Until now. Now I know.
Thirteen years and almost three months ago, I fell in love at first sight. He was the absolute cutest puppy I'd ever seen. He loved me instantly, too.
It was absolute chaos because there was something like three or four litters of puppies at once (I promise this was a very reputable breeder of champion show dogs, not a puppy mill!) and they were super excited to have two visitors - my mom and me. We were there to pick up the latest addition to my parents' gang of show dogs, back when they used to breed and show golden retrievers, too. My parents were excited because of the parentage of this puppy and because the breeder, a friend of theirs, said he was the best she'd seen since the puppy's father was showing and my parents loved the looks of his father.
I could have cared less about any of the show dog talk. I was there for the puppies. So. Many. Puppies. My mom hates driving in the mountains and didn't want to go almost to Pittsburgh alone, so I said I'd go. Puppies, after all, particularly golden retriever puppies, are irresistible.
When we first got to the kennel, the breeder showed us the puppy that was to be ours. He stacked (that's dorky dog show talk for how dogs are supposed to stand in the show ring) perfectly. Everything about him looked perfect and he was only six weeks old. I loved him right away.
In a room full of adorable golden retriever puppies, I sat down to play, to break up vicious puppy battles, to rub puppy bellies, to have my hair chewed on. Our puppy ran around the room twice, noticed me sitting down, ran full speed at me, and then slammed on the brakes, put his head on my foot, and fell asleep. Needless to say, I was hooked. This was supposed to be my dad's dog - he'd even picked out his name: Dewey - but my poor dad didn't stand a chance.
Dewey and I were inseparable. No one existed outside of our happy little puppy cuddles bubble and that didn't change in the thirteen years we had together. Dewey lived with my parents and I visited him as much as possible, sometimes coming home every weekend just because I couldn't stand being away from him.
When I moved to Canada six years ago, he went with me. There was no way I could leave him behind and my parents finally caved to years of begging them to give me to him. I was so excited. He was so excited.
Everything about Canada was an adventure for us. Neighborhood walks were new because my parents lived in the country with a giant backyard, so Dewey wasn't used to going for walks and I wasn't used to walking a dog all the time. I met so many people over the years because of Dewey. He was not afraid to walk up to anyone, convinced they absolutely wanted to pet him. He was so handsome, why wouldn't they? Dog parks were new to us, so was going for hikes or going swimming in lakes, his most favorite activities, second only to eating and sleeping.
He quickly became a mascot of sorts for my grad student friends, who all loved him. Most of them found him just as hilarious and charming as I did. The first time I invited a friend to my apartment in Canada, Dewey was clearly put out because she was sitting in his spot on the sofa. After an hour or so, he was sick of sitting on the floor and started staring at her, not so subtly communicating he was unhappy with her being there. She thought he was so cute that she offered to sit on the floor! The first party I threw, another friend was sitting on the floor with a plate of food and Dewey sat next to her for quite some time, hoping to be fed. Eventually he gave up and just grabbed a quesadilla off her plate, which he scarfed down while remaining seated right next to her. He didn't even have the nerve to look guilty. Why should he? He loved when I had parties. The food was everywhere and no one could resist his face. The parties had a time limit, though, and, if he was up too long past his bedtime, he became visibly annoyed. He'd frequently climb up on the couch, bulldozing his way over people, lay down, and then slowly but steadily push them with his feet. It was his couch, after all. Friends would stay at my place because I lived very close to downtown. One friend in particular stayed more than anyone and when Dewey woke up in the morning, he would be delighted to find her sleeping on the couch...until he realized she was on his couch and not moving. He'd whine right by her face and whine and whine and whine. That's not a sound you want to hear first thing in the morning, especially when you're hungover. If she didn't make room for him in a satisfactory amount of time, he would jump over her, stomping ungracefully all over her, and lay down behind her. Like I said, it was his couch.
I struggled with depression in Canada. I still do, but he helped. There were too many days when I only got out of bed to feed and walk him. Even then, I couldn't wait to get back to bed. He would cuddle with me, as if he was just trying to make me feel better by sheer closeness. And he did. I slowly get better. I went to the doctor because of him. I went on an antidepressant and through counseling because of him. I couldn't stand to neglect him, so I got help for myself. I'm not exaggerating when I say he saved my life. I wouldn't have done any of that if I had been on my own.
He had many health scares over the years. I cut short a summer research trip in Scotland four years ago because he had to have some lumps removed. I didn't regret it for a minute, especially when the vet decided to remove all seven lumps and he was in so much pain. He was diagnosed with kidney disease three years ago and a thyroid condition last year. He had serious eye issues, like cataracts, glaucoma, and P.U.V. that started three or so years ago. Through it all, though, he was fine. I know that sounds crazy, but he was. We adjusted his diet, added some prescriptions and a lot of herbal supplements, and he was ok. He was happy.
This summer he had this disgusting skin condition that, after months of vet visits and tests, turned out to be skin cancer, which is fairly aggressive and fast-moving in dogs. At his age, the treatment is as bad as the disease, so I promised to just keep him comfortable and happy as long as I could and then to let him go when I couldn't.
I thought I had months. I hoped for a year. In reality, by the time, he was diagnosed, I had less than two months. Two weeks ago I was hoping he would make it to Christmas. Last week I hoped for Thanksgiving. By Friday night, I was hoping he would make it to Tuesday, so I could get through my Monday classes and spend all day with him Tuesday before letting him go. It was clear that he was hanging on for me. It was also clear that he was barely hanging on. By Saturday, I was hoping he would go peacefully in his sleep. Sunday, I hoped I could get home from class Monday in time.
Monday, I can honestly say, was the worst day of my life. Saying goodbye was beyond painful. How do you say goodbye to a dog that is more than a dog? A dog that is your best friend? A dog that is your life? How do you walk out of the room, leaving him there? I still don't know how I walked away. I don't remember leaving the vet's office. I remember holding him and then I was home, sitting in my mom's car in the garage, trying to force myself to walk in the house, knowing that Dewey would not be there to greet me, that he will never be there to greet me again.
My parents still have three other dogs, including Dewey's daughter, who I adore and who worships me, but it is not the same. There is a giant presence missing. I am at a loss as to what to do. Before he was sick, my focus was on playing with him and cuddling with him and having fun with him. When he was sick, my focus was on keeping him comfortable and happy. Now what do I do? The house is so empty without him here. I am so empty without him here.
The loneliness really is palpable.