Old dogs are the best dogs

If I were to wake up tomorrow on the set of a big-budget melodramatic film with a director standing by my bed — bullhorn in one hand, Starbucks cup in the other — demanding for me to summon every single tear I have in my body to cry — cry, cry, cry as though it would save my eternal soul — would I think about my first love, sitting across from me in a quiet restaurant, telling me he was leaving town (and leaving me) and was there really much left to say? Would I think about family illnesses or the loss of my youth, high school graduation or the death of a family member? Would I think about how fast time goes by and how we all, someday, have to face the consequences of the decisions we’ve made?

No.

I would think of my dog.

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I wasn’t always a dog person

I don’t know how it comes to be that when I spend any amount of time at a house with a dog, the dog becomes my constant companion. And not necessarily because the dog really likes me, but because I actually really like the dog!

Cheyenne

Cheyenne

Cheyenne has to be one of my favorites. She and her brother Hunter were adopted by my aunt, uncle and cousin when they were just puppies — about four or five years ago now. Cheyenne and Hunter are from the same litter, and Cheyenne was the “runt.” I don’t think you can really call her the runt now. She’s a very sweet girl — very tumbly and cute. She and Hunter love to run around the house and try and persuade us to give them belly rubs. They’re Sharpei/black lab mixes and have the wrinkly faces that go along with their illustrious heritage. And Cheyenne snores like a banshee.

I wasn’t always a dog person. My parents, sister and I welcomed our first dog Roxie when I was eight years old, and my mom loves to tell everyone how I really didn’t care much about her until I was in middle school or so. The truth was that she scared me a little bit. I wasn’t very tall, you see, and Roxie grew like a weed. In a mere six months or so, she’d catapulted from a tiny puppy who could barely keep her collar from falling off to a giant black-and-brown beast who loved to race me across the yard. Even when I wasn’t trying to race. She also had a penchant for finding things in the yard and bringing them to us as, well, “sacrifices” — things like dead snakes and gophers she dug up. Delightful!

So it wasn’t really until Roxie really got up in years (and I did, too) that I started hanging out with her all the time. When we got Rudy to keep her company as she grew older, Roxie hung with me as Rudy become Kate’s BFF. After thirteen years with us, Roxie passed away on Oct. 22, 2007, and I’ve missed her every day since then. But having Rudy close by kept us from grieving too much or too long — we had him to keep us busy, and he needed lots of love, too.

And lately, my dog love has definitely grown exponentially. What other creature in the world has the ability to forgive and forget, love unconditionally and want to be your constant companion? I know I’m not exactly reinventing the wheel with my pat dog philosophies, but it’s something I really find fascinating: the relationships between man and beast. Reading “Marley & Me” opened up a lot of that, and I think I’m going to tackle “Merle’s Door” next.

animals make everything better

greatest dog ever?

Doesn’t my golden retriever look very wise?

We got Rudy three years ago from animal rescue group Paws for Life near the Maryland/Delaware line — and he’s been our loveable and whacky companion ever since. Our older dog Roxie was getting a little lonely in her retirement years, so Rudy originally joined the family with intention of making him Roxie’s new best friend. Though the relationship was a little tenuous at first, Rudy and Roxie became inseparable until our sweet girl passed away in October 2007. I miss her every day.

But Rudy’s been there through many crazy adventures, reclining on piles of dirt when Dad was redoing the backyard; chasing squirrels at break-neck speed; never, ever tiring of bringing over his trusty chew toys to be thrown over and over and over through the yard; dropping his full 90 pounds of weight on top of you when you’re watching TV. Rudy loves to recline on the floor, putting his head right in your lap. And though I usually walk away from these cuddle visits with fine blonde fur covering the entire length of my body, I love Rudy Boy immensely.

I just finished reading Marley & Me last night — and, of course, I cried like a baby through much of it. I love books — and I love the way books can transform us and remind us of what is real and good and whole in the world.

And animals just make everything better.