My dog died yesterday.
It was expected because she was old and in declining health, but unexpected in that she died after being hit by a car. In full view of the kids. The end result of a still mischievous but half blind/deaf dog taking advantage of a door that didn’t quite latch.
I was on the train home from Boston when I got the call, and I immediately broke down in tears. Which is fitting, perhaps, since sadness is what led me to her in the first place.
It was 2007. I was a newlywed living on Cape Cod and working as a journalist. An investigative piece I was working on led to the revelation of some pretty severe canine abuse, and I was so disturbed by what I saw that I began volunteering at the local dog shelter.
But my disgust at the mistreatment of those dogs wasn’t the only reason I was there.
Despite having a job I liked and marrying the woman of my dreams, things had turned fairly nightmarish in a hurry. MJ was in the middle of a downward spiral we’d later find out was bipolar disease. Her manic periods had given way to crippling bouts of depression, and she had no love for herself never mind any to give to me. She was sad all the time and talked constantly of running away and never coming back. I would tell her how much I loved her, but that just seemed to make her feel guilty and she shut down.
But the dogs at the shelter were always happy to see me and pummel me with affection. That’s literally what happened the first time I saw Haley — she ran around the counter, jumped up, and hit me right in the balls.
And then she captured my heart.
Haley was brought to the shelter by a wife whose husband thought a dog would save their marriage. It didn’t. As a result, poor Haley was put on a kennel run and largely ignored for 14 hours a day. And because she loved people but was around them so little, she craved attention and closeness. She also thought any time you left the room you were never coming back, so when you did she was so happy she could barely contain herself.
She had endless affection and devotion to give, and I had a limitless need for love and companionship. The only problem? Convincing MJ.
You see, she was fairly open to the idea of a dog but she had conditions:
- No dogs over 50 lbs
- No ridiculously excitable dogs
- No dogs with long hair
Haley was 0 for 3. But I knew in my heart she was the one, so I made one of the only unilateral, executive decisions I’ve ever made in my marriage — I signed up to temporarily foster her. My wife was FURIOUS when I came with a 75-pound ball of excitable, long-haired, slobbery love. But that fury soon gave way to having her heart melted by our sweet girl, and then “temporary” home turned to “permanent” in a matter of days.
I bought Haley the most expensive dog bed I could find, and then let it go completely unused because she cuddled right next to me on the bed every night. We went everywhere together and walked the Cape Cod Canal, hiked local trails, and went for runs. She was a retriever in name only because she never fetched a damn thing in her life, but she was a slobbering pile of unadulterated love and I loved her right back.
She was a total beta, but if she heard a noise or thought an intruder was present, watch the hell out — her growl was deep and fierce and scared off at least one lurker I can remember. But I didn’t want an attack dog, because we wanted a pup who’d be great with kids — and Haley delivered.
Haley was so gentle with kids, even when they climbed on her, pulled her ears, and stepped on her. She really bonded with Will and she was his “sister” for 5.5 years before Sam came along. When we’d practice sharing, Will would have to share with Haley and I’ll never forget how cute the two of them would be, staring out the window every day that I got home from work.
With Sam it was a little different. The two of them got along well enough, but it was always a tempered and grudging respect. Neither of them fully embraced the other, and there was much jockeying for position in the household hierarchy.
But Tommy? I’m not sure what it was about Tommy, but Haley loved him immediately — and vice versa. Tommy’s favorite thing to do is crawl/walk over to Haley and place his cheek gently on her head. I don’t blame him, Haley’s ear are wonderfully soft velvet. When she slept at the foot of the bed, my toes would search for those ears and I’d immediately sleep more soundly and with much comfort.
Comfort. That’s going to be my one biggest regret — that I couldn’t comfort her at the end and pay her back for the massive amount of comfort she brought to me in the nearly 10-year long span we were together.
I knew she was at the end of the road. Her health was terrible, she had tumors everywhere, she could barely stand, she couldn’t navigate stairs, she had lost control of her bladder, and the sound she made while breathing was terrible. We were in the midst of making arrangements to put her down when this happened, I just…well, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Even last night, as my shovel dug a hole through roots and rocks in my parents’ yard where she loved to play, I couldn’t let go. I carried her from the car, wrapped her in her favorite soft blanket, and cried. I sat there for 30 minutes next to her grave, in the dark and the rain, with her head cradled in my arms, because not being able to feel the comfort of those velvety ears seems unimaginable to me. So I kept taking a few more minutes. Just a little more time. One more scratch behind the ear.
We might have given her a good life, but as corny as it sounds, the rescue rescued me. The dog who lavished us with love, slobbered sentiment all over us, and made our home a better place.
What started with her hitting me right in the nuts ended with the gut punch of loss. But in between are countless moments of comfort and peace dogs seem to bestow upon us so effortlessly, yet we take them for granted time and time again. For nearly 10 years she filled our lives with life and love and tons of slobber, and her only goal in life was to be near her people. Actual people live much longer lives and never approach a more noble and meaningful existence.
I preferred Haley’s company to that of most people, and I’ll miss her as I would a friend. I’ll miss her frenzied and joyful leaps when I walked in the door, even if I was only gone 30 seconds. I’ll miss her ninja-like maneuvering for food, even at the end when she could barely move. I’ll miss the feel of her fur pressed against my face when I needed comfort I couldn’t find anywhere else. I’ll miss her gentleness with the kids. And I’ll never forget her constant vigilance when MJ was pregnant — resting her head on her belly, and knowing when she was going into labor even before MJ did.
We gave Haley a soft bed, lots of food, and a warm home. She gave us a decade of life, love, and unlimited slobbery kisses. We got the better end of that deal.
Dog owners, give your pups an extra squeeze today. And if you’re thinking about getting a rescue, just realize you’ll probably be the one who ends up getting saved, not the other way around.
Thanks for saving me, sweet girl.