We adopted our dog Whitey, a bichon frise, when he was two. Having never had a dog I had no idea the impact he would have on me. His idiosyncratic behavior was part of his charm. When his feet got wet he would rush into the house to rub his ears on the rug and when you mentioned the word “cookie” he would go through his entire repertoire of tricks in fast sequence to cover all bases. His eyes were large, round, and expressive. He had no poker face. During walks he would pick up and hold in his mouth odd food items like road killed salamanders or week-old French fries. He’d walk without making eye contact with us, trying to hide what he knew we would take away. He was waiting at the door every time we came home from work and when we picked him up to greet him his wagging tail beat so fast it fanned our faces. We gave him big hugs and his fluffy little body seemed to willingly absorb our daily stresses as if to help us cope, which it did. He was an ambassador for his breed and a neighborhood icon. We walked thousand of miles, making lasting friendships along the way.
At the age of ten Whitey hurt his back. It would go out on him once in a while and we’d give him some medication and he would be fine. Recently, we thought he hurt his back again. The medication did not work. He stopped wanting to walk and we knew that was a bad sign since this dog was a walker like no other. An ultrasound revealed sizeable tumors. He had cancer. Because Whitey was over fourteen, subjecting him to chemotherapy was not a choice that would be fair. We made plans to take the next day off to spend a last day with him before he was put to sleep. That night we went to bed with him between us and I lay beside him, sleepless, staring at him while he slept. I wanted to make sure that he was not in pain, and I wanted to spend every remaining minute by his side. Noon the next day was his last trip to the vet. It was a peaceful ending after a very full life.
A few days later I started feeling guilty that I had been less affected by the death of some people than by that of my dog. Then I started thinking about him and me and what this was all about. The dog to person bond is not simply one of an amusing pet and a pet owner. There is a vital codependence and a deep emotional link that goes both ways. A friend of mine said she was asked, following the death of her dog Missy, “Do you miss having a dog?” and she said “No, I miss having Missy.” You see, dogs are dogs when they are not yours, but when they are yours they are the truest of friends. This I believe.