I said goodbye to my girl yesterday, eight years after we met in the Missoula pound. She was three years old then, and huge. Her papers listed her as a lab/husky/shepherd/pointer, which is pound-speak for “giant mutt.” I’m convinced she was part wolf.
She tried to get in the shower with me the first night she came home, unclear on the concept that once in a while she actually had to let me out of her sight. She never voluntarily left my side since.
I learned in the spring that she had cancer, a tumor on her liver slowly eating away at her lifespan. I’ve known since March that we were on borrowed time, every day with her an extra one to be thankful for—but I still wasn’t ready for this.
My dog was not just a dog. Some of us have dogs that are just dogs, and the rest of you know what I’m talking about: the ones that are smart, empathetic, like an extension of you. The ones that know every twist and turn of your days, that you tell your secrets to, that know you.
I read a book once that said that we’re born into the same circle of souls throughout time, and once in a great while those souls find their way into the bodies of animals. We don’t always find the souls in our circle with the right timing in a given lifetime, but sometimes we get lucky.
I called my dog my canine soulmate.
I find myself chronicling the lasts. The last time we went backcountry skiing. Our last float. Our last backpacking trip. Our last walk to the creek.
I can’t imagine getting in my truck for a road trip without her sprawled across the back seat. I can’t imagine sleeping in my two-person tent without her filling the other spot. I can’t even think about waking up without her good morning snuggle, or coming home to the thundering absence of her wagging tail and excited little dance. I can’t even remember what it feels like without her company.
She kept loneliness at bay for me, just the two of us on long nights at home with the music on low. She was my adventure buddy, and I did so many more solo trips because she was with me—because I wasn’t really solo then.
I said goodbye to her in the same house I brought her home to all those years ago, a beautiful closing of the loop of the four other houses in between, my time abroad when she waited patiently for me to come back to her, and all our myriad adventures. My sister and I used to have two armchairs in the living room of that house, and she would lie between them and talk to us. She passed with my sister’s hand on her head, my parents on either side, looking into my eyes.
A close friend told me that when our dogs get old and we have to think about the unthinkable, it helps us come to terms with mortality and understand how to grant death with dignity, compassion, and empathy. And above all, it teaches us how to value life on a grander scale.
And to channel Ben Moon, our dogs teach us that every time someone you love walks through the door, to go totally insane with joy. I’ll miss that the most.