Content warning: the dog doesn’t make it out of this one alive.

I figured it out this time–how to mourn a dog. Even though this was technically my tenth dog loss, it’s first dog I mourned properly.

Every other time, I immediately adopted a new dog or had a new dog thrust upon me. This doesn’t really give the original dog their due. It rolls the attachment almost neatly into the new dog. Was my most recent dog really ten dogs in one? Maybe.

He was gentle and curious and he was never correctly socialized. He moved in too fast with nervous dogs and tried to mount proud dogs. All his instincts for making friends went sideways. I used to apologize for his bad manners toward other dogs. I did this for years and let it slide until he was very old.

At that point, I had to admit I could have tried harder to help him overcome his disadvantages instead of just apologizing for him. Talk is cheap, and when you are lazy about pets it is very cheap indeed. It wasn’t his fault. He wasn’t fixed in a state of idiocy, until he was. Dogs.

He never bit anyone, and he never caught a squirrel, despite being extremely fast on his paws. He ruined a birthday party and nearly drowned in a neighbor’s pool, and once he ate a birdhouse in a state of frenzied confusion. He occasionally ran away from me when I was trying to coax him home. On one of his runabouts, he boarded the school bus and delighted the children as much as he distressed the bus driver.

Really, he had sufficient adventures for ten dogs.

At the end of his life, new people still stopped what they were doing to admire him and ask what he was. I resisted saying, “A dog.” I never ran his DNA and he wasn’t talking.

Now, I come home to a place that is not coated daily in spiky fur. No cloudy eyes mutely insist on a walk. No one gets stuck under my bed until they poop in frustration.

The entire zoo experience of the home is greatly reduced. I still find toys and accessories, realize I have dog food to spare, and recognize I am oddly grateful for the cat.

The cat has taken to greeting me in a very doglike fashion. She would be horrified to know that I consider this her tribute to our fallen pal. She must miss him, even if she won’t admit it.

It seems to me that it’s important to simply miss him, even though it hurts. Having a cry whenever it happens, and telling people why–even if it’s uncomfortable–has been incredibly helpful. Neighbors I didn’t know well have offered to come to a memorial I didn’t expect to host.

People are usually incredibly kind if you let them know what is beating you up from the inside. Eventually you can say the thing without the tears and at that point, you don’t need to say the thing any longer.

So one month later, I can talk about him and I can greet lovely dogs without tears. I have fewer and fewer lapses in which I slip for an instant into a different slice of time where there is still a big brown dog nearby.

I understand why we always brought in more dogs. It soothes that very sort of slip. When you reach for the leash, there is somebody on the other end again. Another Max. For a while.


Don’t have time to appreciate your pets? Then you probably should not buy my book! Or subscribe to my piebald newsletter. What happened to my next new book, you may wonder. I have so many excuses they have formed a large cloud labeled the no excuse cloud. It’s fine. I forgive me and you can too!

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