On January 6, 2000, the last thing in the world I wanted was a dog.
After five hyper cocker spaniels and a herd of feral cats, I was finished with the inevitable heartaches that are a predictable part of owning animals.
But it was the day after my son’s 12 birthday and all he’d ever wanted was a dog…and you know how easily we’re persuaded by our children’s tears…So that very day, I was determined that the boy was going to get a dog. Within minutes of perusing the ads for animals, we settled on one: “Free to a good home, female, pug mix.”
A very kind woman and her son had rescued the poor furry waif from one of the worst ice storms in Lubbock’s history. The timid little girl had been abused, neglected, and left to die outside of her abuser’s house. The woman had three other rescues and her landlord declared emphatically, “No more dogs!”
So now, Andy and I had a dog.
She was very timid and frightened. She hid under beds, in closets, and in the backyard behind the bushes to escape us. She was skin and bones with an ear infection in both ears. We named her Molly. My son finally had the dog he so desperately wanted.
Even though we shared her care, dogs instinctively sense the leader of the pack. She insisted on sleeping with me that first night, and every night thereafter for over fourteen years.
Completely without training, Molly was an amazingly polite and well-behaved dog from the very beginning. She didn’t bark, bite, or rip shoes to shreds. She could walk anywhere without a leash. She remained obediently by my side without reprimand. With her bug eyes and endearing under bite, she wore a perpetually mournful expression. I thought of the mysterious misery of her first year of life and believed it was the connection to her seriousness.
I spent the next fourteen years making up for her past. I didn’t make her do tricks, dress her up in doggy clothing (although she did have a sweater for winter walks), paint her toenails or squeeze her into ridiculous Halloween costumes or funny hats. One New Year’s Eve, I forced her to wear a tiara. She hid under the kitchen table and afterward, avoided me for days.
Her best years came when I moved to my quirky house by the lake. For her, it meant daily walks in the park (sometimes twice!), playing with her dog friends, and sitting in my lap every evening, gazing at the lake and barking at dogs accompanied by with their owners. She had everything she needed and wanted.
Like a cat with nine lives, Molly survived many health crises, rebounding back to health again and again, through surgeries and accidents, but around her twelfth birthday, her steps slowed, she no longer ran, and her muzzle transformed from brindle to gray. She was disinterested in her toys and preferred to cuddle. She could no longer make the walk around the entire lake or even the trip upstairs to bed.
Two weeks ago, she became ill with a supposed intestinal illness that was soon discovered to be a mass in her abdomen and her condition worsened rapidly, despite multiple trips to the vet. By Saturday afternoon, I knew she was dying. She took her last breath this morning at 9:50 a.m. at home, in the arms of my son. At 11:30, Cimarron Pet Services picked up her body, still wrapped in her favorite blanket. I watched while the truck drove down the street and around the corner, until it disappeared from sight.
My Molly was gone. My heart was broken.
There is a reason why the word “dog” spelled backward is “God”. The unconditional and non-judgmental love of a dog is the closest we will get to the divine during our brief earthly experience. They are our best teachers of how to live out our days.
We build bonds with our animals, the same way we do with our children. It’s not something instinctual or biological; it’s not love-at-first-sight. Those unbreakable bonds are forged by attention, teaching, guidance and companionship; day-in-day-out, no matter how difficult or inconvenient.
Love is merely the by-product.
For the rest of this day, I’ve drifted around in a sad fog. I’ve cleaned and done laundry; all the things I neglected over the past few weeks while caring for my ailing Molly. I washed her favorite food mat and water bowl and put them away. I couldn’t bear looking at them. The house seemed so empty and quiet without her.
To soothe my grief, I sat outside in the summer heat, gazing at the pure white clouds lazily drifting through the azure sky. It was the first peaceful moment I’d had in weeks, but I was still crying and missing her.
After a bit, I felt a strange swelling in my stomach. Maybe it was from hunger or perhaps, hours of crying, but I felt something. I didn’t hear a voice, but I felt words, deep down in my gut. Whether it was a fantasy to comfort myself, I don’t know. But it was an excited child-like voice that I felt. It was saying: “Don’t cry, mommy. They’re throwing balls, lots of balls everywhere. I’m chasing them. I can run now! I can run fast. Watch me! Watch me run, mommy!”
Yes, I’ll watch you, Molly.
Run, Molly, run! Run fast. Go catch the ball. Good dog. Run in peace, Molly. I’ll miss you.
Carol Morgan is a career/college counselor, writer, speaker, former Democratic candidate for the Texas House and the award-winning author of Of Tapestry, Time and Tears, a historical fiction about the 1947 Partition of India. Read her work at the Houston Press and MetroLeader News Service. Email Carol at email@example.com , follow her on Twitter and on Facebook or visit her writer’s blog at www.carolmorgan.org