To be a Dog

 

 

I strip naked to crawl into bed. It is an uncommonly warm night in The City, the few weeks of summer in the fall, and I prefer a slight bit of chill at the very least. Ruby has a tendency to snuggle, and by snuggle I mean to attempt to push me off of our bed.  She doesn’t just slowly slide up – she essentially falls down on me and expects me to slide out from under her. It is still my damned bed, to a certain degree. She has learned that when it’s time for me to get in, she gets off. I make myself comfortable, avoiding the edge that I know she will push me to (a head start) and when allowed, she then hops back on to claim her side/middle/the whole damn thing. Her simplicity is just one of the things I love about her. Primal, no bullshit.

She tests me. She pushes, I push harder, and very shortly after we both find sleep, my arm outside of the covers caressing her, in adoration listening to her breathe, feeling her puppy belly rise and fall, the occasional sigh. If only she could know I would do anything for her. I think that she’s learning this.

When we walk around the neighborhood there are many loud noises, many people, many things that she is still unsure of which cause pause for her. “It’s okay, Rube.” She looks at me, her leash goes slack as she walks next to my leg until we pass, then she’s off to exploring again in her zig-zag roundabout way, from one side of the sidewalk to the other, exploring everything. I walk behind her in more or less a straight line, but we both get everywhere we are going, just the same.

Though I love all animals, there is an exquisite pureness, faith, and loyalty in dogs that can’t be refused. In their innocence they trust that we know best, even when we don’t. When they look at us and their eyes shine in a big goofy smile, we realize that life really is beautiful, and even in our lowest times, there is hope.

They don’t care if we come home late, they are always thrilled to see us. When we drink a bit too much they don’t judge. When we pass gas, “HEY! New smell! WOOHOO! They don’t care what we look like, are excited about everything, don’t mind the garbage on the streets in the slightest. With Ruby I have free reign to behave like a complete fool without any concern about what other people think, though that has never been much difficulty for me. They don’t care what we act like, how much money we make, even if they live in a tiny apartment that they consider home. And have a bed that they can take over. All it requires is love and caring.

“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” ~ Jack London

Yes, I will do anything for her. It is the very least for what she gives me.

This is something I read quite a while ago, in between Bean and Ruby, and it stays with me.

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.

Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me.  I’d never heard a more comforting explanation.  He said, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?”

The six-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

I know my time with Ruby is shorter than I would prefer.  It was with Bean, with Bear, even with Happy, the Sheep Dog who I was raised with who almost ripped my cheek off when I was a very young child… but it is never long enough, and I can’t ever do enough for them.

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