A dog is not a family member. It is not capable of human emotion, and it is certainly not worth any tears. A dog is disposable. After all, it’s only a dog.
In the three and a half years I’ve been a dog mom to my mastiff Henry, I’ve met countless subscribers to this philosophy. They are quick to cheapen Henry’s worth and to discount his role in the family. They are anxious to poke fun at my attachment to him and my overwhelming love for him. They ask things like, “Does that thing live in your house?” and “How can you stand spending so much money on his food?”
After I loosen my fists and tell myself to partake in deep breathing, the anger slowly dissipates and another emotion takes over: Pity. I’ve come to realize that those willing to say a dog is only a dog simply haven’t been given the beautiful gift of one’s love.
They haven’t known the unconditional love in its truest form as I have.
They haven’t known the special bond expressed through ice cream trips and long walks. They haven’t felt the radiating love as you sit on the sofa, his paw on your shoulder, watching your favorite movie. They haven’t felt the comfort from his brown, soulful eyes as you cry over life’s harshness. They haven’t experienced joy in its deepest form as you run through a sprinkler, his excitement contagious as he leaps in the air at such a simple moment. They haven’t felt the connection that pulls you home after a long day’s work, that lets you know exactly what he wants without a word.
They haven’t looked into their dog’s eye to see how his whole world is right in front of him—you.
They haven’t had to watch the agonizing decay of their aging friend as he limps into the final stage of life as I someday will. They haven’t had to worry even now, when their dog is only three, about this day that will inevitably come because they know it will break them. They haven’t had to think about the final goodbye because, as anyone who has loved a dog knows, the goodbye always comes way too fast.
I know if they had the chance to feel any of these things, they would see that Henry isn’t only a dog—he’s so much more than that.
A Dog Is a Worthwhile Sacrifice
In truth, I’ve never seen Henry as only a dog—but that doesn’t mean I’ve always loved him like I do now.
When my husband first introduced the concept of a dog to me, anger welled. We didn’t have time for a dog. I didn’t want a dog. I threatened divorce if he brought the dog home against my wishes.
He did it anyway, and for once, I’m glad he didn’t listen to my opinion.
When the twenty-four pound mastiff puppy came home, I still didn’t see only a dog. I saw hours of work and responsibility. I saw stress, puddles of pee, chewed shoes, and frustration. I saw stress. I saw countless negatives and not many positives.
And it was all true. There were puddles of pee, and I lost my favorite pair of kitten-heeled shoes. I came home to a chewed up sofa—as in the whole sofa—and I had many hours of frustration chasing a wily mastiff in our backyard.
But along the way, something else crept in.
Love. Unconditional love.
Fun. Life. Memories.
Over the months as Henry grew—and boy did he grow fast—he wormed his way right into my heart. Slowly, he melted my frozen heart and made me realize he wasn’t only a dog, and he wasn’t only a heap of stress.
He was family.
I have sacrificed for Henry, and I’ve had plenty of stresses. Just like any relationship, he is a lot of work. Still, the love I get in return for the sacrifice makes it worth it tenfold. I’ve come to realize the love of a dog is something you have to experience firsthand in order to truly appreciate the value. Once you do, you realize the sacrifice is small in comparison to the returns.
I am, in all respects, obsessed with Henry. He is basically like a child to me. Some people still don’t understand why he means so much. There are some who look at me like I’m crazy when I blow off plans to spend time with him or when I rush home to see him. There are some who think I’m weird when I worry about him. When I tear-up over an aging dog because I know this will eventually be him and I can’t imagine life without him, I get plenty of judgmental looks.
They don’t understand how I could be so attached to Henry because he is only a dog.
But that’s okay. Because in some respects, they’re right. It is only a dog.
It’s only a dog who can show us the true meaning of unconditional love in its purest form.
It’s only a dog who can open us up to the joys of the simple things in life.
It’s only a dog who can show us the meaning of friendship, loyalty, and companionship long after his final paw prints have faded from this world.
It’s only a dog who can awaken us to the real beauty of life and what it means to be alive.
So yes, after all, it is only a dog.
Lindsay Detwiler is a high school English teacher and contemporary romance author. To learn more about her novels (Henry appears as the mastiff in all of her romances), visit www.lindsaydetwiler.com.