I remember vividly that night more than 7 years ago. Whitney and I had been married for 8 months and finally decided to get a puppy. We prayed about it and took the leap of faith. We weren’t ready. Sleeping on the floor by the crate of our new dog, Freckles, assuring her that she wasn’t alone. I was learning exactly what it meant for something else to be completely dependent on me. We carried that tiny puppy up and down three flights of apartment stairs at 3 in the morning so she could learn to use the bathroom outside. All the while, I was learning to put my own comfort aside because she needed me to take care of her.
The first day we had her, we had to leave her in the crate while we went to church. We came home to an escape artist puppy who had left her excremental artwork on the floor, the wall, and the door. I felt even more sure that I wasn’t ready to take care of her.
But every day, I got more and more used to her rhythms, and pretty soon it felt like she was taking care of me more than I was taking care of her. She was my companion through late nights of studying and papers during grad school. Our forays to the dog park always sparked the most interesting conversations. In some sense, she was a better bridge to the gospel than I was on my own. Every time I came in the door from work, her tail wagged so hard that it hit each wall with an ear splitting thud.
When my brother came to live with us, working through a rough spot in his own life, Freckles was his therapy. You never needed to beg for her affection, she gave it liberally. Her bark was scary, unless you knew it was just her way of begging to jump and kiss your face.
When Whitney got pregnant, she went from being “my” dog, to being Whitney’s dog. She used to sit at my feet, under my desk, and follow me around. She could sense something was different when Whitney got pregnant and she turned into a protector. She was Whitney’s shadow.
When J was born, she started checking on him. At first it was licks and sniffs, later we’d find her sitting outside of his room, just making sure everything was ok. She loved that little boy. She tolerated his antics, but love him she did. Sometimes she wanted more space than a 3 year old gives (especially when his idea of love is jumping on and chasing her). But one lick and he was the happiest person in the world.
When we had a miscarriage in 2014, Freckles knew what to do. She snuggled her head under Whitney’s arm, looked up with her big brown eyes, and licked the tears away. There are few things more beautiful than the unrelenting love of a dog.
And today we had to say goodbye.
This moment came suddenly and much too soon. Freckles developed pancreatic cancer and the treatment was too dangerous, too costly, and too ineffective.
To be fair, she was “just a dog.” But “just a dog” was what we loved about her. She was an important part of our family. She was part of our routine, our conversations, our life. She contributed love and affection. She provided companionship and activity. She taught us sacrifice and love. She was the “dog” part of our family. Her intuition and affection played a part in our lives. She was “just a dog” but dogs are family too. I miss her already.
This poem by Jimmy Stewart captures some of my feelings of joy and loss.