Somehow I never thought this day would come, yet come it did, and with a vengeance. I guess when we humans bring members of your species into our lives, we sort of have to live in denial that you won’t live forever. I was no exception in my tight adherence to that unspoken rule. Even as your muzzle grew gray, your eyes cloudy, your ears deaf, and your body stiff and sickly, I refused to believe you would leave me any time soon, because the thought of losing you was completely intolerable.
How could I have loved a little dog like you so much? How could I have not? You were love incarnate on four legs, the embodiment of everything good, sweet, giving, and kind. You were my baby boy, my little man, my puggy angel. I made up silly songs just for you, inane little rhymes you’d listen to over and over again with bright-eyed delight, smiling back at me with your wide, pushed-in grin, your sweet roll-shaped tail wiggling happily. You had no idea what I was saying, but how you ate up any special attention that Mommy gave you. That was your way – you ate life.
I will never forget the moment I first laid eyes on you. You were playing with your littermates and bouncing around like a little bunny, all of nine weeks old. When I’d finally decided to fulfill my lifelong desire to get a pug I knew I’d wanted a boy, and you were the last male left in the litter. I picked you up, and you looked at me with wide, seal pup eyes that could have melted the hardest of hearts. And without hesitation you licked my face, as if to say, “hi Mommy, what took you so long?” And that was that. We named you Gizmo because you looked like a little wind-up toy, a name that always fit you to a t.
What followed was almost 13 amazing years of a cross-species bond based on love, trust, and companionship. I raised you, cared for you, trained you, took you places, pampered you, slept next to you, and anticipated your every need. We developed an unspoken understanding, an effortless synergy, and unshakable connection. You embedded yourself in my heart, wrapping me around your paw with ease.
As the years passed and my life circumstances changed, there were times I needed you more than ever, and you never failed me. You were always there, a constant I could depend on and look to for unconditional love, comfort, and endless humor, my doggie anti-depressant of sorts. When it came down to it, we just “got” each other. Even though I adored your German Shepherd siblings, Hugo, Heidi and Chloe Bear (and still do), they knew Gizzy had Mommy’s special love. They are my heart dogs, but you were my soul dog.
There are so many memories tumbling around in my brain, snapshots of moments so precious I’m afraid if I don’t nail them down they’ll disappear. How do I preserve them forever in the scrapbook of my memory? It’s as if our life together keeps flashing before my eyes, and I don’t want to lose a moment of it, even though I know there’s so much I’ve already forgotten. But the essence of you is still with me – your beautiful face (so pretty people often thought you were a girl), the impish, happy spirit of an innocent being who never seemed to have a bad day. I want to remember all of it – your hilarious antics and endearing naughtiness; your sweet, affectionate, yet sometimes stubborn nature; your quiet intelligence and cocky confidence, and of course, your incredible passion for gastronomy. “Mommy loves you too much,” the vets would say to you, indirectly admonishing me about your weight. And though they were right, was it really possible to love you too much? Not a chance.
I’d known you were in trouble that Sunday afternoon when I offered you a baby carrot – your favorite treat – and you let it drop from your mouth. You were only six weeks away from your 13th birthday, an event I was already planning to celebrate with your favorite cake from the local dog bakery. You’d been breathing harder for the past couple of weeks, but I’d simply blamed it on the warmer weather and the pollen in the air. The last two years had been hard on you, as the bronchial disease, arthritis, and all the drugs you now lived on so you could breathe and move without pain had gradually stolen your strength, energy, and ability to do all the things you used to love. No more brisk walks around the neighborhood, riding in the car, playing with your pack, or visiting the dog park. Time isn’t kind to any of us earthly creatures, but it seemed particularly unfair to you, the sweetest being ever to walk the earth. But while I could tell you were declining, you seemed to be holding on. You didn’t want to leave, and I didn’t want to let you go. Not yet, not ever.
Yet when I saw the ashen color of your tongue, the glazed expression in your eyes, and heard the raggedness of your breathing, I knew this was no false alarm. Off to the emergency vet we raced, with me weaving in and out of traffic as I urged you to hang on, to stay with me, reassuring you we were almost there. And even as you struggled to breathe, even as you seemed close to losing consciousness, your eyes never left my face, as had always been your way whenever we went anywhere in the car. But this was a different trip, and we both knew it.
Two days later, the doctors had done what they could to keep you stable, but there was no fixing anything. Your heart was failing, filling your lungs with fluid. And though I’d wanted to keep you comfortable long enough for Daddy to get home from his work trip, when I saw you lying listlessly in ICU and gazed into your tired eyes I knew. You were leaving whether I liked it or not, and it would be cruel to keep you alive for selfish reasons. The vet gave you a nice shot of morphine, and I took you home, knowing as we drove that it wouldn’t be long. Because this time, you weren’t watching my face as I drove, you were simply lying in the passenger seat, staring into space as you struggled to breathe.
Your homecoming was a solemn one. Heidi and Chloe sniffed you over as I propped you up with blankets and got you comfortable in your bed, realizing our family vet wouldn’t be getting here in time to help you along. Knowing we would have to ride this out together, I climbed in bed behind you and wrapped myself around your poor, exhausted little body, so weary from trying so hard to breathe. Hadn’t I just been here, 17 months earlier, spooning Hugo as he left this world? I wept silently as I pet you gently, fighting to keep my voice even as I told you that Mommy was here, that it was okay to go, and that I would love you forever. Although you were already drifting to another place, you must have felt my tears wetting your fur.
It happened fast. Your breathing ceased. Your body stiffened, then fell slack. Your little heart fluttered beneath my hand, once, twice, then grew still. And all I could say the whole time was, “I love you so much, I love you so much, I love you so much,” because that was the last thing I wanted you to hear as you left. And as my words turned to sobs, Heidi and Chloe jumped up and huddled close, nosing you, then me, finally returning to their spots on the rug. I could see in their eyes that they understood what had just happened, and they watched intently as I smothered your head, your face, and sweet little paws with tearful kisses. And though pain shattered through every ounce of my flesh, for a moment I imagined I felt you nearby, bouncing around like a little bunny, so happy to be free, trying to tell me, “I’m okay, Mommy, don’t cry, I’m okay, see?” But just as suddenly as it came, the image flew away, and the world felt suddenly colder without you in it.
Two weeks later, my heart is raw, radiating pain with every beat. It’s as if someone ripped it out of my chest, threw it off a 12-story building, then scooped it up and shoved it back into my body. Most days, I alternate between states of depression, healthy suppression, and numb resignation, knowing I must move on, because I have no choice otherwise. Your sisters need me, and I want so much to make up for all the love and attention that often went to you more than it did to them. But when I do the simplest things, such as walk into the kitchen and realize you’re not following close behind, or lie on the bedroom floor to stretch and don’t hear you running into the room to jump on top of me or rest your head on my chest so I’ll stop and cuddle you, I lose my composure. I know this grief must ebb and flow at its own pace, but it hurts to harbor so much pain. Still, I am slowly becoming resigned to the fact that the longer I live, the more lives – human and canine – I will have to grieve. That is an earthly reality we must all face.
Some might read this and think, “give me a break, he was just a dog,” but then, those people have obviously never known the love of an intelligent, sentient being like you. Yes, you were a dog, but that doesn’t mean your life wasn’t important. If anything, it was all the more sacred and divine. Yours was a life that never knew suffering, abuse or neglect. You wanted for nothing and you were cherished, utterly and completely. You made me a better person, just for being in my life. I am so grateful to have had the chance to be your human mommy.
Be at peace and run free, my baby boy. Not a day will go by that I won’t think of you and wish you were with me, that I won’t long to kiss your round little head and breathe in your sweet doggie smell. If there’s another plane of existence beyond this life, I know you will be there waiting for me, with Hugo at your side, and someday, Heidi and Chloe – the Lionheart pack will be complete. But if such a thing is possible, I will hope you will come back and be my dog again. It may just be a fantasy, but it comforts me, the idea of finding you once more. I picture myself years from now, looking for a rescue dog who really needs a home. And while he may not be a pug or look anything like you, while his eyes may not resemble a seal pup’s, your impish, happy spirit will shine out behind them, and I will know it’s you. You’ll look up at me and pause, perhaps cocking your head, because even though you’ve never met me, I will somehow seem familiar. I’ll bend down to greet you, stroke your soft chest and let you sniff me over, your tail beginning to wag and your body starting to wiggle. And without hesitation you will lick my face, as if to say, “hi Mommy, what took you so long?” And that will be that.
Love you forever, little man,
– Your Mommy
“Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you. I loved you so – ‘twas heaven here with you.” – Isla Paschal Richardson