I want to tell you about a very good girl. The best girl. Our English Mastiff, Zoey. She was ten going on eleven, and we had to put her down right before the New Year. That’s considered a long life for a big dog, but it wasn’t nearly long enough for us. Even twenty years wouldn’t have been enough.
I can clearly recall the moment I met Zoey. We already had a puppy and I didn’t want another one, especially not one that would get so damned big, but I agreed to go see her. She was around nine weeks old and still nestled in a squirming, yipping collection of her other seven littermates. My ex plopped her into my lap, and she stayed there, staring up at me with her big, soulful eyes, like she knew I was the one deciding her fate, like she knew it was meant to be.
And she had me from that moment to this.
Zoey was perfect. Easy to train. Even tempered. Loving. Gentle with our other dog, a rat terrier named Amelie that never got any bigger than ten pounds. Zoey, on the other hand, got gigantic — one hundred thirty pounds at her heaviest — and her head was the size of an adult man’s. That meant her eyes were human sized too, and there was a depth of feeling in those enormous eyes, a knowing, such that you could read her emotions.
For the first half of her life, it was just her and me at home all day while I wrote. The dog was one hell of a listener, and she sat patiently by while I edited paragraphs aloud or tested out dialogue. She was almost always in the way, but in her defense, how can a dog the size of an adult woman not be in the way? I cleaned the house around her. I cooked in the kitchen around her. I tripped over her constantly but couldn’t be mad because she already looked ready to burst into tears. She was perfect.
But dogs aren’t good dogs because they’re perfect. They’re good dogs because they’re our dogs.
I don’t understand why we’re able to become so close to them — why we love them so much and that love seems to be returned to us tenfold in their snuggles and wet kisses, in the way they look up at us with bold, naked trust — only to lose them way sooner than seems fair, necessary, or right. What I do know is that we don’t even come close to deserving their devotion. Zoey made me the center of her universe. She was always happy to see me and was there to lean her big old self against my legs even before I knew I needed her moral support. As is true with all dogs, she gave freely without taking much in return.
I knew from the beginning that bigger dogs don’t live long lives, but that knowledge hasn’t helped much. Over this last year, her health declined. It got harder for her to get up, and she sometimes fell when she was walking. I could feel the end nearing like an impending storm cloud, though I turned consciously away from thinking about it, preferring to focus on something more positive: how healthy her appetite was or how mentally acute she still seemed. Those dark thoughts would creep in at odd moments, though, seizing me with dread. Because I knew the end was coming, and I wasn’t ready.
Are any of us ever ready? If I think of the dogs that have enriched my life over the last few decades, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to any of them. Not a single one. The sunny feeling of having them close to us is counterbalanced by the cosmic unfairness of losing them much too soon. A cluster of consolation can exist if the dog lived a long life or is now out of pain. But, still, only time will dull the sharpest ends of grief after such a loss, no matter how much we expected it.
My big blonde girl with her soft, floppy ears and ginormous head that she would plop down onto your knee was one in a million. But nothing I’m experiencing now is unique. The heartbreaking loss, the anger at the stolen time I’ll never get with her, the consolation of the long, happy years Zoey lived as part of our family, the relief at knowing she’s no longer hurting. It’s all pretty standard for the humans left behind.
Dogs shoot across our lives like comets, brilliant and sparkling, before disappearing forever.
This is for all the good dogs we’ve loved for such a painfully short time before they left us to miss them forever. Mine — Skippy, Brandy, Gecko, Sassy, Amelie, Zoey — and yours. Long may they flash and sparkle in our memories.