There are dog people and then there is everyone else. So, if you are not a dog person, you might as well stop reading right now because I will probably sound like a lunatic (perhaps you should go shop Amazon for a soul instead).
Growing up, my family had a golden retriever named Paws, who lived to be 17 years old. Paws literally saw my brothers and I through our entire childhood. In fact, we believe he didn’t let go of life until we were grown and he knew his job was done. Today, there are two more golden retrievers in our family. Legolas, who goes by Lego to close friends and family, who is 11 years old and belongs to my brother, Nathan. And then there is my boy, Riley, who is 9-years old.
After Nathan graduated from college, he and Lego made the thousand or so mile move from the rainy Pacific Northwest to the land of fake tans, Pinkberry, smog, beaches, and eating disorders (also known as Los Angeles). Lego adjusted nicely to life in So Cal and is somewhat of a local celebrity. He goes everywhere with my brother, and is therefore known at restaurants, stores, gyms, local businesses, and all the studios my brother frequents. Lego goes to work with my brother and is happy to take in sprawling Los Angeles with his head out the backseat window. One of his many endearing qualities is that he walks by your side, not ever needing a leash, but always with a ball or his favorite stuffed duck in his mouth. Lego never leaves home without one of these precious toys. Whenever I visit, and take Lego with me on errands or for a walk, people actually run up to him, get on their knees and greet him by name, then raise an eyebrow at me and muster-up a pleasant, “Who the hell are you and what are you doing with Nate’s dog?” Lego will extend a paw to shake with these fans, and then slump at their feet demanding that their adoration take the form of a belly rub.
Lego has an amazing personality; he is a human heart & soul trapped in a furry body with four legs and a tail. Were you to ask my brother, without a doubt he would tell you that Lego is his best friend, and has been his constant companion through the good times and the bad. Likewise, it would take you all of five minutes to realize that for Lego as well, the sun rises and sets by my brother… it is unconditional love.
Recently however, Lego has suffered from seizures, caused by a brain tumor, that we didn’t know existed until just a couple months ago. I’ve achingly watched my brother tenderly care for Lego, and help him with memory problems, bladder problems, and learning the basics all over again. They had so many little inside secrets, habits, and tricks between the two of them that Lego has slowly tried to relearn. While medicine works for a time, sadly the seizures have become cyclical and he will be better for a bit, only for the cycle to repeat itself. The brain tumor isn’t going away. Nathan knows at some point in the not-so-distant future, the symptoms and discomfort will no longer be able to be masked by medicine, and that he will have to make a painful decision.
When you pick out a puppy for the first time, and that precious face melts your heart, and their unique personality enraptures you, you can’t fathom the idea that at some point in your future, and definitely before you are ready, you will have to say goodbye- and that your heart will break in a way you never thought possible. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to love, when you know you will lose.
Doing right by them…
Dogs selflessly love us, in a way that defies human ability. They never judge our bad behavior or think the worst about us. The times when my heart was so heavy that I couldn’t get out of bed, Riley never left my side. The playful times at the park, my running companion, swimming at the beach, road trips, and literally traveling the world, playing so many games and fetch, cuddling and naps, or all the times when he is content to just be with me. Even when I’m ugly, fat, wearing bad clothes, and have zits on my face, that dog has never once been anything but ecstatic to see me, the excitement that sweeps through his body like a hurricane at the moment I acknowledge him, or the panic and depression that hits him the moment he sees a suitcase or thinks he’s being left behind… it puts you in touch with the depths of your own humanity.
This is why it is so hard to know when to say goodbye. But because they have always selflessly loved you, they deserve to be selflessly loved back. I don’t know how I’ll do this when Riley's twilight knocks on my door- so what advice could I ever offer my brother? I guess, when that moment comes, I will cuddle that precious pup in my lap, stroke his sweet grey face, and tell him, “For all the times you protected me, for all the times you comforted me, for all the times you were aware of my need, for all the times you were courageous for me, for all the times you didn’t consider your own well being, but mine. I will make this choice. And I will see this as my moment to love you, in the same way you have always loved me… Selflessly.”