I remember bringing you home. Having grown up with an old fat cat, the promise of a puppy seemed wild and new and I was bouncing with excitement when we finally arrived at the place you'd been born. You were outside with the rest of your brothers and sisters and I was slightly taken aback because in my young mind, puppy = tiny. You were not tiny. "Puppy" I later learned, could mean mental and/or physical age. Your body was already too big to pick up, but your mind was still full of play.
Play I didn't understand at first. Your wild excitement at everything scared me after so many years with a docile cat that slept more than she played. Yet there were so many things you were afraid of too: stairs, water, new people, doors, and more. Dad coaxed you up the back steps with treats and when we tried to invite you inside, you nervously lay on our back deck for hours. "Inside" was a new land you'd never been permitted into before.
Even after you knew you were allowed inside, you stayed outside. Our cat ruled inside and you enjoyed laying out in the sunshine on our back deck, trotting through the yard with Dad whenever he came out to work, pulling everyone along on walks, chasing squirrels, and excitedly making new friends with fellow neighborhood dogs. On hot days you burrowed under Dad's outbuilding into dirt and leaves that your nose loved to explore. On cold days we kept you inside, but I'll never forget Mom throwing you your first snowball, which you tried to catch and searched for in confusion after it broke.
You're old now. Our cat passed away and you spent and more time inside until today, when you happily make loops around our first floor looking for whichever human needs your presence. Although you're no longer afraid of stairs, you can't conquer them easily anymore, and we have to walk you through our front door and around to the back yard. But you don't stay outside long, even on good days. Inside has soft carpet and chew toys and us.
My childhood fear of a wild puppy disappeared long ago. We both grew up, and now you're a friend, a constant presence whenever I come home from college, one of the sad faces I have to say goodbye to whenever I leave. I discovered the spot on your belly that makes your leg twitch when someone scratches it. You're happiest when someone plays with your ears. You love rolling onto the floor so that your head lands in my lap at just the right angle. Most of your black fur has faded to gray on your face, but you still smile. You have grown old beautifully.
We found out two weeks ago that you have cancer. We have tricked you every night into swallowing pills hidden in peanut butter, hot dogs, bread, cheese, and whatever else keeps you from realizing that you need medicine, although you're too smart, and are starting to figure us out.
You don't pull us on long walks anymore. If you get out for a walk at all, it's ten quiet minutes of exploration and slow feet. We let you choose where to go, knowing you enjoy the freedom but that your legs can't take much of it anymore. Keeping you inside and taking you out are both acts of love.
Love is what I must thank you for. Thank you for teaching me about love. You love us unconditionally. When we tie a cone on your head to protect the stitches on your leg from your own mouth, you love us even though you don't understand. When Dad came home from a surgery, the first thing you did was try and comfort him. When Mom came home from a few days in the hospital, the sound of your happily wagging tail was her welcome march. Whenever my sister and I come home from college, you are always greeting us, even though we have been away for so long. Your faithful love reminds me of how God loves me. He loves me no matter what, just like you do.
Your trust shows me how I should trust God. You hate that protective cone, but you still trust us when we tie it on. God has probably put some protective cones on my life and I, lacking trust, try to get past them. When we go on vacation for a week and board you at the vet, you trust us to come back. The minute I don't feel God's presence like I once did, I start to doubt, as if I don't trust how He's working and moving. Thank you for demonstrating trust, that I might learn and apply it to my life.
Thank you for always being happy to see me, for helping me through death and loss, for making me laugh, for teaching me patience, and for being my friend. As your last days wind down, I promise to love you as much as I can and to apply what you have taught me to my life. I do not know whether dogs go to Heaven or what happens when you are gone from this earth, but I hope you will be waiting for me in the next life, where you can run again, and someday run to greet me.
One of your people