I find too, that as memories fade, I can conjure them back up by recalling the dog that I owned during a particular period of time. As a teenager it was Amigo, a medium-sized, black, dog of unknown linage, that comforted me when I was lonely, or insecure about my place in the world. She was the pup that bonded with the boy that, as a man, would one day become my husband, and she was as loyal to him, as she was to me. She helped him as he barbecued in my backyard; sitting atop a picnic table watching him grill on the hibachi that sat beside her. She jumped up on chairs when no one was looking, to partake of the food on plates we had prepared for ourselves. She accompanied us on walks or for rides in the car, and waited quietly by the door for our return on occasions when we went out without her.
When I married, we moved to an apartment, and Amigo remained at home with my mother. The separation was painful for both of us. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, Amigo became very ill and, after all attempts to heal her were exhausted, I went with her when she was relieved of her suffering. I truly understood the meaning of the word "heartache" when I lost her, and that same painful understanding has accompanied the loss of all the dogs I have owned, ever since.
There have been many pups since Amigo; Saucy, Sasha, Rusty and Sophie, to name a few. Each one represents a specific period of time to me, and remembering them helps me to recall my own life, and all transpired while they were a part of it.
Sophie, a Cairn Terrier mix, was the dog that brought light back into our lives, after Dave was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Initially, the diagnosis hovered over our household like a dark cloud, and fear, of both the known and the unknown, seemed to color all of our activities. I sensed that Dave was not the only one who now suffered from Multiple Sclerosis: five other lives were irrevocably changed on the day of that diagnosis. I knew that a distraction was imperative, and to that end I spontaneously took my four daughters to a pet shop and bought the tiny little bundle of fur that was destined to bring joy back to a household that had become far too somber.
She was a whirlwind of happiness, and her lack of training did not help to subdue her unabashed jubilance. She jumped on guests, as she ecstatically wagged her tail, upon seeing them. She raced around our unfenced yard, and became best friends with the border collie next door. Emmy would come to our backdoor daily, and bark to be let in. They would race around the house together, and, frequently, we were delighted to have Emmy spend the night, whenever our neighbors were away. We called Sophie our "circus dog", as she entertained us with her trick of throwing a tennis ball in air and bouncing it off her nose like a seal. She engaged in the "night wildies," as we referred to her habit of suddenly jumping up, late at night, and racing full speed around the house, wagging her tail uncontrollably as she approached any member of her family. She was exactly the dog that we needed to restore the happy chaos that had, so suddenly, been missing from our lives.
Sophie was no saint though, and during our excursions to our travel trailer in Port Sanilac she often engaged in a wide variety of bad behaviors. She barked aggressively at every passersby, resenting their presence in the park she considered her own. Walking along the beach she would dive into the cold waters of Lake Huron, and then roll happily in the sand, to the point that she became almost unrecognizable. If a dog happened by during her beach walks she would pull at her leash; barking wildly and looking like a deranged hyena. We loved her, and all of her failings, and she loved us, and all of our failings equally in return.
Sophie was only with us for six short years, when, once again, on a visit to Port Sanilac, I let her out of the trailer and heard a terrible yelp. She had broken a part of her back, and the lower half of her body became paralyzed. She could no longer walk, and although we took her to three veterinarians, no one could undue the damage that had been done. The day I put her to sleep I was accompanied by my daughter, Jamie.
I insisted, as I had done in the past, that I be present during the process. I had made up my mind that no dog of mine would ever die alone, in the presence of only strangers. They had stood by me in my hard times, and painful as it was I was compelled to stand by them in theirs. Jamie and I looked into her loving brown eyes and gently petted the dog that had been our salvation during one of our most difficult times. As the veterinarian prepared the needle I spoke to her of my great love and affection and said the phrase that I always told her whenever I left the house.
"Wait for me Sophie...wait for me. You are my best friend; wait for me, and I will be back."
I once saw a movie in which a priest tells a parishioner that his dog can't go to heaven, since dogs have no souls. I would dispute that claim, because an eternity without those faithful friends that have shared my life could never be called heaven. With dogs, I believe no atonement is necessary; their place beside the Creator is secured. I have no doubt that I will join each one of my pups, some day in the future. I can picture them now lined up at heaven's gate waiting patiently for me; their badly trained little tails wagging happily behind them.