Duke with Lauren:
Ten years ago, I sat in the veterinarian’s office with my dog, Duke, who was lying next to me on the floor. He was my first dog and I had never had to put a dog to sleep before. Duke had come into my life when my daughter was two and a half, and within days of acquiring Duke, I had had a miscarriage. Thankfully, Duke was a great distraction for my daughter at a time when the sadness of my own loss seemed to consume me. At first, he was just a little ball of white furry energy that ran around the house and the yard, commanding our love and attention. But soon he grew to be one of the tallest Labrador Retrievers I had ever seen. His huge tail had a habit of knocking over anything in our house that was at the height of a coffee table. Although Duke was very loving, his strength and size made me cautious when three years later, my son was just starting to toddle around. Even though Duke’s powerful tale did knock him down a couple of times, they soon became best friends.
Duke was eleven years old when we decided to move to a new house. Although the move would not require our children to change schools, it was still a difficult time for them. Moving from the only neighborhood and home that they had ever known was a traumatic event. I remember that the door to my son’s bedroom had become his easel upon which he displayed his much loved sticker collection. When I told him that we were moving, his only question was, “Can I take my door with me?” Unfortunately, that was not possible. We moved to our new house and Duke moved with us, but he was not well. I didn’t want the children to lose their dog at the same time that they lost their old home, but I knew that Duke was not going to live much longer. Two months after the move, it became obvious that it was time. Duke’s bad days were by far outnumbering his good days. Duke’s veterinarian told us that he believed that Duke had cancer. Treatment for a dog as old as Duke was, was not recommended. After a difficult tug-of-war with my heart, I determined that it was kinder to let Duke go then to let him continue to suffer. We could have held on to him a little longer, but it only meant more days of pain for him. So I sent my children off to school without telling them what I had planned to do that day.
Duke with Scott:
When I sat in the veterinarian’s office, I thought about leaving and taking Duke home again. It didn’t have to be done that day. But I also knew that it was only delaying what must be done. I stayed with him and held him when they gave him the injection, and he calmly grew limp under my hands. I went back out to the waiting room and started to cry. As I sobbed, an older woman approached me. She asked, “Is this your first dog?” I said “yes,” through my tears. She was very kind and she stayed with me and talked to me for a while. As she walked me out to my car, through my sobs, I said to her, “What am I going to tell my children?” She said, “Tell them that his spirit will come back to them in their next dog.” Before the children came home from school, I cleaned the whole house of any sign of Duke. I saved a few of his toys and washed them and put them away, just in case. When the children came home from school, my thirteen year old daughter cried, but my eight year old son tried to be brave and hide his feelings of loss from me. I heard him go into the bathroom and lock the door. In what he thought was the privacy of the bathroom, he spoke aloud to Duke saying, “I’ll miss you Duke.” My heart broke again when I heard those words. When my son came out of the bathroom he asked me for a zip-lock plastic bag. He then went on a mission through the cleaned and vacuumed house, trying to find stray dog hairs to add to his little bag so that he could keep a part of Duke with him. He then asked me if there were any of Duke’s toys left. I retrieved Duke’s favorite stuffed toy that was in the shape of a bone and gave it to my son. For years after that, Duke’s toy and that bag with Duke’s hair was in his bed every night to make sure that he would never forget his dog.
Eight months later, my husband and I heard about Daisy, a rescued yellow Lab who had been through a lot of hardship in her first years of life. The veterinarian was unsure of how old Daisy was, but thought she was somewhere between two and three. We were hesitant to take another dog who’s time with us would be shortened simply because she was already several years old, but she needed us, and it seemed, we needed her. When Daisy first came to live with us, her nose was black, her fur was almost golden, and she didn’t seem to shed. But within the first few months, her nose turned pink, like Duke’s. Daisy’s fur became shades lighter, almost, but not quite as white as Duke’s, and Daisy began to shed just like Duke had. Daisy started to lay under the table like Duke always had and she seemed to display more and more of Duke’s personality. My children and I marveled as the woman’s words seemed to come true. Somehow, Duke’s spirit had come back to us in Daisy.
Daisy with the Scott & Lauren:
The past ten years have flown by and our children are in college and grad school now. Daisy is still my constant companion. She has come to mean more to me than I could ever have imagined. She’s become “my” dog. But now she is about twelve years old and life is getting painful for her. She is not sick yet, but she is getting old. Last night she must have had a dream and in the middle of the night she made a horrifying noise. It was so frightening, that I had to turn on the light to see if she was alright. I called her name, and she, thankfully, lifted her head in response. I shut the light off and tried to go back to sleep, but all I could think of is that Daisy’s days are coming to an end. As much as I loved Duke, I have come to love Daisy even more. I worry about how I will ever deal with losing her. But then I think of the years I have had with her, and I am so grateful for the memories. It will be very difficult when she leaves me, but in the darkness of the night, I realized that waiting for her death and focusing on the loss that will follow, is not how she would want me to spend this precious time. She loves me beyond the capacity of human love. And that love that she has shown me, has taught me so much. There was something that I needed to learn from her, and that is that love should be enjoyed and not feared because one is afraid of the loss that may follow. Without the risk of losing someone you love, that love can never be so dear. So I will make the effort to enjoy these last months of her life, rather than to fear the nearing of the inevitable day when she will leave me.
So, I say to you, my readers, be courageous! Whenever or wherever you find love, take the risk. Even if you have already experienced loss, don’t fear loving again. For as Alfred, Lord Tennyson said, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy