Nine years is a long time, unless you’re looking back in hope of recapturing lost moments, then it can seem like only an instant. Yesterday, nine years after I first met him sitting contentedly in a cage belonging to a dog rescue organization, my dog, Matzah. died. I’m left in a house that suddenly seems too quiet, missing my best friend as I look at the empty spot on the floor where he would sit happily while I spent hours writing blog posts and legal briefs. I keep asking myself where the time went and how did all those years pass so quickly?
I’m no novice when it comes to dogs. I got my first dog, a German Shepard with one ear that flopped down and one that stood up straight, named Queenie, for my twelfth birthday. Queenie saw me through my adolescence, my first job, and into my first marriage. She stayed with my mother when I left home, but she will always be my first canine love. My next dog, Princess, a yellow Labrador retriever who swam like a fish, came to me as a very young puppy. She and I were together through a divorce that left us living together in a rented bedroom. Together we survived nursing school, a nursing career, a short-lived tech career, and the start of law school. Then came Hershey, a chocolate lab with bad hips, skin allergies, and a tendency to lock himself in the bathroom and start howling in the middle of the night. He survived because of an affectionate personality that made all his other defects and short-comings forgivable.
For the past nine years there was Matzah, a Rottweiler mix, with an extra toe on each foot, and the most laid back disposition of any dog I’ve ever known. Matzah was up for just about anything: a walk in the woods, a car ride, a trip to visit relatives, a day spent hanging out at the house. His only limit seemed to be riding in a kayak (we tried, and he demonstrated his displeasure by jumping overboard, swimming to shore, and seating himself next to the car while he waited for us to paddle back).
There have been others along the way. Rescue dogs who found their way into our home and into our hearts. Our house, like our hearts, has the scars of many dogs. There are dark spots on the floor where a dog once peed, scratches on door frames, smudge marks on windows, and never ending dog fur flowing across the floor no matter how diligently we sweep. For years, dogs have outnumbered the people in our house. Each has been special, giving us far more than the food, shelter, and occasional belly scratch they receive from us. They forgive us our grumpy moods, late feedings, and bringing cats into the house. When we go away for days and weeks at a time they celebrate our returns as if we were heroes returning from a lunar landing.
Yesterday, I held my precious Matzah as the veterinarian gave him the injections that would end his suffering and wondered how many times I can sign up for the heartbreak that is almost inevitable when you give your heart to a dog? After all, I’ve been at this long enough to know how it’s most likely going to end. Yet, I know that when the time is right, there will be another, and possibly another after that, depending upon my own mortality. I know that while heartbreak is the price of admission to a dog’s life, the experience of receiving a dog’s love and trust is one of life’s greatest gifts. The time will pass quickly, much more quickly than we like, but that is simply the way of things. Sharing your life with a dog is making the best of that time no matter how fleeting. It is well worth the cost of admission.
A special note of thanks to Matzah’s vertinarian, Dr. Pridgeon, at Westwood Animal Hospital. Dr. Pridgeon provided excellent care for Matzah since the day we adopted him.