Last night was one of the worst nights of my life.
At around 9 o’clock last night, a young man knocked on our front door. He had stopped to tell us someone had run over our dog. After a flurry of activity, I rushed our dog to the veterinarian. It was too late, though. He had a fractured skull. He died a few minutes after we arrived.
That is the extremely condensed version of the story. I didn’t mention that our dog – named Rigel by the people we got him from, after a heroic dog who was on board the Titanic and used his barking to lead the Carpathia to a lifeboat full of survivors – was barely a year old. We had only had him since June. I also didn’t mention that the person who ran over him didn’t even have the common decency to stop and tell us. Rigel was a 95-pound Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, and Great Pyrenees mix, meaning it would be difficult to hit him without noticing. I also failed to mention that in my rush to get my dog to the vet, I never got the name of the person who was kind enough to stop and help me load Rigel into the bed of my truck. To that person, I am eternally grateful.
For those of you who have never read this blog before, I have five children – a 10-year-old daughter, an 8-year-old daughter, a 6-year-old son, a 2 year-old son, and a 10-week-old daughter. My boys and the baby were asleep when this happened, but my two oldest daughters were awake. My 10-year-old is devastated. This was her baby. She wanted to say goodbye last night, so my wife brought her to the vet’s office so she could see him one last time. If that sounds like a heartbreaking scene to you, I can tell you my description here does not nearly do it justice.
In December 2011, we had another dog pass away. This dog was 12 years old, though, and we at least had some inkling he might be on his way out of this world. We were totally unprepared for what happened last night. Just the day before, my 6-year-old son and I had gone shopping for a new doghouse. The fact that we didn’t come home with one seems incredibly sad to me now. Rigel was just a baby dog. He had barely experienced life. There is no way under the sun this situation can be called fair.
You would think I would have shed more tears at the death of the family dog we had owned longer, rather than the one we hadn’t even lived with for a full year. This hasn’t been the case, however. From the moment I woke up this morning, I’ve been fighting tears. I keep thinking this is all some kind of bad dream, and I’m going to go home and he’s going to meet me when I get out of my truck. I even called for him once this morning, just to be sure, before I left for work. The blood stain on the road near our driveway, though, was a stark reminder to me as I left the house that he would never come when I called again.
“Why,” I keep asking myself, “am I so torn up about this?” As I just said, we hadn’t even owned the dog for a full year. It wasn’t as if he could carry on a conversation with me. He wasn’t even a “working” dog who served some productive purpose; he was just a pet. I’ve cried less at the funerals of family members than I did standing in the veterinarian’s office last night. Why?
Because he was my friend.
Why would I call an animal that used to drag deer carcasses into my front yard (Never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually going to miss that.) a friend? Because he was always there. Because he always listened. Because he loved me during times when I didn’t necessarily show him the same kind of love. Because he loved my children and protected them.
Often over the years, I’ve mocked people who I thought went a little too far in their affections for their animals. “They’re just pets,” I would say, “not people.” Having felt the sting of last night’s events, though, I think I realize now why God has set up the pet/owner relationship the way He has. Pets show us unconditional love. They’re loyal. They cause us great sorrow when they are gone. In pondering these points, I realized these are traits I don’t always exhibit toward my fellow human beings. I’m not always there for them. I’m selfish in my love. I don’t always protect those who need protecting. I don’t always “mourn with those mourn.”
In short, my dog, in his brief time on this earth, was trying to teach me to be a better person. God, how I miss him. I’ll miss him every time I walk out the front door. I’m thankful, though, for the time I did get to spend with him. God bless you, Rigel. Rest in peace.