Sun's up in Seattle... just barely. Last night there was a windstorm so strong it folded up the patio furniture and threw it all over the yard. I slept on and off and was up before 6. I must still be on Texas Time. Maybe with this guy...
This is Bear Cub. Once upon a time, he was a lost and scared dog and a sweet family took him in and gave him a home, sort of filling a place that was left when a scrappy, adventurous little terrier was lost. You can never quite replace a beloved animal. No two are alike in the ways that they get into your heart and your life. You think you know how an animal is supposed to work and then another one comes along and turns everything you know about them upside down. And it's all good... it's just a different good.
Bear Cub defied expectations. In his prime, he was a substantial piece of dog, kind of a lean Rottweillery kind of guy with a nice deep bark, intimidating if you didn't know him. When I first met him, I was down for Christmas and staying next door and I was in charge of feeding and walking him while Lindsey and company were away for a couple of days. I had no idea how attached he had gotten to his people in the short time he'd had them. My friend Cheryl and I opened the door to go inside, and we both got bowled over when this terrified beast exploded out at us and took off into the night. We gave chase around the block, close enough to see (but not prevent it) as he bolted in front of a moving car and disappeared into some bushes. Half an hour later, we found him, huddled and shaking in the backest back of a big backyard, under a bush and up against a chain link fence, petrified and miserable. There's nothing like having to overcome your fear of big dogs than having to rescue one that is more scared than you are. Cheryl and I got down on our knees in the dark and dragged him out of the thicket. That was as far as he wanted to be dragged. That was it. No more. If dragging a big scared mean-looking dog is scary, try picking one up and carrying it for a block and a half. That's what we had to do, all 60 shivering pounds of him.
We got him home and in the house, fed and finally into his bed . And I sat with him a while. That's when he did the thing that endeared him to me forever. I patted him as if to say "That's it. Leaving now" and he reached out a big heavy paw on the end of his long awkward leg and laid it over my arm like he was trying to say "Not yet. Please?" How do you say no to that?
He was nervous and he was lonely. That came with him from someplace we'll never know. You couldn't leave the pantry open or else he'd go in and wolf down a bag of potato chips, but not for the food value... he'd just as soon eat whatever was in Lindsey's office wastebasket. I think he just needed something to do when there was nobody home to keep himself busy.
Last year, a couple of days before Christmas, we awoke to hear Gabi scolding him. He'd gotten under the Christmas tree and attempted to open some presents a couple of days early, which involved chewing them to pieces. I'm not sure there's anything that girl likes more than Christmas, so the fury was intense...but she got over it... eventually. With sweet old dogs you have to have to have a lot of patience. And he was very, very sweet. And he was gangly and awkward and sad and loyal and easy to forgive and easy to love.
When it's time to let them go, it's hard to know when. One day, all of a sudden, they're old. Disease moves fast in those strange bodies of theirs. And they can't tell us what they're feeling. What they want. When cats want to leave, that's exactly what they do. They find a nice quiet place that they somehow know is the absolute last place you're gonna look and they stay there until they quietly pass
away. Dogs are different. Dogs struggle to get up and walk downstairs with you. Dogs lift there heads when they hear you pull up in the driveway, even if you're on a riding mower. Dogs lay their paws on you and say "Not yet. Please."
How I wish they could talk.
I have my theories of the evolution of the soul. I think if you've lived a good life, you'll get to come back as a beloved housepet. Cat or dog, it doesn't matter. Someone's going to love the hell out of you. The difference is that the cat's revel in that wonder of just being cats and they enjoy the freedom and they make you come to them. Dogs, though, on some cellular level they kind of remember being human, and they remember what it was like to talk, to feel, to connect with another person. They can almost do it, to. but the lips don't quite work they way they used to and the hands are pretty awkward these days, so they bark and wag and sigh, trying so hard to get through to us, always happy when we get the point, always just a little bit sad because its so hard.
There's no shame in trying to hold on to that connection just a little longer. When it's time to let go you know it. You try to do it with love and respect. You do it in a way that's not scary for your animal. If you're lucky, you'll have dear friends around you to hold you up when you finally let go.