Sunday, January 20, 2008
DO DOGS HAVE SOULS?
I sure am hoping they do.
Today I decided to dedicate my blog post to a very special friend who left on November 28th. Yes, you can guess it by the subject line. Kaydee, my oh-so-loved yellow lab, finally lost her battle with life, old age and cancer.
Damn it stung to lose her. So badly that I couldn’t even talk about it aloud for days without getting a bitter lump that nearly choked me. I guess you’d have to be a huge animal lover to understand that emotion. You see, in our house our animals are an integral part of our family. So much so that they receive gifts on Christmas morning from Santa Claus – something that my grown children still consider a cherished memory; and so much so that we’d never consider spending a weekend at the lake or a ride in the boat without one of them at the helm. I know, a little nutsy, but I could never help myself. I just love my pets. In fact, I have a girlfriend that insists she wants to come back as one of my pets if reincarnation is an actual thing.
I remember the day we brought Kaydee home. She was this tiny little yellow bundle of energy with a velvet coat, warm and wet kisses and a tail that didn’t stop wagging, and it was instant love, one that continued for thirteen years even through those first puppy unconventional behaviors of chewing, peeing and whining throughout the night. I remember admonishing her for her bad behaviors and her looking at me with those beautiful brown eyes and ears tucked back as if saying, “I promise to never do it again…well, at least for another hour or so.”
Kaydee came into her own when she turned one year old. She became my appointed personal guardian and nothing and no one would ever change her mindset. We live close to a lake which one would think is a dog nirvana—especially when that dog is a water-loving lab. I learned early on that I couldn’t swim with her. I think Kaydee couldn’t stand the fact that there was a possibility I might drown, even if I was standing in water only up to my knees. And lord help me if a dove in because she was there with panic-stricken eyes and flailing paws and a gentle but firm mouth trying to pull me back to shore. The scratches weren’t worth it. But it was done out of her love for me because she never exhibited this behavior with anyone else. Just me.
Another funny thing that used to make the kids howl with laughter was when we all went sliding in the winter. The kids and my husband would be whipping down a frozen snow-packed hill, having the time of their lives. Me? Well, I’d be on the sled and Kaydee would gently, but again firmly, hold my gloved hand or jacket covered sleeve in her mouth and WALK me down the hill. No way was that dog gonna chance me getting hurt by going too fast. It was hysterical, but again it was her love for me.
Kaydee was that once-in-a-lifetime pet that you never forget. My kids used to use her as their outfielder when playing baseball in the yard. Since there were three of them, one would be pitcher, one would be catcher, and one would be the batter. And that goofy lab sat in the outfield, chasing hit balls and bringing them back before racing back to her place ready to fetch the next hit. And football…oh my gosh. She could leap six feet off the ground, catch that football in her paws and come to a rolling stop with her tail wagging a mile a minute!
We learned early on that the fishing boat didn’t leave shore without her. She’d take her spot at the very front, dig her toenails in for balance and sniff the air. She had her spot in the back seat next to the window when riding in the vehicle and lord help the kid that tried to push her to the middle! She was my walking partner that always looked after me. If a car was coming down the road, she gently shouldered me closer to the ditch and sat in front of me as we waited for the passing traffic.
Never was there a night that she didn’t put her paws up on the mattress beside me to kiss me goodnight. I think that was my favorite part of the day. She’d give me a soft lick and burrow her head into the crook of my neck. I always responded with a hug, a soft stroke to those velvet ears, a gentle pat to her head and a kiss on her nose and of course a whisper that I loved her. Then she’d stretch out beside me on the floor and snore through the night. Can you imagine thirteen years of waking up during the night or early in the morning and having to feel with my feet so I could step over her instead of tripping into the dresser because she wasn’t moving for nothing!
Last spring, age and illness began its insidious march through her body. I knew that our limited days together were quickly piling one atop another. I remember the look in my husband’s eyes, a quiet reminder that yes, at some point I was going to have to make a decision, but I’d quickly toss it away and instead, find a special treat for my friend. Like an ostrich, I buried my head in the sand hoping to stop time, hoping to have this wonderful dog in my life forever. So when she couldn’t put her paws up on the mattress to kiss me goodnight, instead I cuddled with her on the floor to stroke her, to memorize the smell of her fur and the feel of her soft ears against my fingers. She’d sigh happily and her tail would thump against the carpet. She actually smiled. Instead, when summer rolled around, I sat at the water’s edge with her body leaning against mine and my arm wrapped around her as we watched the ducks swim by. Our walks turned into a slow stroll to the mailbox at the end of the driveway because her old and sick limbs just couldn’t go any farther.
When the front steps became too much for her, we lifted her down so she could lay in the yard and watch the squirrels scurry from one tree to another instead of playing the game of chasing them from one to another. The leaves were turning to the bright colors of fall and she’d lift her head to sniff the coming of winter.
And my husband would silently give me that look. I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I had to do one more thing for my friend. It was just a matter of me coming to terms with it.
I sit here in my office, typing and almost expecting to hear her breathing as she lies beside me on the rug. And I remember how I felt this past December – I would never put myself through this again. I just missed her too much. I still miss her. It was too painful not having her here with me anymore. Then I think of what I would have missed, the simple joy of Kaydee’s utter and unconditional love. Was the pain of having to say goodbye worth it? You bet it was. I would have missed out on so much if those thirteen years hadn’t happened.
So, the question. Do dogs have souls? Unequivocally, yes. I have to believe that because someday we’ll meet again. I’m sure she’ll be sitting at that gate, ready to protect me and to walk by my side. Her tail will thump wildly, her warm tongue will swipe my face and that furry hug that I have so missed, will warm my heart again.