If you’ve ever loved a dog, you know it doesn’t happen all at once.
At first, there’s puppy pee and chewed shoes in the way of your heart. There are cries at two in the morning and moments of regret. There’s sheer exhaustion coupled with the frustration of teaching a wild puppy to mind his manners. There are misunderstandings and doubts, accompanied by razor-sharp teeth.
But then, when you’re preoccupied with picking up chewed toys and cleaning messes, it happens. Those perfect little paws tread onto your heart and claim it. Suddenly, his mistakes aren’t so bad, and his sad little bark is kind of funny, even in the middle of the night. Without warning, he worms his way into a core part of you, opening your heart completely. You can’t pinpoint when it happened because you weren’t expecting it. You weren’t ready to fall in love with a dog.
But once you do, there’s no going back because, if you’ve ever loved a dog, you know there’s nothing like it.
The unconditional bond between you strengthens through the years. He’s there with soulful, understanding eyes when no one else is. When life’s falling apart or when you barely have enough money to make it through the week, he’s still there, leaning on your shoulder, his sturdy paw comforting you. His warmth reminds you life’s a gift, even at the lowest moments.
His wagging tail, his excited yips, his pure excitement to see you reminds you that you matter. He loves you unconditionally, and he’s there on the couch with you whether it’s just a boring Tuesday or it’s the worst day of your life. He’s there. That never changes.
He reminds you what it means to live life simply yet happily. His joy over a game of fetch or a piece of popcorn makes you realize life doesn’t have to be glamorous. Sometimes it’s just about buying an ice cream cone or going for a long walk. To a dog, your love and the simple things in life are more than enough.
As you grow together, you learn to think this way, too. Suddenly, the best part of your day is rushing home to pat his head and share in a moment. You find yourself making excuses and cancelling plans to spend time with him because, despite all the rocky moments at the beginning, he’s become your best friend. In his eyes, you see what friendship means, what love means, and what loyalty means.
If you’ve ever loved a dog, you know the bond can be sensed without a word.
Life goes on, and you feel like you have so much time together. He becomes a fixture in your life of the best type. You have your shared routines, like when he turns in exactly seven circles at night before bed or how you know exactly how to scratch his ears. You share a life together, you and that dog, and you feel like you don’t know what you’d do without him. Life is simply good.
Then the day comes. You notice his legs aren’t working quite right. There are more gray hairs on his muzzle or an odd wheezing in his breaths. Your walks become just a little shorter. The games of fetch are a little less vigorous. You try to shove the fears aside and reassure yourself he’s fine.
But if you’ve ever loved a dog, you know the gnawing truth of aging and how it rips at your heart.
You start to see that friendships can’t last as long as we’d like, and even the most deserving aren’t granted immortality. In a panic, you face the harsh truths. Your heart starts to break little by little as the routines, as the moments, become smaller, despite your best efforts. The goodbye is coming, the hardest goodbye of all, and you’re not ready.
If you’ve ever loved a dog, though, you know you can never be ready for that final goodbye.
The last ice cream, the last adventure in the park, the last car ride. They rip at your heart, they shred your soul. Those puppy paw prints on your heart have grown bigger over the years. They’re now an integral part of you.
So, when that final moment comes, ugly tears gushing, his passing consumes your entire heart. A blazing inferno of pain scalds you. His favorite collar hangs on the hook, a solemn reminder of the walk you’ll never take. Every moment drips with agony as you survive the first moments without him.
The pain’s so intense, you promise yourself you’ll never, ever love a dog again. You just can’t.
Eventually, though, you emerge from grief. Maybe it’s a few months. Maybe it’s a few years. Somehow, the possibility of loving another mess-making, shoe chewing puppy doesn’t seem impossible. You realize someday, you’ll open your heart again.
It won’t be the same love. It won’t be the same routines or connection. It will, however, be special in its own way. You’ll grow and change again, and, before you know it, you’ll know the love of a dog once more.
Because, if you’ve ever loved a dog, you know it’s a magical kind of love, the kind of love that makes you want to open your heart again. If you’ve ever loved a dog, you know it makes you better, makes you stronger, makes you different.
For, I’ve come to believe, it is the love of a dog that can save us from the cold, dark world around us and make us see the beauty in living, the beauty in simplicity, and the beauty of unconditional, selfless connection.
Because, as you know by now, the love of a dog is the most magical love you can be privileged to know.
Lindsay Detwiler is a contemporary romance author with Hot Tree Publishing and a high school English teacher. Her mastiff Henry, her best friend, appears in all of her novels. To learn more, visit www.lindsaydetwiler.com