The Short Good-Bye

Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger Karas

At the end of April, a few days before we were leaving for vacation in Colorado, my friend Eric mentioned his dog, Argus, started limping. Since Eric was going on vacation with us he wanted to get his Argus into the vet before we left. His regular vet didn’t have any openings but fortunately he found one a little further away that could see him on a Sunday. I texted him after the appointment asking how it went and he didn’t respond. A delayed response is pretty normal for Eric but this felt ominous.

Five years ago, I was feeling pretty tender after losing my beloved dog Biscuit and as an antidote was browsing the local shelter’s website for available dogs. It was a Friday afternoon and all of a sudden a dog that was a yellow lab/golden retriever mix popped up – so new to the site he didn’t even have a picture.

As soon as Miss O woke from her nap, I scooped her up and we went to the shelter. The dog had just come in, they thought he was 2-3 years old. He’d been adopted out from a shelter and then returned two weeks later because he was too high energy. I knew that with a 1 ½ year-old child that I couldn’t adopt him but I filled out the paperwork to put him on hold in case Eric did. Many years prior when Eric and I dated (before we become just friends and it’s not just a phrase but it works for us), he had a yellow lab and I had a golden retriever. His lab had died at a ripe old age and he hadn’t yet gotten a new dog.

Eric came down and visited the dog the next day with us. When he jumped at the opportunity to adopt him, he was surprised to find that I’d already filled the paperwork out. It started the joke that I adopted the dog for him.

Argus was high energy and full of surprises but he fit with Eric. Argus would find a way to lie on the couch no matter how many stools or chairs Eric put up there to keep him off. So Eric came up with a plan to put a towel on Argus’ side of the couch where he could lie – but that just meant Argus laid on Eric’s side. Have you seen that Internet meme where there’s a couch with three dogs on it and a man sitting on the floor in front of it that says, “It took a lot of training but finally he learned”? That was a perfect description for Eric and Argus.

A few months ago Eric ordered take-out Indian food. He put the Naan bread on the table when he stepped into the kitchen for a moment to load his plate and came back. There was “non” bread anymore and Argus didn’t even look guilty.

Miss O thought she could practice training dogs by working with Argus. Which worked pretty well when Argus felt like complying. One day we right behind her as she walked Argus until he saw some dogs ahead and pulled off like a shot, Miss O hanging on to the leash as he pulled her along on her butt down the sidewalk for 50 feet.

Eric called me the day after his vet appointment. The vet found cancer all through the leg and it had already spread to the lungs. Treatment meant amputating the leg and a lot of chemotherapy and the vet was pretty clear it still wouldn’t likely work. Eric had to make the decision to put Argus down. He said it took 90 minutes from the beginning of the appointment to the end.

Hot tears spilled on my cheek as we talked about Argus and saying good-bye. It didn’t feel like he was old enough to have to go. Where were the golden years when he mellowed out? It’s taken me three weeks to write about this because my ache for my friend and this beautiful dog is too close to the heart.

But then yesterday I listened to a Ten Percent Happier podcast with New Yorker writer and author of Lost & Found Kathryn Schulz and it helped me find the words. She observes that it’s funny that we use the same word “lost” to describe the hat we misplaced and the people we love who have died. She added that we grieve in proportion to the way we love them which I take to mean that I wouldn’t have spent six paragraphs describing my hat like I just did with Argus. But she eloquently described the bafflement we feel when we’ve lost our keys and when we’ve lost someone to be very similar. Even though the time and way we’ll grieve will be different, the feeling of “What? I just had them in my hand!” is the same incomprehension.

I’ve been writing about the long good-bye for my daughter and her friend that is moving in three months and then this too short good-bye snuck up to show me the opposite end of the spectrum. It turns out that all good-byes feel hard. But I find solace in to knowing that good-bye started as a shortening of “God be with you,” I find comfort in wishing God be with you to Argus.

P.S. If the name Argus (or sometimes spelled Argos) sounds familiar, Eric named him Argus after Odysseus’ faithful dog. When Odysseus returned from his 20 years at war and wandering, Argus was the only one that recognized him. He lifted his head to see his master one last time and then died.

Pass the Sniff Test

When people show you who they are, believe them.” – Maya Angelou

I started this morning by apologizing at 5:15am. The cat was wending her way around my ankles as I fed her and I accidentally stepped on her little soft paw. It caused her to yowl and me to let loose with a stream of apologies.

It brought back a memory of a guy that I went on a handful of dates with after I got divorced. One time we went snowshoeing but had to drive farther than planned to find snow. When we returned a couple of hours later than expected, I knelt at the front door, ruffled my beloved dog’s fur and apologized to him.

The date, standing behind me said, “Never apologize to an animal.” I turned thinking he must be joking but he wasn’t that funny – and he wasn’t joking.

If we can’t apologize to our animals that depend on us for their well-being, never lecture in return and love us anyway, who can we apologize too?

So I didn’t go out with the guy again. No apology necessary. 😊

Anyone else have an example of a sniff test?

(featured image is mine)

Oh My Dog

There’s no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” – Bernard Williams

I was texting with my friend, Eric, the other night about a dinner party I had that was fun but difficult because I couldn’t listen very well. Listening well, serving food and minding two young kids is hard, or maybe nearly impossible. Eric’s reply was, “I can’t imagine trying to have a conversation with John while trying to make dinner, hold a baby and answer the many questions of a six-year-old. The only way to make it easier would be to get a puppy.”

Eric doesn’t think I should get a puppy and he frequently uses humor to tell me so. And I don’t disagree with a single reason he’s given me. Yep, it’s a lot of work. Definitely true that it’ll disrupt my sleep. And sure, I already have a lot on my hands given that I’m a single-mom of two kids trying to work, parent and live some semblance of an individual life. All true!

But here’s the thing. I don’t think life is supposed to be easy. I’m surprised he hasn’t figured this out about me since we’ve been friends through all my parenthood. I mean after I had the first kid it might not have been obvious how much work it took to sustain young life but when I chose to do it again, I think that might have been a clue that I’m willing to go all in the game for love.

I’m going to get a puppy because I love dogs. But I’m also going to get a puppy because I think for families that want them, they are an incredible companion. All your secrets are safe with a dog. Also, once you’ve established the bond, there is no end to the unconditional love of a dog. And finally, to be in charge of an animal, you have to first learn to be in charge of yourself. In the years of growing up that we have to come, I think a pet will be a great source of comfort and joy. Because yes, I just want to be the person that my dog thinks I am and I want my kids to be that person as well.

What’s so funny about this is that Eric was texting me about the party because he couldn’t come because he was home with HIS DOG! A little surgery and the meds had thrown his dog’s system off and Eric didn’t think the dog could come or be left alone. Ha!

But I’m going to wait about six months until my toddler is potty-trained because dealing with poop from more than one household member at a time seems crazy. I’m committed but not insane!

Irrigating the Irritation

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Plato

Yesterday my friend John was trying to get a hold of my friend Eric and I was caught in the middle. Eric wasn’t answering so John called me and left a voice mail. Eric’s phone had died and he was temporarily using another number so I texted him on his other phone that John was looking for him. Eric didn’t have John’s number stored in his temporary phone so Eric called me for it. I texted it to Eric and then John called me.

It seemed to go on and on. They called and texted me while I was working, picking up my son from school, out for ice cream, getting the kids ready for the bed. I was irritated. Then I found out John was calling because our friend Joanie was having to put her beloved 15-year-old golden retriever to sleep. My irritation evaporated instantly.

Compassion is such a powerful tool. For years I’ve said that doing meditation in the morning was irrigating my irritations. I hadn’t identified specifically that it was expanding my compassion for my self and others until I was reminded of this “Just Like Me” meditation from by Buddhist monk, Pema Chödrön:

”There’s a practice I like called ‘Just like me.’ You go to a public place and sit there and look around. Traffic jams are very good for this. You zero in on one person and say to yourself things such as Just like me, this person doesn’t want to feel uncomfortable. Just like me, this person loses it sometimes. Just like me, this person doesn’t want to be disliked. Just like me, this person wants to have friends and intimacy.’

“We can’t presume to know exactly what someone else is feeling and thinking, but still we do know a lot about each other. We know that people want to be cared about and don’t want to be hated. We know that most of us are hard on ourselves, that we often get emotionally triggered, but that we want to be of help in some way. We know that, at the most basic level, every living being desires happiness and doesn’t want to suffer.”

Welcoming the Unwelcome by Pema Chödrön

When we do suffer, it is eased by the compassion of others. I remember talking with Joanie after my golden retriever died and because she knew the depth of the heartache, it was of great comfort to me. I am sending that compassion back to her now so the spirit of love, warmth and understanding continues to ripple out. My daughter wants to make a card for Joanie. She suggested a message of “You are the best even though you only have two dogs and one died.” I love the idea but we might fiddle with the wording…

Eat, Play, Love: Part III

“The one thing we can never get enough of is love. And the one thing we never give enough of is love.” – Henry Miller

Intro: I had a beloved golden retriever named Biscuit who in addition to being a goofy, energetic, enthusiastic and LOYAL friend was an old soul. In his older years I started taking his picture with signs. Although it’s my writing and initiative, these were somehow his words in a way I can’t explain. He’s been gone four years and in a tribute to him on his birthday, here’s a book we wrote. Eat, Play, Love.

Back to chapter 1: Eat

Back to chapter 2: Play

Chapter 3: Love

Eat, Play, Love: Part II

“Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.” – Henri Matisse

Intro: I had a beloved golden retriever named Biscuit who in addition to being a goofy, energetic, enthusiastic and LOYAL friend was an old soul. In his older years I started taking his picture with signs. Although it’s my writing and initiative, these were somehow his words in a way I can’t explain. He’s been gone four years and in a tribute to him on his birthday, here’s a book we wrote. Eat, Play, Love.

Back to chapter 1: Eat

Chapter 2: Play

Chapter 3 – Love

Eat, Play, Love: Part I

“One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.” – Iris Murdoch

Intro: I had a beloved golden retriever named Biscuit who in addition to being a goofy, energetic, enthusiastic and LOYAL friend was an old soul. In his older years I started taking his picture with signs. Although it’s my writing and initiative, these were somehow his words in a way I can’t explain. He’s been gone four years and in a tribute to him on his birthday, here’s a book we wrote. Eat, Play, Love.

Chapter 1:

Chapter 2: Eat