First, I beseech you to please read this letter.
Linford and Karin, aka Over the Rhine, had to put their dog, Willow, to sleep. The way Linford wrote about it just tore me up. It set me weeping, and when I called Ben I could barely speak through my tears. There is something about the death of a dog that is unlike anything else. It's a different kind of grief than losing a human, I think because our own fears of dying color the way we absorb human loss.
Even before this letter, I'd been thinking a lot about the second dog our family had, Carmen. Carmen died after eating a ton of dried apricots, which were wrapped up under the Christmas tree as a gift for me. It was terrible - she wasn't the healthiest dog, but she was doing better, and she had at least a few more good years in her. I've been thinking about Carmen because I feel such guilt when I think about her, and not just because she was poisoned by my Christmas present. I didn't have much of a relationship with Carmen. I didn't spend hours every day fawning over her. I didn't walk her twice a day. We were only a fraction away from being more or less indifferent about one another. I was nine when we got her, and I guess I just never developed any sense of ownership or responsibility for her.
Now Ben and I have this dog, Deacon, whom I positively spoil with affection. I love this dog so unbelievably much. I love the way he looks under cars for cats. I love that he acted like he was on canine crack last night when we gave him an organic bison treat. I love that he paws at us when he wants to be scratched. He is loved, and he responds with incredibly gentle and affectionate behavior. I can't handle the fact that we don't know how old he was when we got him, and I don't know how long we'll be blessed by this well-trained flea magnet.
I didn't have this with Carmen, and I'm just so sorry for her and for me. Anne Lamott writes that being in the presence of a dog is like being in the presence of God, but I think you have to be paying attention.