For the Love of Dog

We draw our inspiration from wherever it comes.

Pickles has been my constant companion for all but seven weeks of his life. I adopted him and his brother Topham together many years ago. They were the last two pups of a litter born at the San Francisco SPCA on July 1, 1999. Their mother was due to be spayed in the low-cost clinic, when she gave birth in the shelter the night before.

My views were much less enlightened back then, or I would have lobbied for an end to spaying obviously pregnant animals. Killing is killing, even if the puppies are not “technically” born. But there they were, five beautiful little wiggly chunks, and seven weeks later, two came to live with us. And for 12 years were seldom apart, from each other and from me. When Top-Top died in 2010, Pickles took in pretty hard. More than that, it seemed to have aged him—a lot.

I doubt that is true. The fact of the matter is that I didn’t have Topham to compare him to and that showed me Pickles as he truly is. Because while Topham was old, Pickles appeared young by comparison. While Topham had been sick for awhile, Pickles remained healthy. While Topham slowly climbed the stairs from the ground floor, Pickles bounded up them. When Topham needed to be carried up the stairs, Pickles continued up and down. When Topham couldn’t wait outside to go to the bathroom and started having accidents in the house, Pickles dutifully waited. When Topham slept by the bed because he could no longer get up and down it, Pickles could still leap in and out of the minivan. But when Topham died, Pickles seemed to grow old overnight.

At almost 13, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. But I don’t need to look at a calendar. Aside from the daily regimen of pills I have to hide in his food, you can see it on his face: the gray muzzle, the cloudy eyes, the lines on his face, the heavy breathing. You can also see it on our walks. He used to sprint ahead, and now he can barely keep up. His back legs are stiff, arthritis taking over, so he moves slowly. If we are away too long, he, too, now has his share of accidents in the house.

You can also see it in his behavior. Though he is deeply loved by my wife and is around her and the kids 24/7 when I travel, he suffers when I am out of town, watching the door, hoping for my return. I wonder if knows our remaining time together is not as long as it once was. I carry him up and down the stairs because he isn’t sure footed anymore. He slips, and more than once came tumbling down. This morning, I taped down carpet runners on our tile and hardwood floors, hoping to make it easier for him to manage them and give him some independence.

Aside from a daily walk and me, there are few things in life Pickles loves more than a ball. Every night, before we settle in, I throw it and he retrieves it. It used to take a half hour or more. Now, after two or three tosses, he’s wiped out. He settles on the bed and breathes heavily. When he sleeps, his body is pressed against mine and I feel for him in the middle of the night, laying my hand on his chest to feel the rhythmic up and down that lets me know he’s still there. A couple of times, I found myself whispering in his ear, asking him to please not leave me. The thought of his death fills me with dread.

I became a No Kill advocate because to me, death is the ultimate cruelty; a frightening emptiness that leaves nothing but pain for those of us left behind. How is it possible that someone you could love so deeply, someone who defines your place in this world—your wife, a parent, a child, your dog—can suddenly be gone. Someone who you will never see again. A voice you will no longer hear. Forever.

When I think of how callously lives are ended in what we euphemistically call “shelters,” how cavalierly they are killed, sometimes cruelly and without a moment’s hesitation; animals who were once as deeply loved as Pickles is or animals who were never even given a name, I feel grief. And anger. It’s unthinkable that we would allow this to continue, creating voids that can never be filled.

After Topham died, I still found myself looking for him, sometimes calling him from the dark when I woke up, quiet and careful not to wake my wife. “Come on Boys,” I’d call softly, but only Pickles would be there to heed the call. Soon, not even he will answer. How could that be?

I suppose some think it macabre to entertain such thoughts, but I can’t help it. I live at home, I work from home, and he is there, every minute of every day, my shadow. And when I think about Pickles just a few years ago, how boundless his energy was, how many times he would chase and retrieve a ball, how far he could walk, yanking on the leash to get here and there, how he used to greet me by putting his front legs on my shoulders, standing tall on his two back legs, looking at me eye to eye, I am overcome with a sense of loss.

He can’t do those things anymore without a struggle, some of them not at all. I can still see it in him, he wants to jump up to greet me, shoulder-to-shoulder, eye-to-eye, so he can lick my face, but his front legs barely leave the ground and he knows it is no use. He remains on the ground. So I bend down, getting to his level for our greeting, eye-to-eye just like always, to show him our embrace still works. But for how long?

On our walk yesterday, for the first time in the four years we’ve lived here, he couldn’t make the loop that has been our daily routine. Barely into it, before we hit the long hill going up, he stopped smelling things, he started panting, his face became focused, and he fell behind. I turned around and we went home. He slept all afternoon. When I let my mind think about losing Pickles, I literally become blind as my eyes fill up with tears at the thought. Even as I write this, I have to wipe them away. And so I am trying to train myself not to. Trying not to think about what once was or what might be, but about what we have today.

We draw our inspiration from wherever it comes. From philosophy. From a poem. A song. Even from a cartoon; from Oogway, the wise, old turtle in Kung Fu Panda. “You are too concerned about what was and what will be,” he tells Po. “There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the ‘present.’” And that is how I try to think about my remaining time with Pickles; a gift to cherish every, single day. I sit at my desk and type, and he sits near me on his bed.

Occasionally, we’ll take a break and get some fresh air. At night, it takes him four or five attempts to get on the couch and then we sit together, his head on my lap, watching television. Or I’ll read or play with the kids, with Pickles right there with us. I suppose I am practicing a sort of doggy meditation, trying to stay in the present, relishing every day I have with him. Forcing my mind to stay focused, as I play a game I know I will lose; trying to stave off for as long as possible the finish line in order to protect the heart that knows someday, it will be ripped in half.

Who’s a good boy? Who? You are, my dear, Pickles. You. You. You. You. You.

42 thoughts on “For the Love of Dog

  1. Thank you Nathan.

    I wish for you great solace as you cherish your remaining time with Pickles. Please know that we share your journey as we too try to live in the moment with our old friends.

    The time our dogs are with us is painfully short!

  2. one word “awesome” brings tears to my eyes because i kno the day will come for me an my lil angel “lulu”

  3. OMG … beautiful & heartbreaking at the same time. I dread that day & pray it’s a looooong way off for my Minnie.

  4. I lost my baby boy a year ago on May 4th. He was and always will be my very best friend. I know I will see him again and hold him near. I close my eyes and smell that wonderful fur, feel his warm kisses on my face. In loving memory of Beaudroux.

  5. I have a senior girl and I know exactly how he feels. She’s the best dog I ever had and ever will have. Tears!!

  6. My first love, beagle Jehu died just half year after my mother…it was heartbreaking…now I have my firts dog, beagle Santtu 6,5 years, beagle Oona 12 years and beagle Tepi 13 months. Oona came to me when she was 8. Now we just hope she will live long and have great life. But I know her time will be in year or two and I will be heartbroken again…I love my dogs so much, can’t think life without them…

  7. I have a seventeen year old my Chang-Le. I remember like it was yesterday how I us to feed him with a bottle until one day he grabbed a candied yam off my plate. We are so much a part of each others lifes. He can hardly walk now, he is blind and he can’t hear but he always knows where I am and he lays by my feet and puts his head where he is touching my leg.

  8. Beautiful story. Brought tears to my eyes and my lab Jack came and licked them away. Losing him is a huge fear for me even though he’s only 2. I can’t imagine my life without him.

  9. There is nothing like the sight of our aging canine companions to make us realize the value of being present in the present.

    I remember how much more I lived in the present with my last dog, Aspen, got sicker and sicker. We want to treasure those moments; to savor them, as if doing so will make them last just a little bit longer.

    I don’t think you macabre at all. I think of you, like so many of us dog owners, as someone who knows time is short and knows that time is so very valuable when it comes to our pets.

  10. quand je regarde c’est-e photo je suis heureuse j’oublie un peu les massacre envers nos amour

  11. “Killing is killing, even if the puppies are not “technically” born. But there they were, five beautiful little wiggly chunks, and seven weeks later, two came to live with us. And for 12 years were seldom apart, from each other and from me.”

  12. The story is all too true, and emotions run wild when a special friend is no longer with us. But, like many things, there is another side. I recently came across a poster that I believe is published by Petco Foundation. Its message has changed the way I look at these things now…….

    Before humans die, they write their last Will & Testament, give their home and all they have to those they leave behind. If, with my paws, I could do the same, this is what I’d ask……

    To a poor and lonely stray I’d give:
    – My happy home
    – My bowl and cozy bed, soft pillows and all my toys
    – The lap which I loved so much
    – The had that stroked my fur and the sweet voice which spoke
    my name.

    I’d will to the sad, scared shelter dog the place I had in my human’s loving heart, of which there seemed no bounds.

    So when I die, please do not say “I will never have a pet again, for the loss and pain is more that I can stand”.

    Instead, go find an unloved dog, one whose life has held no joy or hope and give MY place to HIM.

    This is the only thing I can give – the love I left behind

  13. Heart wrenching. I lost one of my Maltese and then her sister died of a broken heart soon after. Now our Yorkie and Lab (both 15) are ailing more and more each day.

  14. What a wonderful man. I hope he finds peace and comfort during this difficult time. God bless him and Pickles too. <3

  15. Touching and beautiful. I have three dogs and love them with all my heart. I have also lost several much loved furbabies over the years and know exactly how I will feel when my present ones leave me. But the joy and love from having sharred their lives will always outweight the grief when they have departed. Gone but never forgotten. RIP Peter, Pickles and Otis. Please stay as long as you can but only without suffering dear Jarvie, Demi and Nancy xxx

  16. My dog died last Dec 2010 the morning before new years eve,..The night before he died when i came home from work i greeted him but i saw in his eyes that he’s just waiting for me,.. I know his suffering from old age and i dont want him to feel im anticipating his death,.. I whispered in his ears “you can go now my doggie i know you are already suffering :'(” i really cant bare his pain anymore,..and so the next morning i went downstairs to see him but my dad told me “he’s already gone” ,.. Upon hearing it my tears just fell down from my eyes,..I still remember him every now and then, how I missed him so much! Thank you for sharing your story! Just treasure every moment you are with your dog!

  17. Beautifully written and speaks from the heart exactly how those of us, who really bring our pet into our hearts and our families, feel. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings and just treasure your time with Pickles. Make plenty of memories in his last days. Prayers.

  18. I know your pain. Just lost one of my best friends he was a 14 year old boxer. My wife and I got him at the age of 4.Rookie was the next door neighbor’s Daughters dog. She moved out with him. Then She had to come back home but the dog was not allowed to come with her because of baby on the way. When he was a puppy I played with him every day when I come home from work. He’d be in the front yard on a lead [Didn’t like that at all] and we play & play. So when she told me that She had to get read of him there was no hesitation on taking him in HE was family already. Harley my foxhound was so so about it. But that was short lived because they became the best of buds . Harley is just 8 and although she has a new friend we picked up from the shelter all most a year now you can till she still looks for him:[ it’s been two weeks. Got the new one because I knew Rookie time was getting short. Had a 16 Year old Doberman I still think of every day .so I knew the big guys time was getting short Big Dogs go downhill faster than the little guys do in my opinion. But the wife said I was crazy.

    Well said Melanie Kowalski

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