the book that sums up nicely that beautiful and genuine soul that is a dog.

"A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes. Status symbol means nothing to him. A waterlogged stick will do just fine. A dog judges others not by their color or creed or class but by who they are inside. A dog doesn't care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his. It was really quite simple, and yet we humans, so much wiser and more sophisticated, have always had trouble figuring out what really counts and what does not. As I wrote that farewell column to Marley, I realized it was all right there in front of us, if only we opened our eyes. Sometimes it took a dog with bad breath, worse manners, and pure intentions to help us see." - John Grogan, Marley & Me

There are so many dog lovers out there in the blogosphere, but two blogs that I would like to recommend are the previously mentioned Reinvention: The Journal of a Dog-Lover, Book-Reader, Moviegoer and Writer, which is a great read, and Life With Dogs. Please do yourself a favor and check them out if you haven't already.


  1. Well, I love dogs. But don't have one myself. Yours are cute tho.

    But I'm a little concerned that dogs may be aliens out to over turn our lives and take over the Universe. I mean, think about it... You bring them into your home, love them and their big eyes and they want all this attention, and they'll save you, love you and become your best friend, until they have you sooooo convinced you can't live without them and that's when it begins, their ruling...Think about that...

  2. I fully understand. I hate leaving pets. I don't let it ruin vacations or things like that but I do think about them everyday I'm away.

  3. Tom,

    Thank you for your sensitive reflecton on our bond with pets. You really do understand....

    Maggie would have approved with all of her heart. She never loved anything--or anyone-- half-way....

    I hope to write about her in all her crazy exuberance and gentle loyalty as vividly as you have described Ringo and Rufus.


  4. I have four dogs, all rescued from imminent death. And they love unconditionally. Me, not so much.

  5. The reason I haven't got a Dog for several years is because it's just too hard on me when they die.

  6. Thanks all for the comments!

    @ Hillary - interesting theory and if true I have but one thing to say to them, "Take me to your beagle."

    @ Mike - I hope I never have to leave them again, but I'm hoping if I do it won't be quite as traumatic for either of us.

    @ TomS - Thank you for your kind words and for inspiring this blog. I look forward to reading more about Maggie very soon.

    @ Coffeypot - Thanks for joining me, Coffeypot! I admire your rescuing your dogs like that. I wish more people would follow your lead instead of plunking down thousands for designer puppies. A mutt from the shelter has just as much love to give if not more.

    @ Blasé - I went years between dogs for the same reason. But eventually the desire to own a dog to love again became too strong to resist. The heart needs what it needs, I guess.

  7. A few years ago I built a privacy fence just for the purpose of rescuing two black labs. I recently allowed them to bred, and I now have 10 of the cutest puppies you've ever seen. I would love to keep each and every one of them, but I know that's not reasonable. I understand how you feel about dogs, I couldn't imagine coming home and not seeing them. They are like little children who never grow up, and you can't beat the unconditional love.

  8. A couple quotes for you:

    The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too. ~Samuel Butler

    Scratch a dog and you'll find a permanent job. ~Franklin P. Jones

    Properly trained, a man can be dog's best friend. ~Corey Ford

    If you think dogs can't count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then giving Fido only two of them. ~Phil Pastoret

    A cat, after being scolded, goes about its business. A dog slinks off into a corner and pretends to be doing a serious self-reappraisal. ~Robert Brault

    Happiness is a warm puppy. ~Charles M. Schulz

    -ok.. I suppose.

    PS Walk your dogs!!!!

  9. Hi Tom, I saw the end of Marley and Me a couple of days ago. I doubt that anyone who has ever lost a pet can watch that and not cry. I currently have a retired Greyhound and she's the sweetest dog you could ever imagine. How can you not be devoted to someone who is thrilled to see you every morning when you get up, every evening when you return home, wants to go everywhere with you and is content to sit just in your presence? Yeah, dogs are pretty special.

  10. So wonderful to hear from you all...

    @ MsPsycho - Next to beagles, labs are my favorite dogs! Lab puppies are so cute! Thank you for your comments and for a perfect analogy "like little children who never grow up" that pretty much says it all!

    @ Anonymous - Some nice quotes you got there. I have to stick with Charles Schulz (famous beagle cartoonist) when it comes to doggie wisdom. And yes, I did walk the dogs so there!

    @ Barbara - Kudos to you for adopting a retired Greyhound. Their reputation for being loving, caring dogs is beyond reproach. You are so right about dogs being pretty special. Even moreso if their owners are likewise special.


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