My first memory is a dog licking my face. Their warm, wet tongue, soft furry body and soulful eyes filled me with joy and wonder. I often felt alone as a child and as soon as I came home from school would search the neighborhood for my favorite dogs, who were easy to find tied up outside their house. They wiggled with uncontainable excitement as I approached. The bigger ones knocked me down and stood over me licking.
I wished more than anything in the world for my own dog. My mother, raised in Japan, said no, because they were too dirty and stinky to be in the house. My father had a different reason. He told me that dogs don’t live long and as a sensitive lad I wouldn’t be able to take it when the dog died. He was saving me from the inevitable heartache. But I was sure that the dog would never die, we would always be together.
It took many dogless years before I was ready but when I finally got my own dogs I was in heaven. They gave me their unconditional love. I gave them my unprotected heart. My wife would look at us, so happy together and ask in a worried voice, “What are you going to do when they die?” And I’d answer defiantly, “They’re not going to die!”
And then one day they died--shortly after this happy photo was taken. My heart broke, shattered to pieces. The ground beneath my feet gave away. I floated along unmoored and disoriented. I felt like I wanted to follow them to wherever they were.
I thought my dad was right, I couldn’t take it, there was a hole in my heart. Life was empty without them. But I found out that he was wrong, I could go on. There was more strength and compassion than I knew inside me. I accompanied them through their final stages and last breath, doing what I could to assist them in passing from this world to hopefully a better one. Life goes on and I move on. I comfort myself with a belief that is beyond explanation or even understanding—I know that we’re together.