For the Love of Dog
So Much More than A Bit Much
February is Love Month here at A Bit Much. Love freely–or don’t. Drop a comment or a like either way! *This post doesn’t have a Your Turn. Comment freely nonetheless.
My first dog lived for three months. Molly–or Molly I, if you read below. She was a beautiful chocolate lab with green eyes. But we lived on a very busy street without a fenced-in yard. One day while I was at school, she got loose and a speeding car didn’t see her coming.
That was the first time I ever saw my dad cry.
My second dog, Molly II, was a rescue from our neighbors. (They named her Molly; it was a coincidence, not an obsession with that name) They gave their elementary-school daughter a Pomeranian and a rambunctious lab mix. It did not go well for the lab. I saw that child break a broom handle across Molly’s back. After that, Molly started staying at our place more and more until, eventually, she was ours. But Molly was wild as a young dog, and I did not have the knowledge or patience to train her.
We dropped out of obedience school together. I still laugh and shake my head at that memory, a 14-year-old girl trying to teach a 65lb dog to heel. She just dragged me around instead. Dad, why was that my responsibility??
But before both of those, of course, was Skye. My grandparent’s dog. A magnificent Golden Retriever and very sweet girl. They named her after the area of Scotland our branch of Clan McDonald came from. It’s not a secret that I chose my name in tribute to my heritage, but I laughingly admit that the dog got the moniker first. (“We named the dog Indiana.”)
Dogs were always part of my life. But I didn’t know they were part of my soul until Winston.
I know not everyone is a dog person. I know that even people who have dogs aren’t always dog parents–meaning, the dog is the family pet, not a family member. I know some people like dogs but never want to have one. Indeed, the saying that it’s like having a perpetual toddler seems fair. They always need you. They are not nearly as autonomous as cats and require a lot more time and work in order to be healthy and well-adjusted.
One of the best dates I ever went on got cut short by dog-mom life. We’d met for drinks in the afternoon and wound up talking for hours. Around 8, I had to reluctantly say goodbye because I knew I had a pup at home waiting for dinner. Luckily, the fella and Winston were both cool about it. Even in my wildest single days, I never stayed away overnight when Winston was home. My boy needed me. (Co-parenting with my ex, however, allowed me to adventure at least a little!)
But bigger than the responsibility is the soul contract you enter into when you let a dog into your heart.
The pups of my childhood were family dogs. They were around. Amusing and a bit frustrating when I was a teen. Sweet and fun without being too much of a burden to me. But when I got Winston, I understood a whole new level of bond with a living being.
He chose us, my ex and I. Of the litter, he was the one who stuck by us when the others romped away. I’d never seen nor heard of Corgis until I moved to Brooklyn, but as soon as I did, I was obsessed. I had the name before I had the dog. Winston was a “fluffy,” which is a recessive gene and “very serious flaw” in the show dog world. But he was perfect. Hilarious, aloof, loving, and oh-so adorable.
I got hollered at once by construction workers. Actually, he did: “Miss, that’s a beautiful dog.” People broke into smiles whenever he trotted by. It was a magical thing to witness, the transformation of expressions from bored or slight scowls to soft-eyed awe. Winston could do that. Just by being himself.
He saw me through radical life changes. Through a divorce, a soul journey, and beyond. For most of his life, I worked as a teacher. Then, I had to go traveling to find myself which led to an upended existence for him. My ex used to shuttle him between our apartments in a little wagon attached to a bicycle. Win just (literally) rolled with it all. I promised him that one day, I would be home more and we would have a backyard to hang out in together. The pandemic helped me fulfill that promise. We moved out of the city and into a house with a backyard after months of lockdown life together in NYC.
He got to enjoy the yard for about two weeks. But I kept my promise.
I don’t want to talk about his death. I want to explain how he was my softness when I’d grown too hard and tough by years of unexamined living. How he was my strength when my heart softened and broke from tearing my world apart. He was my friend, my little man, my heart in a furry ginger body. I want you to understand that I am not a biological mother, but I am a dog mom. I am sure that, if I had a child, the bond would be unique and dazzling. Unlike any other. But I am not naive when I say that I have known pure and potent love even so. I never thought I could love a being as much as I love Winston.
The afternoon of Win’s death, I walked into the new house and shuddered. The emptiness was palpable. I knew that, eventually, I would need a dog to brighten the space. But my grief for Winston was deep. It ran through most of the traditional stages. I figured as I waffled between melancholy and guilt that a new companion was for future me.
“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans,” as Lennon said. Lincoln was born a week after Winston left this world. Through an unexpected series of mini-inflection points, he joined the family only two months after letting Winston go. I was glad to have puppy energy in the house and very consciously refused to compare him to Win. Lincoln was never a replacement dog; he is, and always was, himself. I wanted to honor that, even though I suspected I’d never love a dog as much as I loved (love) Win.
Funny how I tell myself not to talk in declaratives and then do it anyway.
Because I do love Link as recklessly deeply as I love(d) Win. I again have those moments where I look at him, and my heart just fills with light, and I think, “He is so perfect.” I thought that of Win, too. I was right about both of them, of course.
I know I am as attached to Link as I was to Win, but different. I’m at a different level of self-knowing now. In a different chapter of life. My heart understands more than it did when I got Winston. I’m trying to show up as my best self, my more evolved self, for Lincoln. I always want to be the best I can. I want my dogs to know they are safe and protected. I think I did alright for Win. I’m doing it better for Link.
When you love a dog, you enter into a soul contract. A dog’s love is unconditional. If you are its person, you are The One for them. People say, “they’re like family” when a dog crosses the rainbow bridge. I know it’s meant to be kind, but it is incredibly erroneous. They are not like family. Family is complicated. Messy. Frustrating.
Dogs are unfiltered love.
Maybe that’s why our time with them never feels like enough. The potency of love like that is so compelling, but we know it doesn’t last forever. And yet, for dog people, we do it again and again. We know the downside, we’ve assessed the cost–and we say yes. Yes, I will love this being who asks for little more than love in return. I will hurt because it’s worth it. Because the reward is so great. I don’t regret opening my heart because it means I’ve known something perfect and pure.
This post is for all my fellow dog people, but especially for Wilbur the Corgi’s parents. My friends, he’ll be waiting for you at the bridge. Photos below of my boys with Wilbur. Very happy they both got to know him.