It was a normal, insignificant day, the kind of day where the sight of grown man covering his face with his hands, shoulders heaving, was not what I expected as I rounded the corner.
It was a scene especially surprising because I was accustomed to his smiling face and cheerful greetings as I passed his workstation on a regular basis.
When I asked if he was alright, he turned to me a little embarrassed, wiping his eyes, and said simply, “My dog died.”
A phrase universally used to describe a long face or sullen mood, it’s meaning took on new significance as he talked about his pal of many years.
She’d been getting older and they’d dreaded the thought they’d have to put her to sleep.
But even though they’d known to prepare themselves, as time went by, she managed to fool them into thinking she might live forever.
It was strange, he said, she knew she was getting older too but she pushed on, doing things she shouldn’t have been able to do at her age and as each day passed, he knew it just wasn’t time yet, to wait just a little longer — to let her tell him if she needed his help.
In her final act of independence and maybe a little defiance, he said she made her way to a quiet place and laid down like she had thousands of times before, and that’s where he found her.
Even though it shouldn’t have been a surprise and logically it wasn’t, he was still expected to see her greet him when he arrived home each evening and felt like part of himself was missing.
It had been a couple days since she’d died, but something about that quiet moment in the work day had opened up the memories of her and the loss had struck anew, right about the time I walked past.
When it comes to the death of a pet, I don’t think it matters if you know it’s coming and live the countdown with your dear friend, or if they suddenly go from 60 to zero overnight — it leaves a big empty hollow spot in your world.
There’s something different about the way we interact with our pets, unique even to our human interactions. They are always there — underfoot as you walk to the fridge in the middle of the night, content to watch you read for hours, watching out the window when you get home — It’s a relationship like none other.
And after they’ve gone, when you look back through the family photos, you realize that while the human faces came and went over the years, they were there for every birthday, every Christmas, every important moment.
From the minute they enter our lives, we know the days are numbered, but a comfort sets in over the years because they’re always there wagging their tails and ready with a nuzzle.
It’s the most poignant downside to loving dogs, who we get so little time with in the greater scheme of things.
When the gray hairs start emerging around the muzzle, it’s easy to ignore.
But then those once sharp, bright eyes go soft and their sniffing becomes a natural version of doggy Braille. And instead of jumping up when you walk past like they used to, the tail just thumps against the floor and you know they’re jumping on the inside instead because it takes too much energy to stretch the joints.
Before long, they start to confuse things, barking in alarm when someone closes the bathroom and missing the doorbell all together.
And then one day they’re gone — no eyes between the curtains, no lump at the foot of the bed to trip over in the dark and instead of clicking claws on the tile beside you, yours are the only feet padding to the fridge in the middle of the night, no friend vying with your shadow for time with you.
But surely when you’ve been loved so unconditionally, that can’t be the end of things.
As Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.”