THE BLOG
10/01/2014 08:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Living in the Moment With Our Dogs

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One of my best friends lost one of her best friends this week. Sydney was a 13-year-old mixed-breed bundle of love and was my friend's "soul dog." If you've ever had one of your own, you know what I mean. Although passing on is not unexpected in a dog of many years, it's still a shock when it happens, and my friend is crushed. All I can do is offer a shoulder, an ear, and send lots of good energy her way. I can't say I know exactly how she feels, but unfortunately, I have an idea.

Mojo was my own soul dog, my 120-pound baby. He passed in 2008, and his death hit me harder than I can describe. (If you've read Hit by a Flying Wolf, you know what I'm talking about.) Our dogs are our kids, and people who don't have dogs just don't get it. When a human family member dies, people send sympathy cards, understand if we need time off work, turn up on our doorsteps with food and friendship, and are generally extremely supportive. With dogs, some look at us a bit strangely.

In Mojo's senior years, I had a habit of stealing glances at him as he slept. There was always a microsecond of holding my own breath as I watched for his; I'd exhale as I saw the soft, reassuring rise and fall of his chest. I remember feeling a little crazy and obsessive, but I couldn't help myself. I knew my time with him was finite. When he was 14, Mojo bloated. We rushed him to the emergency vet, where we were told that he only had a 50/50 chance of making it through surgery. The surgery was expensive, and he was over 14 years old. Clearly, we were meant to draw one very final conclusion. Well, we didn't. I told the woman to stop talking and get in there and save my dog. Mojo made it through the surgery and ended up living another six months. It was worth every cent.

My friend is now experiencing the sharp pangs that accompany those little daily routines that are forever changed. When Mojo passed, for days afterward my hand still extended with a piece of banana, meant for my breakfast-sharing buddy who was no longer there. There were dozens of times this sort of thing happened, and countless tears. I always remember the saying "Grief is the price of love." I don't know who said it, but it feels like truth. But for the seemingly bottomless pit of grief, we also get a bottomless well of unconditional love, a magical, shared slice of life with an amazing being.

I am all too aware as I look at my own dogs, now middle-aged by the standards of dogdom, that the crushed, grieving person will one day again be me. So I give them my entire heart while they are here. In those moments when they look at me as I'm busy at the computer, I stop what I'm doing and give them that tummy rub. When I have appointments and it would be easier to sleep in, I get my butt out of bed and take them to the park. And more than anything, I make sure they know how much they are loved. I know my friend's dog knew how much she is loved, as Mojo surely did. I suppose that's all any of us can ever hope for, and it's a beautiful thing.

Nicole Wilde is a canine behavior specialist and author. Visit her website, or follow her on Facebook.