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epilogue
fond, fond memories
by jack bradley
10.20.00
general


Due to conditions beyond my control, I just spent almost 7 months away from my dog. She lived in the United States, awaiting her permission from the Australian government to come live with me.

It wasn’t easy, and I think that her return to me has inspired what you are about to read…because, quite honestly, it surprised me when it came out of my head today. This column is about my previous dog. I still think often of her, but not always with sadness or grief. Today I decided to let some of what she taught me out onto paper. My current dog (you can see her if you go to my website, over there in the right hand column) is sleeping at my feet as I write this. We are a family again, and I am very glad for that.

Two years ago on Memorial Day, my 18-year-old mutt passed away. She'd been with me almost her whole life, excluding her first 8 weeks where she was with her mom, and my first year of college (I was required to live on-campus, and they didn't allow dogs. She stayed with my folks that year.) She had spent more time with me than any other entity in my life, and still holds that title. Even my family had seen me move away from home when I was still only 17.

When she came home with me, she was a scrawny, sickly thing. The runt of the litter, her first few months of life were expensive and time-consuming. She refused to train easily, and often cried long after she should have been sleeping. Being a child myself, I was often overwhelmed by my lack of ability to comfort her. I stuck it out, though. I held her when she cried, I worried when she was sick, and I made sure that she always was clean and warm. She taught me about persistence, about controlling my temper, and about responsibility.

As she and I got older, she was a bit grumpy with strangers...choosing to make her own decisions about who was let into our lives, regardless of my choice in the matter. This became problematical with a couple of romantic interests that she didn't fancy...especially considering the fact that she liked to sleep on the bed. I had the "It's either her, or ME!" conversation on more than one occasion. Even though my dog didn't always win these battles, she always won the war. She was the one still with me, year after year. I couldn’t say that about many of my partners, and usually I found that my dog's judgment was better than my own first impressions. Lots of times, as I sat crying and alone at the end of a relationship, she would climb into my lap, lick my neck, and curl up with a heavy sigh as if to say "See? I told you so...now hug me. We'll get over it." She was always there, and always sensitive to my moods. She taught me about character, empathy, loyalty, and loss.

Until she was about 15 years old she stayed very active and athletic. She went almost everywhere that I did and I made an effort to only eat at places that had patios, or shop at stores that would allow her in. Many folks knew her name, even some folks who didn't know mine. She was a favorite, and never seemed to mind moving to a new city and starting all over again. She seemed to think home was wherever we were, and she traveled well. She taught me what “home” was, about meeting people, and was a catalyst for my growing interest in the world.

I had two major relationships during her life. The first one lasted about 5 years, and my partner also had a dog. This other dog was a Chihuahua with lots of attitude and little patience for a new dog in the house. My dog taught her to be gentle and how to play. Both became puppies again and would chase each other through the house and the yard, only tiring when the Chihuahua (who was considerably older) would call it quits. My dog accepted her and compromised with her. Both dogs learned from the experience that these things could be made fun. My partner and I watched them, learned from them, and let them teach us about compromise and play in our relationship.

The second major relationship in my life happened unexpectedly, and involved several moves to new places. My dog was getting older, and she was not able to see and hear as well as she used to. These moves were sometimes hard on her, and I had to take special care not to change too many things at once or to leave her alone in a new place where she might come to harm in her confusion. All of this happened during a very tumultuous phase in my life, and many, many things were vying for my attention. During this time, I had to make decisions about my life, and what was important. Sacrifices were made along with some very hard choices. She began to take more of my time and attention, but I regretted none of it. My dog taught me about priorities, about commitment, and about care for those who are in need.

The weekend that my dog died, I knew all day that it was going to happen. I cancelled a cookout and changed my plans for going to the lake, all the while telling myself that it was because “I just didn’t feel like it.” The real reason was that she hadn't been easy to wake or to feed that morning, and she wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep. She was in no pain or discomfort. I finally roused her, got her outside, and watched a bit seriously as she sat smiling one of those doggy grins in the sun while staring off into the yard for quite a while. Several times she growled or “whuffed” at squirrels, which surprised me since her vision had gotten so bad. It was as if she was suddenly able to see again, and I choose to believe that this was truly the case for those last few hours.

When the sun became too much I took her into the house, and we sat on the couch wrapped in blankets (her favorite way to cuddle) for the rest of the afternoon. I noticed repeatedly that her breathing was getting lighter and lighter, and that she seemed to be dreaming. Her eyes darted back and forth under her lids, seeing things clearly once again. I cuddled up close to her side, and listened as her heartbeat faded...softer,…..softer.........softer.

I honestly can't tell you when the sound that I was listening to stopped being her faint heartbeat and started being my own, beating in my ears. I had evidently been crying and didn't know it, because the fur under my face was wet with tears. She died peacefully, happily, and close to the person who had spent his life sharing things with her. I hope I'm that lucky in my last moments of life. My dog taught me about love and loss. My dog taught me about grief and heartpain. My dog taught me about sharing your life, how wonderful that can be, and that the important bits are with you always...even when the relationship is physically over.

My dog taught me how to be a good husband, a good teacher, a good partner.

My dog taught me how to be a good person.


Jack Bradley
Sydney, Australia
September 27, 2000


ABOUT JACK BRADLEY

Born the son of a circus monkey, Jack had to overcome the stigma of having an address south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Struggling against all odds, he finally got his HS diploma from some guy on the corner, and proceeded to attend NC State University, where his records are now the "running joke" in the admissions office. In February of 2000, he moved to Sydney, Australia, to pursue a writing career full-time. Jack currently has a husband but no wife, no children, and a dog with great fashion sense.

more about jack bradley

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COMMENTS

roger striffler
10.20.00 @ 1:02p

Wow Jack, bravo! Having always had dogs, and having a small pack now, this is a regular cycle in my life. I've been there, and I know I'm going there again one day.

The bond between yourself and a dog becomes so close, so honest, and so natural, that you learn these lessons subltly, often without realizing. You've done a fantastic job of articulating what a special relationship it is, and some of the many gifts that are shared.

Don't let it go to your head, but damn fine work, my friend.




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