What the Love of a Good Dog can Teach us

It was about midnight when we walked in the door from our office holiday party. I kicked off my high-heels and collapsed on the couch where our cheerful, husky-mix dog named Luna was laying on the many multicolored pillows: the ones that I finally gave up trying to spare from a coating of dog hair.

I patted her head and furrowed my brow. “Hey,... What’s wrong with Luna? She didn’t even raise her head when we came in the door just now?” Her belly was tight and distended. We tried offering her a piece of roast beef to get her off the couch and got only a sniff and a sorrowful look in response.

Our dogs Franny and Luna with my nephew.

Our dogs Franny and Luna with my nephew.

THIS was bad. My arms got goosebumps and I held her face in my hands, stroking her soft cheeks with my thumbs. I kissed her head. She licked my face, and I knew it would be our last kisses. Chuck grabbed his coat and headed out the door with her in his arms, heading to the emergency veterinary clinic. Luna did not come home.

What is it about the lovely connections we make with some dogs?

In our family, we’ve had “dog dogs” - regular, pleasant, loyal companions -  and then we’ve had these very rare creatures in our lives that seem to be posing as dogs. They are – somehow – otherworldly.

It’s not like we don’t love the “dog dogs” in our lives, but they have cars to chase, rabbits to kill, and garbage to strewn before they respond to our frantic calls.  The otherworldly dogs… Now THEY know how to be a friend.

In their eyes, we can see ourselves as the center of somebody’s universe.  

No matter our flaws, they greet us like we are Rock-Stars.

No matter our cold-shoulders, they lavish us with kisses and hang on our every word.  

They are perhaps the best role models on the planet for qualities like unconditional love, gratitude, and how to prioritize family and friends.

Our last dog like that was named Franny. She was a big shepherd mix from the pound who graced our lives for 13 years. On a lovely afternoon one spring, I was sitting on the bleachers watching my young son’s basketball game when my phone chirped, and it was our youngest daughter Louisa, age 14, who had stayed home to read under a tree. My phone rang…

LOUISA: “Mom!... Mom!... Franny is not breathing!”

ME: “Where is she Louisa?”

LOUISA: “She’s laying here with her head in my lap! And she’s not breathing!”

ME: “Honey, take a deep breath and get peaceful.  Stroke her head and wish her well. Breath slowly and quietly yourself, hun. This will be ok. Franny’s had an amazing, long life. As bad as this moment feels to you now, remember that no feeling lasts forever and I think someday we will feel that she honored you by choosing to go on from this world with her head in your lap. You are a special person. Beings like you recognize each other.”

Franny – our big ol’ buddy - had a malignant tumor removed the previous week.  She seemed fine but it was inevitable that she would suffer for months, so this kind of passing was a lovely blessing.

Our dog Franny

Our dog Franny

The next day we buried Franny in a place in the yard that we pass every day. The most astonishing cherry tomato plant grew there accidentally that summer, the size of a small car. Every time I walk by that spot I can feel Fran’s thick tail wagging, banging on the floor.  That was always her response to the slightest acknowledgment.

Franny was the kind of dog whose soulful ginger eyes met yours and you knew you were in the presence of a mystery. Have you had that experience? Do these experiences mean that dogs (and other animals for that matter) have souls? Dogs may be the animals that make us contemplate that question the most.

Franny was a constant reminder of what the world would look like if we could emulate our dogs’ graceful decency.

Luna died about two years later, and we were a dogless household for the first time in 32 years.

When Chuck came home without Luna from the emergency vet clinic, we sobbed together for an hour and then there was an empty stillness in the house. It was more than just one less breathing being. I was struck by how loud the silence of a void could be.

What if the criteria for having a soul is that in your passing you leave a “palpable absence”? Then I guess we have an answer to our question: Do animals have souls?

I think it was that great philosopher - Rosanne Cash – (smiley emoji - she’s a famous country western singer) who said:

“What survives us is love.”

And there is nothing quite like the love of a good dog.

Lynda Ulrich