My dog died a few days ago. “Penny” had been a part of our family for almost 13 years.
In an old home movie our two kids took turns holding their new seven-week-old Golden Retriever, caressing her soft coat--and being careful not to drop her on the kitchen floor. One of them looked straight into the camera and stated matter-of-factly, “This is OUR puppy!” Like it was the most precious gift they had ever yet received from life. Which it was. The analog movie frames dripped with child-like delight.
My wife has to catch herself from “spilling” popcorn on the floor each evening when she makes it for a TV snack. Each time she forgets, it’s still there on the floor in the morning. I swear I keep “hearing” Penny’s dog tags jangling from somewhere. My head jerks around to "see" her... before I remember.
Yeah… I know it's strange to be grieving the death of a dog, with everything else that's going on in the world. It is strange. I agree. Life is full of contradictions, peculiarities, strange coincidences, inconsistencies, opposites… isn’t it? But life embraces both the sacred and the vulgar. In the very same moment. Without judgment. Life is what it is.
I thank God for “Penny, the dog.” She was a beautiful gift to us. She would often force us to pet her by nudging her nose—sometimes forcefully—under our arm or hand. “Pet me.” And you know… most of the time it helped put the day in perspective. Even though she was just a dog, I treated her as a gift. We all did. And she was. I have no regrets.
The end went fast. A blessing, really. Three days before she died she was tromping through the woods with me as I snow-shoed. She was huffing and puffing, but when I would stop to check her, her tail wagged and she looked up at me with her big “Golden Retriever” smile. I interpreted that to mean, “party on, pack leader!” The tumors must have finally crossed a tipping point inside her because she woke up the next day, mopey and sick. We thought it was something she ate. The next day was worse so we took her to the vet. “Her body is starting to shut down” we were told. Shut down? As in dying?
We were expecting this… but not quite yet, and not so suddenly. Within hours she could no longer get up or move. We stayed by her side and stroked her soft head and floppy ears and talked with soft, compassionate voices, telling her what a wonderful gift she had been… that she was a beautiful dog.
She died the next day. On a special quilt. In the doc’s office. In quiet peace. Among the human beings who cared for her and enjoyed her companionship. A precious gift from God.
Our house is strangely emptier now. We both walk in and notice something is different. Not as much as when our kids left home. But similar.
(Originally posted on January 17, 2008)