I will never get another dog. Now that’s not to say that I don’t love animals, dogs in particular. I love dogs. But what I found when I got a dog was surprising and unexpected, and it changed my outlook on dogs in general forever.
After my first year of Law School, I decided to get a puppy. I suffered through the first year of Professional School, spending hours in the library, pulling my hair out in stress, and occasionally drowning my sorrows and anxiety and alcohol with my law school cohorts. In a hungover stupor after finals at the end of the first year, I made the split-second decision that it was time to get a puppy. After all, I didn’t have a summer job and I was only going to be in school that time. Thought it would be a good time to be to train a dog and to be a responsible dog owner.
In what was a spur-of-the-moment decision, I looked in the newspaper, because back then there was no Craigslist or options to look up animals online. I found a few litters with puppies for sale. The first litter I visited, it was a pack of rollie pollie chocolate lab puppies. The dogs were really expensive. Back then I really couldn’t afford to spend much on a dog as a student.
There was one puppy that had a small umbilical hernia, and thus she was available for a discount. She seemed like a cute dog, and she was a purebred chocolate lab, why not. So I plunked down my money and took the puppy with me in the car. I did not have dog food, collar, a leash, a bed, a kennel, or anything else. But I had a dog and we were going home. She road on my lap the entire way, and tentatively stuck her nose out of the open driver side window.
If you read Marley and Me, you would expect that this story would go sideways right about here. In Marley and Me, the author gets a puppy without doing a whole lot of work to check out the parents and ends up with a lovable hellion who destroyed his home.
In my case, this chocolate lab puppy did the opposite. I was an ignorant new dog owner, and she was remarkably easy. I wasn’t the perfect dog trainer, but in one thing I was right. Because of my school schedule, I was able to spend hours of the day with her, just her and me, out on the trails or out in parks or in the yard or at the beach. We spent very little time with friends and instead she and I rambled around the countryside when I should have been studying. It was glorious, as much as it was annoying that she chewed my shoes and pooped on the carpet. I fall in love with my dog and that was something that was unexpected. And wonderful.
Not to say she was perfect. One time she tangled with a skunk and got the wrong end of the deal, and then bolted into the house through the open front door because I realized what had happened. She stole a huge expensive ribeye steak right off the grill. A found broken glass in a pile of vomit she hacked up once. She broke into a friend’s cat food and happily ate most of the bag before anyone found out. Her belly looked like a barrel, I kid you not, and she had the worst gas I’ve ever smelt for days afterwards.
This dog was amazing with children. She never barked, bit, or even growled at them, though they must have been annoying. She had a soft, gentle mouth, and could carry a balloon around without popping it. She and the kids played tug of war over the toys. My sons charged after her through the tall grass and into the forest, all of them as eager as the other to see whether there were any deer to chase.
As the years went off, it was harder for she and I to be as close as we were in those first few years. Once I left law school, I entered the world of Private Practice. My schedule was much more crowded and I was unable to be at home as much as I would have liked. There were fewer adventures.
My girl was getting older too, so doing less wasn’t necessarily something that was terrible for her. She rolled out of her teenage dog years, and slid into dog middle-age as I did. We still tried to spend a lot of time after work and on the weekends outdoors. We still went camping, out in the boat, and on trails. As she passed ages of 5, 6, and 7, her energy never flagged, although I could see it in some ways her body was slowing down. Occasionally I would notice that her hips seemed a little weak or that she seemed a little shaky. I didn’t give it much thought, but in the years to come, I would.
My dog loved to cuddle, but not in a way that was annoying. She was almost better than a human, in that she would cuddle right up to you when you were laying down, along your back on in the bend of your knees. She loved to throw her head over your legs and stare at you, especially when you were eating anything.
It’s that time I think I miss the most. Her loving, quiet and supportive presence was always there. It’s actually quite hard to talk about this, though she has been dead now for a handful of years.
If you’ve never had your own dog, you don’t realize the emotional commitment that comes with you. You don’t know when you get your first puppy how much you will grow to love them, even when they are jerks and destroy your things.
This consistent devotion is what binds us, dog and human. This connection doesn’t generally exist between humans. Humans are inherently selfish, even the relationship between a mother and child it’s not the same as one between the dog and it’s owner.
As my dog got older, she got slower and fatter, no matter how much I watched her food. She slowly began to develop fatty tumors on her legs and chest and belly. The veterinarian said that they were not cancerous, and that it would more traumatic for her to have them removed that it would be to just leave them. So she ran around with tennis ball-sized bumps all over her body, but those didn’t stop her. She never realized how big she was, and she would occasionally injure one of my children simply by bouncing them off of her body as she ran past.
When we got near the end, she became very incontinent and there was no medication that could control it. It’s was harder for her to be inside the house with us because there was pee everywhere. She never had to be crated because we had property for her to explore but I know that she would have preferred to be inside the house with us. But even as age took its toll, her spirit never flag and her enthusiasm for the forest remained as strong as ever.
My dog love the beach. As far as it is fitting then that the beach is where she died. A family took a trip over to the Oregon coast and she ran and ran and ran. She had gotten really deaf, so she couldn’t hear me when I yelled at her to come back when she ran up to other families, or maybe she just didn’t care, she was so happy. She ran and ran and ran, and then she came back to me and lay it down and and she died.
Right there on the beach, on the warm sand, what the sound of the ocean in her ears.
The thought of getting another dog brings back all of the emotion stuff I went through when she died. I can’t imagine loving another dog as much.
I can’t imagine another dog becoming as good as a companion as she was. Losing her was so hard, it’s something that I never want to go through again. When you get your first dog, they are small and cute (if you get a puppy), and all you can think about us how awesome they are and how fun they are.
Once you’ve had a dog, you know that you are signing up for an animal that will spend most of it’s life middle-aged or elderly. The fun rambunctious dog phase is maybe half of the dog’s life or sometimes even less depending on the breed of dog that you get. Dogs don’t last that long, a small fraction of your life. If you get a puppy while your children are small, it is unlikely that the dog will make it to see your child’s high school graduation.
I’ll never get another dog because I can’t bear to have my heart broken like that again.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, all under the age of 10. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the US, Emily is a full-time mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the computer screen when the kids are occupied or sleeping. She started this blog in April of 2019 and is proud that the blog is now paying for itself. If you want to know about her journey as a blogger, check out out her personal digital journal or her post about failing her way to blogging success.