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The impact and contribution of dogs in my life appears in my memory as double underscored, in a bold font. Since childhood, I’ve partnered my life with dogs and can’t imagine living without them. All the best photographs of me, swimming deep in happiness, include dogs.
When I was four, we had a tiny teacup poodle named Nannette. When I was ten, a fluffy mutt named Cindy, who had puppies unexpectedly… much to my parents’ consternation, but to my sheer delight. Tiny little bundles of unfinished fur, they took their time entering the world, waiting with patience for hearing, sight, and sturdy legs. But once they got going, they were unstoppable. I think part of the reason children in our neighborhood were never overweight was because we were constantly outside chasing puppies and dogs. We had a black Labrador named Misty who was my sister’s best friend for a long time, and a German Shorthair Pointer named Dutchess. She was an amazing hunter, helping my father bring in quail and pheasants.
There was a span of life there for a while, in my early and mid-twenties, when I had cats, but no dogs. The restrictions of living in apartments in Michigan, Massachusetts, and North Carolina didn’t allow it. I settled for cats at the time, even though they were contraband, too… they were easier to hide. But still, cats, although adorable and snuggly, just didn’t fill my heart the way dogs do.
When my son was out of his toddler years and I finally landed back in houses again, I adopted dogs from local animal shelters and invited them into my world, filling the void created from too long an absence. Hamlet was a Bull Terrier; you know, the Target dog; with an overwhelming personality and an unlimited supply of energy, but also a tenderness that no one could ignore. Darwin was a Pitbull/Wire Terrier/Dalmatian mutt who was dumb as a box of rocks, but worked hard and succeeded well at making everyone he encountered fall madly, deeply in love with him.
As the years passed, my son grew older, and Bear came to live with us. A Golden Retriever, he was a big snuggle floof who loved to go for boat rides, swim, and go for walks more than almost any other dog I’ve ever known. He sang when I came home, and sometimes for his supper, and he liked to plop himself on my lap whenever I sat on the couch. Shortly thereafter, Alex came into our lives. He was a Retriever Mutt, of undecipherable origins… and I loved him. He had a tremendous personality and loved to play and run. It took a while for the two to warm up to each other, but once they did, they were inseparable for twelve years. They were brothers as much as any wolves found in the wild. Bear left us first, and Alex mourned his loss hard, took ill, and left shortly after. To people who say animals don’t have souls – my experience with Alex mourning his brother’s death emphatically proved them wrong.
As the years passed, I grew older, and so did the dogs. One by one, each in their own time, they crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. Each loss was heartbreaking for me. I cried buckets of tears and found it hard to sleep at night for weeks after each loss, missing them so profoundly that an ache permeated every muscle in my body. Some say it is too difficult to go through it again, so they stop inviting dogs in after a loss. But for me, I cannot live without dogs. I don’t feel mentally stable or emotionally healthy when dogs are missing. I never replace any dog who has been lost – you can’t do that any more than you can replace the people you’ve lost. But what I can do is envelope more of them into my world, and (if you believe in such things, and I do) have a pack of them waiting to play with me again when I’m through in this world.
The latest members of that pack are Finnigan, a Golden Retriever and Charlie, a Jack Russell/Rat Terrier mix. Finnigan recently celebrated his eighth birthday and Charlie his fifth. These two, like Bear and Alex before them, have grown up as brothers. They hike, boat, swim (okay, Charlie doesn’t swim, he wades) play, and snuggle together. But they’re different, too. Finnigan loves to make snow angles and help shovel the walkway. Charlie would much rather stay indoors and watch the snow fall outside from the comfort of a cozy blanket. They are happiest when they can walk around the neighborhood together or run unleashed through the open fields at the dog park. They are what veterinarians call a ‘bonded pair,’ and when either is separated from the other for too long, they search for their brother and are thrilled when reunited.
Finnigan and I have a special language. When he was a tiny puppy, he made a humming noise a lot. It sounded like he was missing his siblings and crying for them. So, in an attempt to comfort him, I put my head against his and hummed back. That small vibration between our skulls seems to give him the comfort he sought. We still share this small, special communication. It comforts us both to be close and to understand each other’s love through the resonance of a hum. He is my ‘wiggle butt’ because from the time he was very small, his back legs wiggled when he walked… the happier he is, the more wiggle in his step. At eight, he still recognizes his full name as Finnigan Wiggle Butt.
Charlie is the tiniest puppy (at just 20lbs) I’ve had in years – since those early days. He was no bigger than a bug when I brought him home, and the name stuck. He prefers to snuggle under blankets when not chasing squirrels, chipmunks, frogs or fish. Though not a swimmer, he enjoys gliding over the water while sitting on my lap in the kayak, perfectly content to watch the sky and wildlife, or other boaters as we pass by. His favorite thing in the world is making friends with other dogs. He's super-smart, and sometimes he can be willful, and he is very protective, barking at things he can’t identify… but he is my snuggle bug, and I feel blessed to have him in my life.
There is something remarkable about sharing your life with dogs. Their energy fills the hallow spaces of a house like nothing else I’ve ever known. They are the most stalwart of companions, never giving up on me, and never rejecting me. They are always eager to snuggle by my side, walk with me in nature, play with unbridled joy, and comfort me on my most insecure days. They remind me about the longevity of loyalty, unfailing, unconditional love, and the importance of embracing joy daily. I will forever invite them to walk with me through life. I know what it’s like to live without them, and I like this better.
Snuggly puppies – especially (today), Finnigan Wiggle Butt and Charlie Bug Make Life Worth Living!
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