A Dog's Purpose

The other night, while strolling through the 179 channels of nothing that we pay too much for, I came across the movie A Dogs Purpose. I’d heard of it, in particular, that it was sad. I’ve wanted to watch it but I learned my lesson with Marley and Me after I barely recovered from the ending of Old Yeller some 45 years ago.

An aside, I can watch the worst horror movie jam packed with gratuitous sex, entrails hanging from the rafters and enough blood to fill a swimming pool and I will sit, unflinching as I munch popcorn. There is no limit to the depravity I can view and call it entertainment. But I lose my mind if an animal is harmed, especially a dog.

Curiosity prevailed and I selected it and sat back in my recliner. An hour and a half later I sat transfixed as the credits rolled. It was worth the watch, in fact it was wonderful. There were a few scenes that made me tear up, including the ending but it was a joyful brand of tear-jerker.

If you’ve seen it please indulge me, this is not a movie review but instead a homage to the lead character, the beloved dog.

In short, the movie is about a dog who experiences reincarnation. It is narrated from the dog’s POV and the story takes us through about 30 years, starting with a young Golden Retriever that belongs to a young boy in the 70’s. Most of the movie occurs with this character as he loyally stays by the side of the boy as he grows into a young man. It is an extraordinary relationship and the scene when the Dog (Bailey) gets put down is indeed a tear-jerker. It didn’t help that I stood in such a Dr.’s office less than a year ago as we watched our beloved Brandon draw his last breath. The movie unfortunately nailed the pain and grief of the moment and I was impressed but sad. By sad I mean bawling like an idiot. But the movie brings the viewer back to smiling as we see Bailey emerge as a new puppy, one possessed by the knowledge that he was “back” and had the presence of ,mind to remember his past life. We are walked through several incarnations of Bailey; a German Shepherd Police dog that gets killed in the line of duty, a Corgi that dies of old age under the love of a married woman that he had been with since she was in college, and finally a Mutt that has a miserable life at the hand of an abusive owner. But the owner sets him free (cruelly, by just pulling the truck over and kicking the dog out) but our hero turns it into a blessing when he reconnects with (by the power of the wet nose) a woman from his first life. This woman was the girlfriend of his first owner and they had broken up as teenagers. Amazingly, he reunites the two, who fall in love again and get married thanks to their 4 legged matchmaker. The movie ends as Bailey miraculously manages to convince his former owner that he is indeed his old dog in a new body. It is a beautiful, tender moment and a wonderful ending to a movie.

Thus confirming what I have known since I buried my first dog as a young teenager.

A Dog’s Purpose is to form a completely unique and unbreakable bond with us, make life unimaginable without them and then leave us too soon with a enormous, smoking hole in our very souls. If we value friendship, and most people do, we are left feeling as if we have lost our best friend.

I don’t know how the chain was determined, how it was decided which animals are chosen to be beasts of burden, which are food and which become domesticated companions. The line is further blurred as we see species never before regarded as a pet; reptiles, goats, pigs, miniature horses, cows and even “wild” animals such as big cats and bears showing up on cute FB videos as “pets”. As refreshing as these friendships are none are as special and, let’s face it, as natural as the relationship between the dog and man.

I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my life. In fact, I have often felt that I have experienced more than my share. I’ve been to a staggering amount of funerals. Dear friends in HS at the hands of tragic accidents. Family members. The loss of my father to name a few. Sadly, I think I am more “over” all of them then I am my first dog. Am I saying that a mere dog meant more to me than my father, family and friends?

Of course not.
It’s just not the same. The hole left to fill is as big as a Black Hole. Friskie, my first dog, was my earliest memory. He was a pure breed Brittany Springer Spaniel, gun shied at a young age and rendered useless as a hunting dog. We found him at a shelter when I was about 5. He became my constant companion, my shadow, my best friend. As a child with few friends, we were especially close. He even saved my life. Twice.

We lived on the bottom of a hill that was the main route to get to the Middle school. One day, I was playing by the street and my football got away from me. I followed it into the street and suddenly found myself being tackled. It was Friskie, who ran across the street from the other side. A school bus nearly missed him as he knocked me to the ground. We were both nearly killed. As he sat on my chest, he looked into my eyes and I swear at that moment that I was staring into the eyes of a kindly, wise old man. He was never “just a dog” to me.

I was a teenager when he died. Despite him being an older dog that lived a full, wonderful life I was crushed.

For years I missed him. We got another dog, which I loved. Mom and Dad had a few after I went out on my own and I loved to visit them. Their household always had a dog, my parents were in agreement with me that despite how crushed you are, no matter how big the hole they leave, another dog is the key to recovery. Not that you ever get over that particular dog, you simply need to fill the hole in your life.

When I moved in with my mother 3 years ago her dog, which she shared with my father before he passed, was healthy and thriving despite his advanced age. A year later that changed. I hated to go through it again, I wasn’t ready. But I put on a good face and I tried to love him through the concerned looks and worry. I believe that it is imperative to love a senior dog as much as you did the puppy and be there when they are in pain and to always be there when it is their time to shut their eyes forever. We owe it to them and that is just what we did. It was terribly painful but I have no regrets. Other than our four legged friends not living forever that is.

We got another dog. We had to. Ours is a dog home and we are dog people. Our dog is not a guest, he is welcome on our furniture and people who don’t like him or his fur are welcome to stay outside. Our new dog, a beautiful Cocker Spaniel pup named Sammy (Samuel L. Spaniel, his favorite human word is Motherf@#ker lol) is a pure destructive delight that brightens our house in ways that I can’t even count. He sleeps on my feet. He follows me when I leave the room. He is happy to see me in the morning and sorry to go to bed at night. He doesn’t judge me and is perfectly satisfied to have his big ears scratched. He’s like our other Spaniels in many ways and in others he is completely different.

And that’s ok.

Sometimes, when I look into his eyes, I have to wonder. Beyond what is he thinking and what his particular need is at the time, and wonder if it is possible that we have met before. That behind his young eyes is the wisdom of an old dog. One that has met me before and is as glad to be reunited with him as I. Then I remind myself that reincarnation is not real, that it is impossible. That what I am feeling is just unconditional, pure and unfiltered love.

For to love me more than it loves itself; to only think of and need me alone when I sit preoccupied with the events of my day; to devote its entire life to being there for me…THAT is a Dogs Purpose.

the Rainbow Bridge

I didn’t really start believing in an actual higher power until I lost a parent. Many others that I know say the same thing. The notion of a magical place in the clouds that houses our loved ones after they shed their mortal shell, where they look as they did in their prime before sickness or age took them away from their pain is a far fetched notion in this day of science and reason. But it sounds like a hell of an idea and if it gives you comfort, then go for it. It did for me. We all grieve differently.

Grief is a powerful thing. When someone suffers a loss we want to say something, we want to do something. The bitch of it is that there is nothing we can say or do, it’s a personal process that really never ends it only gets less difficult over time. If you are lucky. It is a matter of patching the giant hole that the loss of a loved one leaves in us.

Our human vanity challenges the notion that the loss of a pet can be as traumatic as the loss of a human. They’re only animals after all, right?
Wrong.
I won’t go so far as to say that an animal is on the scale of a human but I will tell you that to many, most(?), our furry friends are not just pets. They occupy our hearts and minds and command a level of love and companionship that comes in a photo finish second.

I lost my first dog when I was in High School. We adopted a Brittany Springer Spaniel from a shelter when I was 4. He was a hunting dog that was trained too early and was gun shy, rendering him useless to hunters. He was my absolute best friend in the world. To call him a loyal companion would be the understatement of the century. He was by my side everywhere I went. He saved my life once. I was crossing our street and a school bus was barreling down the hill. He ran across the street and tackled me. The bus missed us by inches. He wasn’t just a pet. When I drove to NH one summer day over Summer Vacation I was met with the dour faces of my parents, who told me that he was put down. I was crushed and remained that way for a long time. There was a hole in my life. It was at that time that I saw the poem “the Rainbow Bridge.”

We have had a series of dogs since then. I wasn’t as close to any of them as I was to my first but I loved them so very much and losing them was never easy. Recently we put down our Laso Apso of 14 years. That was a tough one for my mother and I, he was an amazing companion. Smart, loyal and goofy and a constant presence. His loss crushed my mother. This time she said “no more dogs. It’s too hard to lose them.”

I agreed with her on the “hard to lose” them part. But I didn’t agree with the no more dogs thing. The one thing about animals that differs from humans is that, while you can’t replace them, you can fill the hole left by a pet. The mistake we make is that we don’t want to do them a dishonor by “replacing” them and in the process we forget that we have an opportunity to at least fill the empty place in our lives.

Having said that, six months after putting down our beloved Laso, we got another dog. A beautiful Cocker Spaniel named Sammy (Samuel L. Spaniel).

My mother’s frown turned upside down from the first day that we got him and I have to say that her life is better with him in it. He is loyal, friendly, funny, goofy and absolutely full of love for her. He has chosen her as his favorite and I’m fine with it, it was her hole to fill more than mine.

If you are a person who doesn’t want a dog because you feel that their lives are too short and the pain is too much, please focus on the wonderful times you are missing out on. Having something that is always happy to see you, missed you like you had been lost at sea, adores you unconditionally and can comfort you without having to know what’s bothering you is a treasure in and of itself.

If you are a person who doesn’t want to get another to fill the hole, remember that it is not about replacing, it is about mending the massive void in your life. Once you’ve known the unconditional friendship and admiration of a pet you really can’t go without it. As you sit on a park bench worrying about everything, your dog is sitting next to you thinking that you are their entire world.

How many people can you say that about?

I’m more likely to believe in heaven if I were to have all of the wonderful dogs I have been blessed to know waiting for me to walk by my side once again as I cross over.

Goodbye faithful friend

You’ve been struggling for a while. The spring in your step wasn’t quite there. Your deep brown eyes lost a bit of their sparkle. Your playfulness had begun to wane.

We tried to call it a phase. We woke each day hoping that we would see that spark. Occasionally you showed us glimpses of your old self. But you were tired. You were in pain. Life wasn’t fun for you anymore. It eventually began clear to us that you were never going to come out of this.

This last week you provided us with no glimpses of former you. You moved slowly. Your pain was obvious. When you fell on the stairs and needed help to get up we knew that a terrible but necessary decision was made.

It was time to put you to sleep.

For 13 years you were the loyal family dog. You weren’t a pet, my heart can only be this broken for a family member or a dear friend. You were always happy to see me, even when no one else was. You were always by my side so that I never felt alone. When the house was empty, I had wonderful companionship sleeping at my feet. As only a dog could do, your friendship was omnipresent and unconditional. I was one of your pack.

As one of your pack, I vowed that when your time of need came that I would be by your side, tirelessly and unconditionally. That promise was called in today as we woke to find you listless on the kitchen floor. Your sad brown eyes said it all. You were done, you needed relief from your pain and we had to do what was right for you despite how hard it would be for us. We called the veterinarian and asked to bring you in.

I carried you in to the office. You never let me pick you up until today. The waiting room full of people knew why you were there. They avoided eye contact out of respect and the knowledge of what we were there to do. They let us right in and we placed you on a cold metal table. I put your favorite blanket under you. They gave you a sedative and fed you treats until you put your head down. We patted your head and told you what a good boy you are, and have always been. The Dr. asked us if we were ready. Mom was sobbing. I teared up a little. But I held your little paw and stroked your ears in your favorite spot as they shaved a small section of your leg and gave you an injection.

As you stood by me in life, I stood by you at the end of yours.

“He’s gone”, the Dr. gingerly uttered a few moments later. We were asked if we wanted a private moment. I left my mother alone with him. I had said my goodbyes.

He leaves a hole that can never be filled for reasons that can never be explained. I will cherish the memories, for that is all that remains of my loyal, silly, loveable little furry friend. He is in a better place, at peace and free of pain. Somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge.

Unlike those of us who wish he was still here.

crack in the foundation

My mother’s new boyfriend has become a weekly house guest. Because he lives almost 80 miles away his routine is to show up on Friday and leave Monday morning. He originally stayed in the guest room but now he’s in her bed. My father’s bed. Heavy sigh. Let it go.

I like him. He’s a big, polite 70-year-old Vietnam Veteran and retired State Trooper. He’s nice to my mother and he and I get along well. Even if we didn’t it doesn’t matter I’m not shagging him my mother is.

Predictably, as his familiarity and comfort level increase, he is showing some additional sides of his personality. A few telling comments containing “folksy racism”, unwelcome input (my favorite), and indications that he thinks he is a bigger part of this household than he really is. My mother is noticing it, is ok with things for now, but I am comfortable that she will handle it if she decides it is a problem. As for me, I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

This morning he made a mean comment about our dog to me. Big mistake. I even said “you’re in the wrong house then big guy”. “You’ll go before he will”. He asked if I was serious.

“Hell yea I am. We love dogs in this house.”

I can’t help but wonder what Mom’s reaction would have been had she heard that? I have a feeling that this is only a matter of time.