It was my birthday yesterday, and I had to lay down Mister President, my dog of ten years, to rest forever. All things considered, my family and I were fortunate in that we were able to say goodbye to him in the home we shared with him, where he could be comfortable and unafraid; his veterinarian came to us in the afternoon, counseled us, administered the sedative and then the euthanasia drug, consoled us, and took away his body to be cremated.
Afterwards I took a walk to Ft. Greene Park, about a mile away. Mister President and I used to walk there several mornings each week, during off-leash hours. I sat down near the trees where I used to chase him for fun; it was one of his favorite games. The weather was uncharacteristically mild for late autumn; clear and with bright golden hues from a warm, low-slung sun.
Still, I had already begun to feel a chill in his absence, like a draft coming in through an open window at the other end of a room. Beyond the window feels like emptiness, a void. I miss my dog.
Throughout Mister President’s shockingly fast decline, I’ve been struggling to express exactly why he meant so much to me, why I loved him so dearly. In some ways this is something that can go unsaid, because when you tell people you’re losing your dog, they instinctually seem to understand what’s at stake. Dogs are dogs, and they are designed to be loved.
But I think it’s important, at least for me, to articulate it more fully, and I’m only now starting to be able to do that.
This is what I’ve come up with: Mister President came to me at the height of my selfishness, during a time of my life when, fundamentally, I was interested only in myself, despite all the relationships I’d had up until that point. And when he came to me, he taught me how to care for someone else, to devote myself to someone else, to really love someone else — unreservedly and unconditionally .
When I look back, I had never learned to do that before, at least not as an adult. I have always loved my parents and my sister in that way, but I’d never been able to muster what it takes to truly love someone new — until I brought home that furry, awkward mutt.
In this way, he saved me. Without him, I don’t know if I would have been ready to fall in love with Laura when I met her, and more importantly, I don’t know if I would have known how to sustain that love. And without Mister President, I don’t know if I would have been equipped to care for and truly love our wonderful daughter.
In and of themselves, those are two enormous gifts that he gave me. This is what dogs do, I guess. You think you’re doing all the giving. But they give you more than you know in return.
I really loved that dog.
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