Thursday, February 28, 2013

a tribute to our animal companions

I found out in my 20s that sharing something beautiful makes it twice as beautiful, whether you share it with a human companion or an animal companion. I've walked dogs every day since 1986. Today, the last day of February 2013, marks the first time in almost 30 years I haven't walked a dog (usually two dogs). I can't begin to tell you how hollow that feels. Today it's in the 50s F and the sun is shining, the sky is blue, a fresh wind is blowing. What should have happened this morning was I should have gone into the garage where the dog sleeps, woken him up (if he wasn't up already), had a great reunion of smiles and tail wags and fur rubs, then headed out along the frozen creek and out under the gleam of the white-capped Rockies for another adventure. We'd have seen magpies and ravens and nuthatches and chickadees. We'd have seen whitetails and mulies and maybe a fox or a set of cougar tracks. There'd have been other dogs to greet and my dog would have found many fascinating smells to smell. We'd have gone out in joy and returned in even more joy. Before Alaska and his mate Denali there was Yukon and his mate Nahanni - Alaska and Denali purebred Malamutes, Yukon and Nahanni golden labs crossed with coyote. When we lost Yukon we knew we wanted a breed with long muzzles, sharp ears, bushy tails, and a look that said Northern and wilderness. By a striking blessing, I was grieving over the loss of Yukon, our white male lab-coyote, when we found a place that offered Alaskan Malamutes and picked up Alaska and Denali. The mother that raised them (they were just seven weeks) was Nahanni. They adored her. She may have been half their size but they bonded to her and went with her wherever she decided to go. Losing her was as cruel as losing Yukon but at least we had the puppies. Now all my dogs are gone. I feel like I died along with them. When Alaska left us yesterday there were no puppies to turn to for a renewal of joy and life. I should have shared the morning sunshine and mountains with Alaska today. Should be able to cross to the window now and seeing him lying in the sun by his beloved 100 foot high pines and Colorado blue spruce. But the beauty is half as beautiful today because I can't share it. The kids are grown up and at university now. My wife is an RN and at the clinic. And all the dogs I have loved are in a different reality now that I can't be part of. I write my books alone now but I have one blessing - Kokomo, my 4 year old tabby cat. Who doresn't know where her big brother Alaska has gone. Ah, the walk with the silent companions. Not just with dogs but cats too. And the communion with pet birds within the house. And other animals as well. Sure, dogs bark or woof and have their spoken language, cats meow and purr, horses knicker and whinny and stamp their hooves, birds whistle and sing and call. But most of the relationship is in silence. A rich warm silence of eyes and tails and feathers and fur. My dogs spoke to me without English or French or Spanish. They had the universal language of love down pat. It makes for a different depth of relationship than you get with most humans. There are words and commands but the relationship does not rely on words and commands. The relationship relies on what is said with the eyes and the tone of the voice and with the heart. I remember weeping over the death of my mother and Yukon and Nahanni coming to me, their eyes so sad and dark and full, and both putting their paws in my lap at the same time, giving me what they could to comfort me. When I wept over the death of Nahanni my puppies Alaska and Denali stayed close and curled up beside me, refusing to leave me while I grieved. I spent all of February 27th with Alaska, starting at midnight with his first seizure, and staying with him all night and morning and afternoon until the end, petting him, brushing him, kissing him, putting my head close to his and telling him I loved him. He was never the kisser his sister Denali was. She'd always lick you to death. Alaska saved his kisses for certain moments and certain times. As I rubbed and petted Alaska yesterday, as the end drew closer, he stretched up with his head and licked my hand, something he had hardly ever done. I have that love touch to console me. It does not console me much because I want the reality back that was behind it. If I was writing my story I would be able to go to the window now and see all four of the dogs I've lost romping together and the cat I've lost romping with them. And seeing that miracle I'd be out the door in a shot and playing with them again as we played so many times over so many years. It's not my story and I'm not writing it so I sit here at my laptop and dream. If I could do it all over again, knowing the pain of the loss of each one of my animal companions, I wouldn't hesitate, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. Yes, I am in a lot of pain now but the beauty that came before it and that still lives inside me is tremendous. My animal companions changed my life, made me a better man, brought me closer to others and to my God, blessed me forever. So when I weep I weep tears of joy as well as tears of sorrow, tears of thankfulness as well as tears of loss, tears of praise as well as tears of mourning. I thank God this was my story and they were the heroes and heroines in it. And I hope people are right and the better ending is still to come.