It is a sad reality that sharing a life with dogs almost invariably means grieving for them, these best-est of friends, our fallen comrades. We are always aware, of course, of their comparatively truncated life spans and the rapid passing of time, yet, so wholly unimaginable is their disappearance from our lives that we suspend thoughts of their passing. We push this knowledge aside and revel in puppy-sharp teeth, the terrible twos, and even canine acne; we try to ignore the poignancy of sweetly graying muzzles, slowed gaits, weakened bladders. Our forgetfulness is a blessing. Like our dogs, we should try to inhabit each moment, looking neither forward nor back, and rejoice with them in the beauty and possibility of life, for there will almost certainly come a day when we will have to shepherd them from this world to the next. And we will be—temporarily, at least—lost. Left unmoored without the structure of thrice daily walks and deliriously anticipated mealtimes. Bereft, solo on the couch, lap un-encroached upon, feet un-warmed and reminded of this Missing by a million markers: empty dog beds, chewed-up toys, unheralded door bells, and, worst of all, by far, a firmly established walk habit now undertaken alone.
The completeness of this sadness will go largely unrecognized. Non-dog people, the unenlightened, will never understand the totality of the loss; how, following the departure of a beloved dog, everything falls…flat. That may be the best word for it, entailing no poetics nor histrionics, just blank space occupied by a heavy sadness, like one of those weighty gases that creep along the floorboards. Their absence is felt keenly, like a lost limb, in more ways than one would think possible. You ask yourself: how did I not realize that my dog’s schedule was so intertwined with my own as to be inseparable? And: how does one get out of bed without the drill-sergeant punctuality of an enthusiastic dog with a schedule to keep? But life proves to have its own demands and you find yourself blinking in the daylight, and it’s there you encounter the network established of your time spent together. Our dogs, by and large, are goodwill ambassadors on four legs, forcing even the most misanthropic among us to lend a friendly nod to cooing passersby, to forge a connection of shared experience with fellow dog-park patrons. It is the latter who will weep for you when the world at large can’t yet fathom the grey grief dragging at your ankles. They will understand that, despite all this sadness, it was worth it—all of it, even the heartbreaking final moments. Joy, love, and devotion are in short supply in this world and our dogs are an unrivaled reminder of these qualities, even in memory.