Four years ago, after I had a breaking point with my spouse, a situation occurred between his mother and myself that made me in effect, divorce his family. I was forced to stay married to my spouse because of the needs of one of our children, but I did not have the same necessity to keep in contact with his family, so I divorced them. From that moment on, I went to none of their family Christmas days, no Birthday celebrations, no family dinners, no weddings or even funerals. I was done and I walked away from the drama.
I was left home alone as my spouse refused to address the issue that created the need for me to walk away. So of course, it led to deeper resentment and provided proof that he was incapable of being the man I needed him to be. The single regret I had was I also did not see the Labrador retriever I gave to my husbands brother and wife when they got married 13 years ago. She was a gift from the litter of puppies that I had with the therapy dog I had trained for my son with Aspergers; the dog of my heart which I put down 4 years ago.
My spouse trapped me yesterday into going to his brothers’ house. He had to pick up something for his business before he flew out of town and I had driven him to the airport, which meant I had to go to the brothers’ house as well. He needed to discuss the family business and it meant I could not sit in the car in front of the house for an hour in 100 degree temperatures without looking stupid. So I went in. And my puppy, my sweet baby girl who was raised by my kids and who is now 13yrs old, greeted me, crying and panting her happy Lab pant, whining and crying, trying to climb into my lap as she pushed against my legs.
As she wriggled and yipped, cried and danced, I pet her, rubbed her, hugged her and loved her. I felt her Lab lumps and growths under her skin. I saw the weeping sores and hot spots and the old worn elbow patches of leather skin. Her back was hunched with her older age and arthritic hips made her skipping prancing and stiff legged gait hard to witness as she tried to touch me with her whole body at once. She was so happy, so excited. She remembered me and missed me. Maybe she thought she would never see me again in this life and could not bear the joy she felt at having my hands on her, hearing my voice and feeling my love for her.
I cried. Oh, how I cried. My old sweet girl. So loved as the replacement child my in laws never had. She smelled like doggie shampoo and grass. Like medication and ear cleaner. She looked so much like her mother. The dog who helped me raise my children and who meant more to me than many people I had ever met. It made me miss her so badly that it clenched my heart and filled me with sorrow and sadness, filled me with gratitude and love. This dog is living proof of her, part of her and it was hard and wonderful to see her.
The only thing she felt was absolute joy at seeing me again. No recriminations for my absence. No judgement or questions about why I’ve been absent from her life for so many years. She simply burst with the joy at having seen me again and she let me know how happy I had made her with her 40 minute greeting and inability to calm down being too happy to contain it. I sat on the ground, mindless of my white cotton skirt and held her 90lb body on my lap and shoulder and held her like a puppy.
There is no love or loyalty like that of a dog, whose only purpose in this life is to be present for you in case you need them for emotional support and comfort. They don’t make demands or hold grudges. They do not want anything from you other than what you give and no matter how badly you treat them, they are willing to forgive you and believe you will do better if given another chance. Dogs are a promise that you can be a better person if you just try.
I was reminded about how much an animal can love you and how much responsibility we have for the animals in our care, because they never forget the people they love, no matter how much time has passed. Take your dog for another walk. Give them another cookie. Rub their furry belly as they wiggle on their back with their lips falling backwards. They have a short life and want nothing more than to spend as much of it with you as possible. Before you know it, they will be old and frail. Their bodies won’t be able to do what they want and their days of leaping in graceful abandon will be over. Give them that extra minute because it means the world to them. And you’ll miss it when it’s gone.