I’m writing this now, ahead of time. Before we know. I felt it would be easier this way. That I would be more level-headed, less emotional this way. Although I’m already crying so that pretty much backfired.
Then again, is it ever possible to write about your dog without tearing up?
The vet said we should start with a chest x-ray, which is scheduled a few days from now. To see if it has spread. There’s a small chance that the tumor on the roof of his mouth is benign but I know that even if it is, this is still probably the beginning of the end. He’s almost 14. The average lifespan of a dog is 10-13 years. We’re already living on borrowed time.
Whatever the diagnosis, I’m a bit at a loss of what to do. Soon there will be decisions to make. Hard decisions.
And yet, just like he always has, he trusts me.
The thing that haunts me the most in this awful limbo between knowing and not knowing is an equally awful question. Did I give him a good enough life? It’s only now, as we head toward the inevitable end, that I’m fully realizing the nature of our relationship meant he depended on me and my family for everything. We were his world. But just like the world at large, we were a bit of a dumpster fire.
All the mistakes. There were so many. I didn’t socialize him enough as a puppy. I fed him the cheap stuff. I wasn’t consistent on training. There should have been more fetch and less binge-watching Netflix while sneaking him french fries.
I took him on a thousand walks. It should have been two thousand.
And yet, in spite of it all, he loves me.
I was 24 when my roommate showed me a recently rescued bedraggled ball of fluff that smelled like hot garbage.
“You did say you wanted to get a dog.” the roommate said.
I picked the ball up and looked in its terrified brown eyes. Sold. Instantly. I kissed the top of its furry stinky head. Regretted it. Instantly.
“It’s a boy, you say?”
“Yeah,” he replied.
“Remember when I said if we get a dog I’m naming it Buffy?”
The roommate smiled.
“Buffy it is then.”
(And that is also the story of how the roommate eventually became my husband).
It was this male dog named Buffy who forced me to grow up. He was so smart. Part border collie. He was constantly outwitting me. He was also anxious. Fearful. Edgy. Understandably so. He had been dumped in a field in late fall. And we suspect he’d been abused before then.
But that also made him fiercely loyal and loving.
He even eventually forgave me for leaving him for days and then returning home with a baby in tow. And then managed to forgive me again, a few years later, when I did it all over again. I spent months ignoring him while trying to keep these tiny interlopers alive. Months yelling “stop licking the baby!” and “drop it, that’s the baby’s toy!”
And yet, he patiently waited to be noticed again, sneaking onto my lap on those rare chances when it was free.
It’s often said that we don’t deserve dogs. That they’re too good for us. For this world. But what I find amazing about dogs is that they keep inspiring us to try. Even though we humans are basically giant bags of meat and flaws, we keep trying to deserve them. That’s how strong a dog’s love is. Strong enough to make selfish and self-destructive humans look in the mirror and say quietly to themselves “today I’m going to be the person my dog thinks I am.”
And even though we fail in this, over and over and over again, whenever we look into their eyes we vow to try again the next day.
My hope is that some day, some beautiful, bright day, we will finally learn all they are trying to teach us. But until then I want to say thank you, Buffy. For all the lessons. I was a horrible student. And yet, through it all, you never gave up on me.
I’ll be damned if I give up on you now. No matter what the future holds.
And when we finally do know what that future holds, I promise to be there until the very end, my friend.