Losing dogs, gaining perspective, and moving on in a new year
Photos and Story by Chad Love
I was supposed to go hunting today. Instead, I’m digging a hole in the same place where I’ve dug a half-dozen others.
In the end, we all dig a hole. And in that hole we place a ragged little bundle of fur and flesh and bone. Then we cover it up and walk away.
That’s all we can do.
This isn’t a popular opinion, but I’ve never been much into either writing or reading dead dog stories. They all come from an honest and hurting place, but the sting of that grief, either fresh or lingering, does something to prose that in most cases just doesn’t reach me.
I don’t know why. For someone who wears his heart on his sleeve and then writes that heart on the page, it’s a strangely muted attitude to have about something that means so much to me and is so much a part of my life.
It may be that I just can’t handle writing about the death of a soul that loved me unconditionally in a world where so few souls truly do. I don’t know.
Whatever the case, I’ve always preferred to keep my thoughts and words on dogs now gone to myself. Always have. This time is no different.
I’m burying those words right there along with that bundle of white and orange fur that shared fourteen years of my life and made it a better place.
But what I’m not putting in that hole are the memories. They don’t get buried so easily, or quickly. I may not ever write about them, but I will keep them tight to me.
And as I shovel dirt and slowly fill that hole, I think of all the meaningless drama and petty grievances that consume us every day, and how a dog, so utterly without guile and so full of genuine, unadulterated love, cuts through all that bickering, backstabbing human artifice and gets right into your heart for no other reason than that’s exactly where it wants to be.
Yesterday, I dug that hole deep in frozen ground. Today, the dogs and I take a long walk in cold, crystalline air. Past, always melding seamlessly into present. As it should.
It seems fitting to run the pup first, with all the easy, obvious symbolism of endings and beginnings swirling in the moment.
I carry a gun with no shells and a heart and head reset to zero, cleared of expectations and comparisons.
Because each dog is as different as the piece of your life you share with that dog.
I’m not young, so I’ve buried more than a few. It never gets easy, of course. Jenny was with me for 14 years, longer than any other dog I’ve had.
That’s a big chunk of life to share with another sentient being. I was 37 when I brought her home. Just a damn baby, my forties still far ahead of me, and my fifties an impossibility to even imagine.
It makes you think.
After I bury Jenny, I have a conversation with a friend about how dogs absolutely live in the now and take each day as it comes. It’s not an original thought, of course. But it’s profoundly true.
We can learn a lot about how to cope with life by trying to emulate a dog’s outlook on it.
Again, common knowledge, but it’s something I’m trying hard to do.
I’m an emotional person. My pen is attached directly to my heart, and it’s the only way I know how to write. Or live. I’ve been mocked for it, by both strangers and people who once called me friend and told me how much they loved it.
It burns, but in the end it means nothing, and I should take a cue from the dogs and reset each day to zero and make of it what I can. Because we have a finite number of those opportunities.
I have gained something from each dog’s passing, because you learn a lot about life from death, and Jenny’s last gift to me is self-awareness of my own faults, and a gentle reminder to try to live each day like she did.
This time of year always brings introspection, as endings and beginnings swirl and mix together with the changing of the calendar. I’ve had my share of both in the past year. Endings can be sorrowful. Beginnings can be frightening. But in the end, we always walk toward the new, and that’s what I will do. Because there is no other path but forward.
After a good, long run with her older sister Abbey, I put Zuma back in the box, let out Leo — who at six is now the senior dog in my small tribe — put shells in the gun, and go hunting, the dirt from Jenny’s grave still clinging to my boots.
It’ll fall off eventually, mingle with prairie soil and prairie soul, and become something new.
Everything always does.
Chad Love is editor of Quail Forever Journal.