not in our stars, but in ourselves
It was a great week, and then it wasn’t so great.
As enjoyable as the housewarming party and anniversary shenanigans were, the bottom fell out yesterday. Lucky, my former (canine) housemate, passed away. She was 13, and the sweetest girl. I found out yesterday morning, and it was a long, hard day at work.
My cousins and aunt have it a lot worse than I do. Lucky was truly the heart and soul of the house, and they were with her all the time. I lived there off and on over the past seven-ish years, so it’s not as if I didn’t know and love her, but it wasn’t the same. I loved her a whole lot, though.
Over this past summer, one of my cousins was in Iceland, doing work on her thesis. Without getting too much into the house layout, we decided that, during the summer, I’d take her bedroom and abandon my stuffy, hot attic bedroom. That alone was a good thing – but it was made even better by the fact that I got to share a room with Lucky.
Sometimes she was a little brat. I wake up early during the week, in order to go to the gym, but she would often jump up on the bed an hour or so before my alarm. Usually, she would behave herself and return to her bed when I told her it was too early – but not always. In any event, when my alarm did finally go off, she would hop up and run over to me, just to make sure I was up and moving. Waking up meant going outside, and going outside meant going back inside, and going back inside meant getting treats and pats. It was her favorite part of the day, I think. (That, and all the other parts of the day that involved treats and pats.)
Going to bed was much more sedate. And sweet. She’d usually snooze on the couch until I was ready to take her out for the last time that night, give the yard a quick sniff, and then lumber back upstairs. She’d go right to her little bed, curl up in a ball, and follow me with her eyes to make sure I was going to bed, too. I would lean down and give her a kiss on top of her head, tell her I loved her, and crawl into bed myself.
I’m glad I got the summer with her, all things considered. I didn’t want to imagine the possibility that it would be her last, or that she wouldn’t be there when I went to visit next time, but I remember some voice in the back of my head, reminding me to be grateful. I was. I am. I’m very lucky to have known Lucky.
Today has been a little bit easier, but it hits me anew sometimes, and it hurts all over again. For those of you who view pets simply as entertaining animals, I can’t explain what this is like; for those of you who know that pets are fascinating family members, with their own language and consciousness, you probably understand how hard this is. There was an article on i09 a few weeks ago about why dogs are so ecstatic to see you when you get home. This part made me cry:
[Neuroscientist and dog specialist Gregory] Berns says that dogs don’t have the same language capacities as humans, and that they’re not capable of representing things in their memory like we can. Because dogs don’t have labels or names for people, he suspects that they have an even purer emotional response; their minds aren’t filled with all sorts of abstract concepts.
It’s also important to consider the dog-human bond and the degree of attachment each feels toward each other. When used with dogs, the “Strange Situation Test” devised by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth, suggests that during absence and then at the rejoining with the owners, a dog’s behavior is very similar to that observed in children and mothers in similar situations. As [another neuroscientist and dog specialist Giorgio] Vallortigara pointed out to me, it’s appropriate and correct to speak of the dyad dog/owner in terms of “attachment.”
[…] “The separation from the owner for the dog is not voluntary,” says Vallortigara. “It is always unnatural for a dog to detach and abandon the pack.”
Dogs will sometimes go solo on a temporary basis if they’re sufficiently motivated to do so, but they do it knowing that social contact can be resumed at virtually any time.
“The exaggerated level of greeting that can be observed in some dogs is likely due to the fact that they have not yet learned to accept the possibility of non-voluntary detachment,” says Vallortigara.
I’m not crying. You’re crying.
My own childhood best friend, Angus, died about a month and a half after I got back from Australia. Long-time readers of this blog may remember that it wasn’t a very happy time in my life – and then I came back to my sweet little puppy, suffering immensely under the strain of two enormous tumors. He was happy to see me again, but he was sick and tired. My parents and I did what we could to improve his quality of life, but after I’d been home for about a month, he just stopped eating. The vet told us that, if dogs stop eating, it’s basically all over. On a cruelly sunny April day, my dad and I took him to be put down. Angus knew, it seemed, that we weren’t going on a normal car ride. He resisted all the way – to my eternal grief and horror – but eventually, we got there. The vet techs were very kind to us, and let me and my dad keep our hands on Angus to comfort him while they sedated and then killed him. I could feel his heart stop, and feel the blood stop in his veins, and then I started sobbing. (Dad was sad, too, but he was much less embarrassing about it.) It was a long, horrible few weeks/months after that – but somehow, I got through it, and could remember Angus without crying. The pain is awful while it lasts, but it subsides, and then you’re left with all the love you and that funny little four-legged thing shared.
I’m not at that point with the news about Lucky’s death yet, but I’ll get there someday. I’m so happy I knew her, and loved her, and got to be one of the humans she loved in return. Granted, she loved everyone she met – but I like to think she loved me a little more than she loved most strangers.
If I may close this with something a little bit political: Lucky was a pitbull mix. She was a complete sweetheart. Pitbulls are wonderful, loving, loyal dogs – but due to their reputation, they’re often an over-represented population at shelters and pounds. That reputation is completely undeserved, of course: they’re physically powerful, of course, and can do a lot of damage if they’re scared – or if they’ve been taught to think that the best way to gain their human’s love and companionship is by behaving aggressively. A dog is only ever as bad as its human, and too many dogs’ humans are fucking horrible. (Too many humans are fucking horrible, but that’s a separate issue.) A pitbull who receives love, support, structure, and stability will amaze you with how sweet and gentle it can be. So if you’re in the market for a new dog:
Do it for Lucky. She’d thank you with a plethora of slobbery kisses.