Jan 28 2009
This is an an old piece I wrote the week after 9/11 after the death of a beloved family pet.
A Dogged Love
by Johne Cook
In September of 2001, I found myself driving home for the second Monday in a row weeping, trying to see through the tears, convulsed with great, wracking sobs, over a little dog. I’m not comfortable with strong emotion – it makes me uneasy. I have had an entire week full of strong emotion with great tragic feelings on both sides. This cannot be.
You may recall that our Miniature Dachshund, Alli, was injured last Monday in a freak accident while playing with Ean. She was diagnosed by the Vet to have a slipped disc, treated, and released back to us with a very good prognosis for full recovery of her paralyzed back legs. She was showing signs of improvement and we all had high hopes for her future.
Ean got home from school last night and found her dead in her dog crate. We don’t know why. It was sudden and completely unexpected. I rushed home (hard to do when home is an hour away) before Ashlei got home. I bathed her and cleaned out her cage, then wrapped her in a towel that I’ve had since I was a boy. I went and picked Ash up from school and broke the news to her in the car.
I feel selfish for feeling Alli’s loss so strongly when there are many, many people who were murdered in the most gruesome way who deserve that grief. Yet I didn’t know them, and she demonstrated unconditional love to me, a non-doglover.
The woman who we got Alli from predicted that I would grow to love her. I was frankly skeptical. See, I grew up out in the country. My folks ran a dog kennel out there, and put up with the barking and the growling 24/7. I didn’t want this little animal, but she was an answer to prayer and a gift from God to my daughter (and my wife, unknown to either of us). I allowed her into the house because it was the best thing for the family, but it was not willingly. I’m an adult – I was able to do it without complaining in any way, but I didn’t want her around. At all. She seemed to know that.
She decided to love me anyway. We developed An Understanding. I ignored her and she studied me. It was the perfect arrangement. She played me like a fool, though, because when I was injured in a minor motorcycle accident this spring and slept on the couch for a couple of weeks, she jumped up and kept me warm and comforted me without my permission while I was weak and not on my guard. She never asked for anything, specifically, but she finally got some table scraps out of me once with her gently piercing eyes. She insinuated herself into my heart without my knowledge and without my permission until I actually started to look forward to seeing her. She’d jump up and down and welcome me home like a conquering hero. After awhile, I actually believed that I was important to her just because I was me.
And then she went and died.
I spoke briefly with my Dad on the phone on the way home. He empathized immediately. I don’t remember a word he said, but I do remember that it was exactly what I needed to hear. I remember him presiding over a funeral or two when I was growing up. Our little conversation gave me strength to lead our little funeral.
Last night, we stood in the darkness and said our words and prayed our prayers and I took her in my arms one last time and lowered her into the ground in a hole I’d dug under a sheltering pine tree out back. I was not prepared for her to leave, and I was not prepared to handle the feelings that she leaves in her wake, but most of all, I was not prepared for her love for me, an unlovable man.
She was just a dog, but she was (somehow) Christ to me, and I miss her bitterly.
I’m weeping again as I write this. So be it.
September 18, 2001
Update: One month after Alli died, we piled into our van and drove three hours up north. We were there looking for a mini doxey puppy. We found a litter that was seven weeks old. Linda had a female (black and tan) that she liked, and Ashlei was holding her brother (double dapple, black and gray and mismatched eyes). They were both perfect, and we couldn’t decide between then, so we took them both, and now they live with us and sleep in my bed, McKenzie and Dane, our rebound puppies and I’m (finally) a dog lover (of sorts). They haven’t replaced Alli, but they have added to her legacy.
I’m sure I will grieve for them, too, someday, but for now, they’re brightening our lives (and warming our laps).
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