The Dangerous Privilege of Loving a Dog

11260843_10155902566435411_3526323269060517134_nTuesday was a hard day.

I thought it would be a hard day because it was my first ever live TV interview. I was nervous and excited. I spent extra time with the dogs in the morning giving them an extended playtime outside because I knew they would be cooped up for a good portion of the day. They had their usual crazy runaround and tackle game for a good 20 minutes. Then I leashed Frank to end the shenanigans and took them for a walk.

Tex and Tennessee swirled around us as we walked the perimeter of the pasture. Then we ventured into Gracie-land and they were very polite and respectful, keeping their distance from the grumpy girl dog. At the bottom of the property, Tex spied my neighbor’s goats and immediately assumed the low crouch of a herding border collie, scuttling off towards the road. I panicked for a moment worrying that he would dart across the road to herd the goats, but when I whistled he immediately spun around and raced back to me. Such a good dog.

My interview went fine. It was interesting to see the inner workings of a TV studio and meet the other guests. It was over before I knew it and I was back home again. I took the boys out for a romp, but they tired quickly in the heat and we went back inside. I double checked that there was no food on the counter and nothing I didn’t want chewed to bits within reach and left all three boys gated in the kitchen to go run a quick errand.

When I came home, Frank and Tennessee greeted me at the door. I knew something was wrong the moment I stepped inside. There was an eery smell I can’t describe and the energy felt all wrong. I found Texas lying on the giant Frank bed with his chin on his front legs as if asleep. Only he wasn’t asleep. He was gone.

I still can’t believe it. I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening calling people, looking for clues, trying to figure out how Tex could have just lay down and die. “It happens,” said my neighbor/vet/friend after we’d talked through every possibility. But it still makes no sense to me. He was healthy, happy. Just that day I’d noticed what a shine his coat had gotten. He ate well, had learned to love treats, played and ran and smiled his big border collie smile. He loved wrestling with Frank, always going for Frank’s ankles, probably well aware Frank was too strong and big for him to out-and-out tackle. Watching Tex creep up on my horses, letting it go as far as I dared before calling him off, were some of my favorite dog-moments.

That night when the tears finally slowed, I was angry. One of the reasons I got into fostering was because I didn’t want to ever watch another dog die. Losing my beloved Lucy a year ago just hurt too much. I didn’t want to do it again. I’d rather suffer through a thousand goodbyes than bury another dog. And now that’s exactly what I was doing. I didn’t sign up for this. I was done fostering. No more.

But this morning, walking Tennessee and Frank I reflected on how risky love is. And not just dogs. If you love hard, you will grieve hard. And life wouldn’t be nearly as rich if you didn’t love hard and deep and honest. So that’s what you sign up for when you open your heart to anyone – dog or human. For the privilege of experiencing the beautiful, amazing, unconditional love of an animal you are signing up for the pain of an ending. Is it worth it?

I know it is. Nothing is more worth it.

I’m comforted by the fact it seems Texas didn’t suffer. Dying is inevitable, so a peaceful passing is more than you can ask for. He was a beautiful, amazing, sweet dog. I know by the way he cowered at loud noises and sudden movements that his life didn’t start out so peaceful, but I’m glad that in the end he knew safety and love and happiness. I feel blessed that we were able to give him that, but mostly I feel blessed to have had the privilege to love, even for a short time, such a good dog.DSC_0002

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Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and occasional cowgirl who lives on a hillside farm in Southern York County, PA. You can find information about my books and all my writing adventures on my website CaraWrites.com.

13 thoughts on “The Dangerous Privilege of Loving a Dog”

  1. Tex had a very good place for his last days, didn’t he? Where else could he have gone for long walks/runs, stalk a few goats and horses, and wrestle with other dogs? Thanks for fostering. And you are right. Opening our hearts to love also leaves us vulnerable to the inevitable pain of loss. Sorry for your loss.

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  2. Oh, Cara, my heart goes out to you! You are giving your all to your foster babies and letting them know happiness–perhaps for the first time in their lives. Roger and I allowed ourselves to be open to incredible love and trust when we rescued Chaz (rather, he rescued us), but I can’t bear to think about the day he leaves us. Yes, we are vulnerable to the inevitable pain of loss and, yes, it has been such a blessing to have him on our lives.
    Thank you for sharing so eloquently…

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  3. Hello. Happened upon your blog via a Craigslist post for Frank. I’m so sorry for your loss. Oddly enough I received a message from a close friend in Maryland that same Tuesday morning that his dog Chase whom I’d known since a pup passed on. I wrote the below in response on a social media site:

    “Who enters into a relationship knowing with complete and utter certainty that they’ll have their heart broken one day?
    Answer: Dog Owners”

    Thanks for all you do fostering these dogs. It’s clear you’re giving them a beautiful life for as long as you have em.

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