The Power of a Dog's Love

By Chey Miller

As I gently stroked the silken, white fur of her throat, I closed my eyes and let my mind wander to that late winter day almost thirteen and a half years ago. Her journey to our house began then in a metal crate in the back seat of our car. Not even a minute away from the warm, familiar world of mama dog and roly-poly siblings, her indignant screams against cold confinement commanded me to set her free. She rode the rest of the way home more or less (mostly less) on my lap, a squirmy, curly-tailed, bright-eyed Basenji pup with bat ears and an insatiable curiosity about the world around her.

She was so different, then, from the frail and silent creature laying next to me now, whose ribs rose and fell almost imperceptibly, barely even felt through my hand. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she opened her eyes and gazed steady and trusting into my own. There was no hint of pain, only the unmistakable weariness. I whispered to her, “Soon, little pup, very soon.”

The years passed so quickly. Her puppyhood was gone, seemingly in a flash—a good thing, in fact, because her antics often were a challenge to our patience and ingenuity. Even when she gave every appearance of being a good dog, we would later discover a hole chewed in a cushion or a new set of teeth marks on a chair leg—treasured mementos, now.

Her long, middle years were her best, and probably mine, as well: a marathon of off-leash rambles through forest and field, away from fast cars on dangerous roads. Reminiscing, I heard again the explosion of wings from the underbrush; saw startled birds shoot skyward, with a little red and white dog dancing beneath them, longing to follow in their wake. I saw white-tailed deer in twos and threes bounding across the open field, with a miniature look-alike in hapless pursuit. (And, once, one even turned and followed her back to us!) I saw her trotting saucily ahead of us on the hike back home, nose in the air as if to sniff out one more adventure, or perhaps a scavenged bone to drag home as a prize.

Through silent tears, I reflected that her ultimate pleasure was eating. I swear, if the mere thought of food entered my mind, she raced me to the kitchen. She loved beets, green beans, broccoli and asparagus nearly as much as meat, fish and dairy. When a late-life disease process nurtured chronic infections, her tendency to eat first and ask questions later made it easy to administer the litany of antibiotics and other palliatives to keep Death at arm’s length.

In the end, it was her lack of appetite that told us it was time. On this final morning, she turned away from an offering of Alaska smoked salmon and lapped just a little water instead. She dropped heavily on her pillow. I settled myself next to her, and I loved her as we awaited the vet’s arrival.

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The Power of the Dog

by Rudyard Kipling

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie—
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart to a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumors, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers, or loaded guns,
Then you will find—it's your own affair
But... you've given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,
You will discover how much you care
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em the more do we grieve:
For when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-term loan is as bad as a long—
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?