I knew better to check my personal phone at work and knew even better than to check my FB on my phone while at work. I have things to do. It’s a busy day in a busy week and there are a lot of people who are going to show up for a meeting in the afternoon. I knew it was a memorial when I started reading it. I knew a dog had died. I knew that if I simply put it down until after work I would be okay and later I could deal with it, but not right now.
Something that is well written cannot be not read. When someone’s heart is printed on a page the eyes cannot turn away. I pulled over into the ditch, got out of my truck, jumped a fence, and walked out into the woods and tried not to cry for a dog I never met, who belonged to a woman I never met, and even as I sat in some pine straw and tried to pull myself together enough to pull off another six or seven hours, I had to text her and I knew she would call me.
Everything was going well. The meeting was running smoothly. Everyone was in a good mood and then my phone rang. Every stared at me. That’s kinda rude, don’t you think, to let your cell phone go off in a meeting.
“I have to take this call,” I said, “it’s a family matter”
And it was. And it is. What is it that ties us together if not out hearts? DNA isn’t everything and sometimes it isn’t anything at all. Sometimes you have to listen to someone explain why they put their dog down and you have to let that conversation run its course. I’ve made that call. I’ve listened to that call. I’ve helped buried more dogs than I have humans.
They are good people, mostly, at the meeting, and when I get back I try, I try really hard, to fight this thing down, to summon up the present and not think about someone I care about whose heart is broken. The questions are directed around me and that makes it worse, because now I know they can see it and I know they’re trying to help me. When my turns to speak comes around I say what has to be said, and my voice is clear and I use the body language that I know I have to, looking at each person in the eye, but now it’s different and even the people I know who are going to disagree with me will opt out today, call me later, and everyone agrees that we need to break because it’s time, and people suggest another meeting, later, we’ll talk about it, send me an email, please, I hope everything is okay.
And it’s not just this one dog or this one friend, it’s Frank, the Border Collie I had to go under a house to get when he was dying, and I had to drag him out, and he allowed it. Frank looked at me, held my gaze as the drugs took him, and then he died. It’s Max the GSD whose head fell on my leg as he slipped away, and it’s Romeow, the cat who said, “Fuck you!” and fought the vet and fought the drugs, and Romeow looked at me with that same expression Frank did, and I wondered if the cat was telling me to take care of the woman who took care of him. She left his ashes in Bert’s grave and found another cat, and another man, to love. But there is still that moment, when her heart was breaking and her cat was dying, and it mattered, really mattered, that I cared.
Even the most jaded Hermit has to see hope in the human heart that can be broken by a cat, or a dog, or a friend who will never be met, and a dog that will never be seen, and a group of people who will simply change their day to make way for someone’s hurt. I cannot be untouched by this grief of another human being, someone who heart mourns a member of another species whose chief virtue is unconditional love. We crave that virtue, we nurture it, and we’ll drag some nasty, stinking, vermin ridden stray out of a muddy ditch in hopes that we can find it.
Unconditional love brings out the very best in who we are and who we hope to be and who we want to be.
In the end, in the very end, they are all my dogs. Every one of them that is hurt or who is lonely or who dies horribly, I still love them. And the people who rescues these animals, who give them a home, who will become family to those dogs, they have become my family, too.
It feels like a crime, nearly, to have taken the two Cousin Dogs I have, for they well fed, well mannered, and already loving animals. DNA sometimes is important, and sometimes the things we do for family aren’t a burden but a blessing.
I do have dogs. And I will. Not all the pain and hurt and loss and tears will ever change that, ever. And I see this coming again, and again, and again, and again. And I accept it as the rent I have to pay to feel the power of the love of these animals and the love of the people who love them the way I do.