Readers of my columns over the years know that I always end with an observation about what my beloved Sheltie Gabby might think about what I have written. In actuality, during the sixteen years of her life we did carry on quite a few conversations. I would say something to her and she would look up at me with those deeply set sable eyes and I would understand.
There are times when wordless chats are more communicative than otherwise. Prolixity has a time and place and purpose.
Some of the homo erectus variety could learn a lot from dogs. As Bertrand Russell wrote in his autobiography, “there is nothing more tedious than the conversation of well-informed people.”
I think one of the reasons we get so attached to our dogs is they let us know what is on their minds with a brevity lost to far too many of us. Gabby’s quietly expressed wisdom taught me a lot and I have missed that every day of the nine years that have elapsed since her passing. Her ashes lie beneath a Dolgo crabapple tree I planted as a memorial to her life, one that gave me so much.
Gabby’s passing is on my mind because a good friend lost his companion of nearly sixteen years a few days ago. The pain one feels at the loss of a dog, or any pet with whom one has developed a strong emotional attachment, is wrenching. As is the case with the loss of any loved one, time heals but does not erase the past; it reenacts it. And it does so at the oddest of moments.
I am not expert on the psychological mechanics of dealing with a loss of this kind. I know that my friend’s walks in his woods will not be the same. There will be the salve of memory, just as when I and others walk or go through our daily routines we feel or remember a presence that made those moments so much more precious.
I think that presence is the key notion. When I would walk about our place doing chores, or just idle about (one of my preferred activities), Gabby’s presence felt good, right and comforting. When our canine pals are absent something is missing, something is existentially amiss.
The question then is this: do we look about for another companion? In our case it is not feasible since we are away so much and this year will be in Arizona for the winter. Sandy reminds me every time I suggest getting anther dog that now is not the time. We are away quite a bit.
But perhaps, she suggests, when age has taken its toll and we are not quite so active and out and about as we are now, then we might consider bringing another dog into our lives.
In other words, when we’re older and less mobile than we are now.
Of course, my retort is what fun is it to have a dog one cannot romp and hike and play with. Therein lies a lot of the fun. Not so sure I want to be old grandpa sitting at his writing desk as some sloe-eyed pup sits there staring at me wondering when I might get off my ample duff and take her for a much-deserved jaunt. Gabby was very good at that (most dogs are), as was my former, equally beloved Golden, Sammy. Although Sammy’s tactic was different. She would sidle up, stick her snout on my knee, look deeply into my eyes and whimper ever so softly. Gabby, being much shorter, couldn’t employ that tactic. She would just sit there quietly, almost stoically, and pierce me with her confounding stare. Got to me every time — and she knew it.
I am not sure if my friend will take on another canine companion at some point. I was unsure, and certainly not ready, when Sammy died. But two years later, when invited to check out a furry little ball at the bottom of a box, it was love at first sight.
The irony of loss is gain of memory. Memory catalogues and curates experience. Memory enables me to take as many walks in the woods with Gabby as I might like — and I do. So too can my friend when the pain subsides and the wonders of memory take over.
Gabby, sitting here with me now, agrees. No kidding!