“A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes. Status symbols mean nothing to him. A water-logged stick will do just fine. A dog judges others not by their color or creed or class but by who they are inside. A dog doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his.” – John Grogan
Someone I know posted this quote from the final pages of Marley and Me on Facebook this morning. It was written from the heart, out of love for a yellow Lab that was not entirely unlike my Lucy, who is pictured above, with my other best friend, Mugen. They look so serious, because they are begging for cheese. They’re Labs. They take their food very, very seriously.
Just in case the picture above isn’t enough of an indicator of how much I love my dogs, and Labrador Retrievers in particular, I’ll share with you the fact that Marley and Me is one of my favorite books. I remember it now, not only for its wisdom, humor and excellent story telling, but for how it healed me when I was so badly broken. You see, I read Marley and Me for the first time about a week after my first Lab died. John Grogan’s book reminded me of the joys of dog ownership at a time when I was missing them so badly. I do think I cried harder than I would have, if I’d read Marley and Me before then, but the timing was just what it was. I am grateful now, that I read it when I did because, in spite of the fact that I felt every moment so deeply, I remembered similar things that I had done with my own dog, and at the end, when Marley was gone and the family was remembering him with all of the love in their hearts, I felt that too. It gave me closure and the strength to carry on because I knew when it was over, that I had given my old man a great life filled with love.
We loved him so much that even when other people told us to put him down because he’d done this dangerous thing or that dangerous thing, we didn’t. We chose training over death. We chose obedience over abuse. We made a promise to him and we kept that promise. We made choices as a family that kept him with us until the day came when he was ready to go. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always worth it. I will always remember Reilly’s face the moment that he passed away. He looked right into my eyes as I turned around when I heard him fall. The look on his face said to me, “It’s time, but Oh! How I love you! It pains me to leave you behind.”
Every time I think of that look on his face, I cry, not out of regret, or remorse or any particular pain, but because there was something so beautiful in him in that moment, so perfect and pure. His devotion to me never wavered, not even in his final moments. He gave me so much more than I deserved. I gave him my heart, for sure, but he gave me his heart and his life. The enormity of the trust that it took for him to do that still astounds me two years later.
What also never fails to amaze is the idea that there are so many dog owners out there, like the ones who owned my dogs before they were rescued from shelters, who are undeserving of that kind of devotion and receive it anyway with no concept of what it is that they are being given. The very idea of living a life with the love of a dog and not appreciating that love for the simple thing that it is seems criminal to me, particularly in light of my current situation.
Lucy will leave us someday soon. I hope that it is not for a very long time. I no longer have the illusion that it will be years and years before cancer takes our sweet yellow dog from us. We are stopping her cancer treatment because the drugs are killing her faster than the disease at this point and I hate feeling like we’re giving up, but at the same time I have always known that her time with me was never going to be long enough for me. I knew that when I decided to adopt her. I hoped and prayed for more. I love her so much that I want to keep her here forever, but I know now that this isn’t possible. Lucy would stay with me forever if her body could keep up with her spirit, but that’s just not how things are going to play out. I have learned though that for Lucy, the time she has had with us has been enough.
She knows that she is loved here, she knows that she is safe here and that her needs have always been a priority. She will always have a place at the table, a warm bed to sleep in and someone to hug her and hold her when she is hurting and someone to rub her belly when she is happy and the world is filled with light and joy. Here, she is never, ever alone. I don’t know that she has ever had the ability to count on another human being the way she has been able to count on our family, and I can see it in her eyes every time she smiles at me, that our love for her matters.
It took the love of so many wonderful people to bring her to us, but that love changed her life. It made her life better. It took a broken and sad creature and made her whole. If Lucy takes one thing with her to the bridge ahead of me, I pray that it is the notion that not all human beings are cruel, that there are those of us who love dogs unconditionally and will always return their love, even if they have an accident in the floor or bark at the neighbors’ golden retriever. There are things in this life that matter so much more than annoyed strangers and carpeting. One of those things, is the love of a dog. Some of us are in on the secret, that there is nothing better and we know that each and every one of us, who is lucky enough to be loved by a dog, is completely unworthy of his or her devotion.
Knowing that you are unworthy of the kind of love and devotion is a great place to begin. The world would truly be a better place if we tried to live up to being the sort of person that our dogs think we are or, at the very least, took a page from our dogs and placed less value on material wealth and took a look at the wealth that we can already claim right inside our own little lives.
So, the next time you find yourself staring at a picture of a fancy car or flipping through a fashion magazine in a doctor’s office, remember that your best friend is at home waiting for you and all he needs is you, and a stick, to make his day complete. Let that thought fill you up inside and make you smile, because that, my friend, is the finest thing in life.