The family dog passed away this week. His names was Bongo or, amusingly, “Bong” for short. He was 89 billion years old.
My mother and brother rescued him 14 years ago. They happened to walk by as he received his final “you’re getting put down” bath and Bongo looked up at them with the saddest eyes known to caninekind and laid it on thick. They snatched him right up. I was away for the summer and came home to a happy pup in my house. I was pissed.
All my life I’ve been allergic to mammals. Basically, anything that creates dander (with the exception of pigs and horses), anything that has hips (except for humans and organisms without fur) — they all make my sinuses apoplectic and strangle my larynx with asthma. I was indignant at the very sight of him. I took his adoption into our home as a way of subtly kicking me out of the house.
But I love animals. I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was little, however my physical sensitivities, especially with cats, soon became emotional ones. I’m like those cat people from that Stephen King novel. We don’t get along. So, I decided to become a marine biologist and work with the few organisms that wouldn’t kill me with a DEATH-BY-WHEEZING. And, sitting here today at my desk, we all know how those professions worked out for me…
Over time, we grew to be good friends, me and Bongo. A licker of feet. A chaser of deer. A peace officer at the dog park between fighting dogs. He was more human than dog, if I’m being honest. He would only dip his undercarriage in water, never jumping in fully. He expressed so many emotions and communicated more clearly than I do, on any given day. Most importantly, he was there for my mother during the hardest times, and when no one else could share them with her, demonstrating the plainness of healing through joy and simple satisfaction.
For many, losing a pet is the first time they’re introduced to the grief of losing someone close, like a test run on losing parents, friends and dear celebrity crushes. But not for us. My close family grew accustomed to that aching, empty feeling of experiencing death’s dog and pony show first. I lost my remaining grandparents and father in a brisk death marathon over a three year stint. All of them died from cancer. All of them fought it. And now Bongo is included on the Big C List.
In my weaker moments, I used to tell myself I hated furry animals. They’re skin and hair made my life so miserable. But this dog was a prince among men. His giant head scared the crap out of people when we needed him to wear the mantle of guard dog. On days when my mother would drive into the city and attend a non-denominational church service in a seedy part of San Francisco, he’d bark a request for a quick walk. Somehow he’d find the one homeless person who needed nose in their face or a head in their palm to remind them they were alive. He lived every day as though he knew that he’d managed to escape his premature end. His polite, playful demeanor was a greeting I always looked forward to when I would journey back home to see my mom, at no matter what time of night.
His passing also made me realize how long he’d been with us. Through three of my girlfriends, my school graduation, my marriage and my son’s birth, he was a living time capsule holding my memories in his soft eyes. Will he be mentioned in the same breath as our lost relatives? More than likely. It’s not always easy to memorialize loved ones and omit their rougher qualities out of respect and love. Not so with this one.
He passed quickly, painlessly and in a fashion as dignified and stoic as he’d always been. But I have a feeling, if there is somewhere else for him now, that he’s chewing on sticks, dipping his belly in cool waters and nuzzling others in need of a lifted mood.
Maybe I could live each day like he did, tricking fate out of taking me too soon and finding more pleasure in a simpler existence until I’ve got nothing left but a head full of memories and a life complete with people who were glad I lived.
Looks like I’ve gone to the dogs.
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