I guess I’m a dog person.
Not everyone is a dog person, but I can tell you, my life is richer and better and happier and funnier and maybe even wiser, thanks to a good dog named Beau.
Beau came into my life and heart 12 years ago next week. My sons were grown and had gone off to college, and my then-husband was almost always gone, and our sweet old yellow lab Jesse had died a couple of months before. It was in many ways an empty season; the house was empty, the marriage was empty, and while work and friends and extended family brought lots of gladness, there was a place in my heart that was feeling kind of empty.
One evening I came home to the quiet empty house. Ever the introvert, quiet empty spaces usually soothe me. But on this night, I walked through the door and bumped into the emptiness. In an effort to fill some of the space, I clicked the remote, and found myself watching the big American Kennel Club dog show, and soon realized I was crying. I missed my kids, and I missed what I had hoped for in marriage, and I deeply missed the dog.
The next day, when I told my friend Linda about it, she said, “Well, maybe you should go to the SPCA and look at the dogs.”
“I’m not ready”, I said.
“Well, you could just look“, she answered. “I’ll go with you.”
A couple of days later, we went to look.
And there was Beau, looking right back at me.
I tried to ignore him. He was in a little pen of little puppies, and I thought it would be more “meaningful”, somehow, if I adopted a grown dog. Everyone loves puppies, I reasoned, but grown dogs need homes too, and besides, it takes a lot of time and energy to raise a puppy. I wasn’t sure I had time and energy to give. And anyway, I reminded myself, I’m just looking.
The nice SPCA lady introduced me to several grown dogs. It was kind of a canine speed-dating experiment. But there was no magic, and anyway I was only there to look. On the way out, I passed the pen with the little puppies, where the card said, “RETRIEVER MIX”. I just looked, really.
Beau looked right into my eyes. I think it’s safe to say we both felt the magic. He was teeny and fluffy and adorable. And he had chosen me. What could I do?
“Golden retrievers really make great pets”, the nice lady said.
The rest of the story is obvious. Except, as it turned out, Beau wasn’t a golden retriever. Maybe, somewhere in his mysterious ancestry, there was a retriever. But he resolutely refused ever to retrieve.
He grew to be a pretty big guy, about 60 pounds, but he barked like a beast, and he was loyal and protective and sweet beyond description. He was still in his first year when he and I left the empty marriage, and moved into a little efficiency apartment that I called my “sufficiency”. We had some sketchy neighbors, but I was safe with a dog who could bark like that. We ran together every morning, walked the neighborhood every evening, cried when we needed to, and learned to do life again.
We eventually moved into a condo, and then finally a house with a yard. He never waivered in his affection or his protection. Day in and day out, he kept mail carriers from invading our home: every day he barked, every day they walked away. He knew, though, that if I let someone in the door, he was off of guard duty, and he switched to nuzzle mode.
When we began to date a little (and it was “we”: love me, love my dog) he was a dependable judge of character and temperament. Some men never made it past the first introduction. A few were accepted, warily and a little jealously. Tom was the only one Beau really liked. And eventually, they fell in love too.
Last week, Tom and I had to say goodbye to our old dog Beau. He taught us so much. He showed us what gratitude looks like: every meal was a feast! every walk was an adventure! every tummy rub was a lovefest!
My friend (and Beau’s friend) Donna sent these wise words:
Animals teach us about unconditional love, and they often devote their entire lives to this purpose. Their love is not dependent on our behavior. It is strong and unwavering. We do not need to earn it. It is freely given and not arbitrarily withdrawn. We can know this love and feel it at at deep level.” Brian Weiss, M.D, Miracles Happen
How do dogs do that? I don’t know, but I want to learn to live like that. I want to be grateful and eager and fiercely loyal. I want to love completely. I want to learn to love like that, and one of my best teachers has moved on.