There are two types of people in the world: those who understand someone who mourns a dead dog, many years after she died, and those who don’t. This entry is for people who do.
On this date eight years ago, my dog Jenny died.
I first met Jenny in a pound in Tacoma, Washington. My first wife and I were flailing about, looking for anything to bring some happiness into a marriage that was perpetually unhappy for both of us. We decided to get a dog for oldest two daughters. (Kind of like having a baby, or buying a new house, this strategy didn’t work for our marriage, either.)
Me going into a pound full of adorable dogs that want to go home with me, showing big, hopeful eyes like orphans in a post-war orphanage, is a dangerous thing. I could end up with dozens of dogs.
I walked past a cage filled with an entire litter of fat little orange-brown dogs. The had beer barrel bodies and stubby little legs. I watched them for a few minutes and that’s when it happened. One little puppy separated herself from the litter and moved as far away into a corner as she could, because she had to poop. She made eye contact with me, and she looked so endearingly embarrassed by the whole scene, I knew I’d found our dog.
On the way home, I tried to come up with a name for our new family member. My youngest daughter, Sabrina, was only three, and she was helping me. I came up with lots of legitimate doggy names, like “Bear,” because that’s what the puppy looked like, and “Tango,” and other doggy names. Brina didn’t like any of those. Jokingly, I said, “How about Jennifer, then, like Jennifer Love Hewitt.” You can guess the next part. Brina loved the name, and so she was Jennifer, which morphed into Jenny.
Yes, for the record, I would often speak to her in Forrest Gump’s voice, saying, “Jenny. Jenny. We are like peas and carrots, aren’t we Jenny?” It was irresistible.
She soon lost her baby fat and grew normal-length legs. She never lost her embarrassment over having a bowel movement, though. If she could go do it in private, she always would.
Jenny was a mutt. Part Chow, part retriever, and part whatever was the fastest dog to arrive at the scene. She had one ear that went straight up, and one that flopped over, which gave her a perpetually laid back look. She also had the most gorgeous tail I’ve ever seen. When we walked (and we walked a lot) it swished behind her like a majestic broom cleaning the air.
Her favorite thing to do was hike up and down a hill in our town called Mt. Peak. It’s steep, densely wooded, and amazingly peaceful. Jenny never bothered anyone, or other dogs, so I would let her off leash, and she would run alongside me, but off in the woods. A number of times I heard other people see her, bouncing quietly through the undergrowth, and comment that they’d seen a fox.
Why do some dogs burrow so deep into our hearts that we mourn them, even eight, or eighteen years after they are gone? I think it’s because they are the ones who give us their own heart so unreservedly.
My first wife and I separated shortly after Jenny arrived home, and she went from being the girls’ dog, to being my dog. She went everywhere with me. When I was showing houses, or at a home inspection, she was there. At the office doing paperwork? She was curled up under my desk. Traveling to Arkansas to pick up my girls for the summer? Jenny rode shotgun, always.
Some dogs can be loving, but hold just a small part of themselves back, a certain aloofness. Others just open their hearts and souls and invite us to come in and live. That was my Jenny.
One night that September, I stepped off the porch into the cool night air and started walking, knowing Jenny would soon whip past me, tail cleaning the air. When I’d gone fifty yards or so, and hadn’t seen her, I turned around. She was standing on the porch, looking at me. She couldn’t go. It was so sudden and unexpected, but my heart just dropped. If Jenny couldn’t go for our walk, something was terribly wrong.
Five days later, she couldn’t walk or stand. Her eyes were glassy and her breathing was shallow. The vets couldn’t tell me what was wrong. It was a mystery, but it was obvious she was dying. I couldn’t watch her suffer any more, so I stood beside her while the vet slipped the needle into her vein. I stroked her face and thanked her for loving me so perfectly.
Before the vet could even push on the plunger, she closed her eyes and left this earth.
I wrapped her in the comforter off my bed and buried her in my backyard.
It’s been eight years. Dawn and I have two beautiful Chocolate Labs that I love immensely. We, too, go on our walks every day.
And still, I miss my Jenny. Always.