I didn’t lose my dog – I know just where I left him.
His body to the breeze, his heart in my heart.
Big ears, big paws, big heart, my dad said, as he knelt beside him one last time.
I fell in love with those ears, those paws, that heart from the moment they brought him into the shelter I volunteered at, fifteen years old and sworn to my parents backwards and forwards that if they let me volunteer there, I would not come home with an animal.
(I came home with an animal.)
With more than an animal. With joy. With joy bottled up into a hound dog form. With those paws tripping over those ears as he trotted out on his new green leash, attached to his new green collar.
I walked out of the vet’s office on Monday afternoon with only that collar in my hands.
The world had shrunk, and I had no say in the shrinking. I was always going to have to say goodbye to him. That it took so long to come was a blessing.
And still, and still, it felt like too soon. Like he had more paws to give, with enough force to knock me sideways if I wasn’t ready for it. Like he had more empty water bottles to find on walks and carry around with him. Like he had more sunshine to soak in, where he sprawled in the very center of the cul de sac, where neighbors knew to drive around him. Like he had more squirrels to chase, more slippers to carry around the house, more commands to completely and utterly disobey.
Like I had more ear scratches to give him. Like I should have told him, one more time, and one more time again, what a good boy he was. How much I loved him. How lucky we were that he was ours.
If you give your heart to a dog, it will be broken.
You will get it back with holes in it, holes in the shape of pawprints, pawprints that can’t be matched by any other dog. His specific pawprint, carved into my heart.
If you give your heart to a dog, it will be filled to the brim. He will ask for nothing from you but love (and treats.) Nothing but belly rubs (and treats.) Nothing but long walks by your side (and treats, and treats, and treats.) He will love you even after you spend all day saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing and letting everyone down. You will never let him down. You will step out of the house to get the mail, you will be gone for maybe thirty seconds, and when you come back in, he will be as thrilled to see you as if you have been gone a year. He will forgive you over and over again, without you needing to ask. He will make you laugh on days you didn’t think it possible.
If you give your heart to a dog, it will be so full that even when it breaks, you will be left with more than you had when you started.
I gave my heart to a three-month old hound puppy named Rufus nearly fifteen years ago, and I cannot describe how full he left it. Even now that it’s broken. Even now that each beat comes with an echo of hurt, a shadow of missing. It holds a pawprint belonging to a dog with the biggest of paws, to match the biggest of ears, to match the biggest of hearts.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.