“If this is love I do not want it. Take it from me. Why does it hurt so?”
“Because it was real.”
We lost our dog, Rolie, last January 2nd. Everyone says it’s hard to lose a pet because their love is unconditional. That’s a nice sentiment but they clearly didn’t know my, Rolie. His Doggie Daddy often said, “Rolie has more personality than most people.” So true. His Lordship was moody, surly; and love – as he doled it out – was completely conditional and on his terms. This was puzzling since he had terrible separation anxiety and followed us around everywhere, but got annoyed when we did the same to him. When he felt crowded and wanted his space he’d up and leave – sometimes mid-tummy rub. And we were to consider ourselves dismissed.
When his vet told us he didn’t have long, I thought that I could prepare myself for the loss. I realized I was catastrophically wrong when I carried My Little Old Man into the vet for the last time and walked out holding only his leash, his collar, and his little red sweater. His family was with him, and the people at the office couldn’t have been kinder, but that day haunts me. And it was only the start of many things that I wasn’t ready for.
Coming home that first day and seeing his special food, his medicine, his empty bed. And as much as it hurt to see that, I couldn’t put any of it away. It was months before I could even buy a box to begin the process. (See: I Needed A Box.)
As the days passed, it was hard coming home to a house without a dog in it. Putting my key in the door … and knowing nobody on the other side of it needed a tummy rub or a doggie treat or a mock scolding for doing something adorable.
The ASPCA donate-and-save-an-animal commercials that are always difficult to watch became excruciating. I began hating all music with a piano in it. Yes, even you, Billy Joel. And don’t take this personally but damn you, Sarah McLaughlin; just damn you.
I, of course, avoided pet stores: PetLand, PetSmart, PetCo … yikes! Who knew there were so many? But sometimes I’d get blindsided by accidentally turning down the pet aisle at a drug store and I’d be done for. Clean up on aisle seven.
For some reason seeing owners out with their dogs always made me smile until one day in the Spring when I saw a man in Chelsea walking a cocker spaniel: black with a white patch on his chest just like my Rolie. I went up to them and the man was kind enough to let me pet his dog. I don’t know why. I flatter myself to think that I asked coherently for permission. In reality I croaked out something completely unintelligible, with tears standing in my eyes as I pointed at the dog like a mesmerized two-year old.
The dog’s name was Spencer. He was beautiful. He was four-years old and had clearly been loved since he was a puppy. He was a happy dog. I could see that in his eyes and that’s what made him different. By the time the Little Old Man had come into our lives he’d been abused and even on his good days his eyes were always sad and just a bit wary like he was waiting for things to go wrong. Seeing that difference aggrieved me. I’d always thought, wished that if we’d had Rolie from a puppy his life would’ve been different, better. But maybe there are times when love just comes too late.
There were surprising things to get used to, like being able to eat an apple by myself without being hounded for a piece of it; not worrying about a dog trying to get into the garbage cans; like being able to put away my groceries without the mandatory and thorough canine inspection. Nice but not is the freedom to leave my handbag on the floor knowing a dog is not going to stick his snout into it looking for chewing gum.
The oddest thing has been discovering what a horrible housekeeper I’ve become. You see, the dog and I had a deal: I’d vacuum up his fur. He’d eat whatever fell on the kitchen floor. We were a team. Keeping the floor clean was his job and without him around it wasn’t getting done. Bad dog. Silly human.
People suggest all the time that I just go out and get another dog. But having a pet is a luxury that I can’t afford right now. I’m not ready. I know it’ll happen someday. I come from a long line of stray loving dog people. That’s what we do. We rescue a dog and then it rescues us. But when the heart is ready, the dog appears. Until then I’ll continue to sleep with My Little Old Man’s red sweater underneath my pillow. And in my dreams he is happy and healthy and home.