This story dropped into my Facebook newsfeed the other day. It's one of those universal tales that anyone who has cared for (a.k.a. "loved") a pet will recognize. CAUTION: Grab a few tissues; you might need them while you read this one.
Almost twelve years ago, I saw a flyer in a grocery store advertising a dog available for adoption. She was a year and half old, 35 pounds, and spayed after already birthing a litter. My wife and I met her a week after that. She was goofy and sweet, friendly to people, but couldn't stay with the multi-dog family who'd taken her off the streets. Any female canine within visual range was on her "kill" list. That's part of being born as a street dog. I brought her home in the passenger seat of my 2000 Chevy S-10 about two weeks later.
My wife named her Molly.
People who've never liked dogs, or never owned them, don't fully understand the bond between "dog people" and their animals. I'm an odd member of the club, because I don't go in much for baby talk, outrageous toys, or treating them like people. On the other hand, friends in high school and college used to tell me I liked dogs so much because I was a dog — not necessarily what you're thinking, so bear with me.
Unreasonably suspicious of new people. Overly optimistic towards friends. Loyal to the point of death. Territorial, jealous of the family, and protective of everyone who's part of "the pack." Not looking for much in others beyond peace and space to exist. Prone to outbursts both good and bad. Approval is its own reward. That's a dog, and that's me, more or less.
Molly and I bonded during difficult times. At first, she had separation anxiety to the point of staining the carpet if I left her in the house just to bring in the trash cans. For almost two years, she had to be crated every second she wasn't supervised. And she tore her way out of metal wire crates — twice — until I rigged them otherwise. We thought about giving her up, but I decided to stick with her.
Molly and I worked hard on verbal commands and hand signals. I consistently presented myself as the pack Alpha with her, and she responded very well. Her attitude, obedience, nervousness, and so forth improved drastically...as long as I was around. My wife, on the other hand, was sentient furniture, as far as Molly was concerned. For the first few years, the dog reacted to her the same way most adults do to a Roomba. She came around, eventually.
Then, in 2009, I lost my job to the auto industry collapse. I spent 9 months looking for a new one. That doesn't do much for your enthusiasm, or your treat budget. Molly never changed a thing. The job I finally found essentially tricked me into working seven days a week, 13 hours a day, for months on end. Also not good for your person-pet relationship. Still, Molly never changed. It just forced her to like my wife a little more.
In 2011, there came a day-long stretch when Molly suddenly stopped eating, became lethargic, and wouldn't do anything but bury her head in my lap. I got her to the vet right away, but it almost wasn't quick enough. Her kidneys were shutting down. Had I waited until the next morning, she wouldn't have survived. The diagnosis was Addison's disease, which is treatable, but permanent. And the treatment, from a canine perspective, is expensive: monthly shots and daily medicines. But, I stuck with her.
Of course, the medicines made her incontinent. More pills. Stick with her. The incontinence gave her a skin infection. More pills, more medicines. Stick with her. The already-weathered carpet in our house began to look like a Jackson Pollock knock-off. Stick with her. Molly slipped her leash and bit the neighbor's dog. Stick with her. She somehow nosed out a misplaced, one-pound sack of Easter chocolates, and I had to pump activated charcoal — by hand — down her throat. Stick with her. ER visits for allergic reactions. Stick with her. Sensitive stomach. Antacids and more expensive foods, which were frequently returned in a warm pile ten minutes later. Stick with her.
Through all of that, Molly shed fur like it was her full-time job. Living with that dog was like filming a documentary about Tribbles. We burnt up three vacuum cleaners over the years, every one choked to death on soft, luxurious clods of fur. Stick with her.
Not that life was all bubbles and sunshine for Molly, either. I could be impatient, irrational, and unfair to her. Stick with him. When work was tight, days at a time went by where she didn't get much more than food and water; the wife and kids and house and job got all the rest of my time. Stick with him. I found a new job with a rotating schedule; she was up and down all hours of the day. Stick with him. We had two kids, so space and time and money weren't her friends any more. Stick with him. A few serious health issues robbed me of energy and enthusiasm. Stick with him.
No matter what, Molly was always the typically-canine optimist. Even as the years went on, she was always glad to see me home, sad to see me leave. Never done being petted. She still barked at her treats and flipped them in the air, albeit slower and less frantically. She still followed commands. Distrusted feathers. Still hated other dogs with a burning passion. She still let the kids get away with murder. Still stuck with me.
And she always seemed to know when I needed a pick-me-up. Few things lift your spirits more than having a living creature plop down next to you, just to be. Molly loved to push the top of her head into my stomach, with her eyes squeezed shut, while I rubbed her neck. She'd get up from a dead sleep, walk over to me for petting, and then go right back to her spot.
Time's an undefeated opponent, however, and it started to get the better of her. The kidney disease took a lot out of her. She didn't jump or roughhouse quite as much after the diagnosis. As she aged, Molly developed arthritis and had a hard time with stairs, which are unavoidable in our house. Eventually, I was carrying her up or down every time, because she just couldn't manage it anymore. I could see the writing on the wall.
Then came a morning when her eyes were literally rolling in her head. She was dizzy, quiet, and didn't even want to walk. Phone calls led to options, to discussions, and to the inevitable decision.
One year ago, last week, I took Molly in to the vet, laid her down on a padded couch, and held her head while the nurses euthanized her. She was four months past her 13th birthday. We'd been together for more than a decade: longer than I'd been a father, longer than I'd stayed at any job, and long enough to make her a legitimate part of my identity. And, like I'd promised, I stuck with her, even on the couch. Eye to eye, and nose to nose, right to the end.
It was my decision to put her down, and the right time. That didn't stop me from sobbing like a wrecked child for the next two days straight.
People often joke that when you feed, house, and play with a dog, they assume you must be God — as opposed to cats, who interpret all that to mean they are God. That analogy was never far from my mind when I owned Molly. When I failed, or fell short as a pet owner, it reminded me of how far from God I am, as a human being. When she was difficult, obstinate, or just plain stupid, I thought of how aggravating it must be for God to watch me mangling all the good things He's giving me. And dogs prove how much joy — simple, innocent, blissful pleasure — there is in just being loved by someone you care for.
I honestly don't know if all dogs go to heaven. I'm not sure when, if, or how a relationship like that fits into God's plan for eternity. But as far as I'm concerned, there's something divine about the relationship God gives some of us with four-legged animals. Whether she's there in person or not, Molly's influence will certainly carry into eternity, at least in me.