I am baby-sitting my friends dog, Ruby, this week. Ruby is a love. She is a rescued dog, (always the best), goes to University of Pittsburgh each Tuesday as a therapy dog (for homesick freshman) and she lost a front leg to cancer last year. As I write this she is on the couch with me (don’t tell Tom) snoring. I love reaching over to rest my hand on her.
My dog, Jeff, died unexpectedly, last October. Tom and I had gone to NJ for the weekend to visit my mom who was in the hospital. My son, Landon, watched Jeff. He called that Friday night concerned, “Mom what’s wrong with Jeff?” He explained Jeff had fallen down and peeed himself. I had no idea what was wrong, but figured I would take him to the vet on Monday. Saturday morning the phone rang. I knew from the tightening in my belly, Jeffie had died. I have been bereft every since. I didn’t say good-bye, tell him I loved him, I wasn’t there for him as he had been for me through so many difficult times.
Jeff and I were soul mates. We were. And not just he and I knew this. Friends, my kids, and neighbors described our connection this way. Twelve years ago Jeff showed up on my door step in the dead of an icy winter accompanied by a very large female dog. Ergo Mutt and Jeff. I let them in, bathed them, introduced them to our yellow lab and two cats and settled in to find them homes. Two weeks later, Jeff woke me in the middle of the night. Mutt was in labor. He laid next to her the while she and I delivered her 8 pups. Several of them looked like Jeff. He was a love, too.
When My X husband and I separated, Jeff assumed that empty side of the bed was now his domain. He made himself at home on the quilt, put his head on the pillow, and slept with me for the next 4 years. I would poke him saying, “Jeff, stop snoring.” He would. My x never did. He was my close companion, he always wanted to be touching me. I felt safer when we were together. When I started to date, Jeff was my guide. If he didn’t like a guy, I didn’t either. When he did, I paid attention because Jeff was not an easy sell. He was selective. He never liked my x. He loved Tom.
He moved to Pittsburgh with me. Poor guy had never pooped on a leash before. And I had never picked it up before. We both got the hang of it, but not without a lot of complaining. We would look at each other incredulously asking, “You want me to do what?”
Sometimes he came to work with me. One summer he came with me to the Heroines Journey Intensive I was co leading. Each evening at our group gatherings he would walk around the large circle of women, noticing each and inevitably sit in the lap of the women in the most need of comfort. As I said before, he was a love.
My kids think I need to get another dog. My daughter says I am depressed. They worry about me when I am nice to the stink bugs as I carry them outside. My eyes fill when I tell them it is not another dog I want, it is Jeff. I miss Jeff!! I think they get it. I still find his hair on my black slacks. I don’t get mad anymore.
Watching Ruby has been healing for me. I am forgiving myself for not saying good bye or being there for him as he died. Being with Ruby has reminded me that dogs don’t criticize the same way I do. Dogs, especially rescued dogs, never forget the value of love, giving it and receiving it. Their love has no degrees, it stays secure. Jeff knew I loved him. He never questioned that. It is me that can question the solidity of love. I tell myself that if I didn’t say good bye, properly, Jeff didn’t know I loved him. Being with Ruby has opened my eyes and heart. Jeff knew.
Landon said that when he found Jeff the morning he had a smile on his face. Landon’s girlfriend confirmed this. I was skeptical “ You sure it wasn’t a grimace?” I asked. Both, shook their heads, “No” they said in unison, “I’ve never seen anything like it, it was a smile.”
I love you….