Dogen by Paulette / Mommy

You don’t realize how much a pet really means to you until the day comes when, whether old age or illness or fatal accident is the cause, they disappear for good. The day when, though they have no human voice, they leave behind a deafening silence that suffocates you whenever you enter the home where they no longer live, is the day you realize how much you cared for them.

My dog was just a dog. In the grand scheme of things, a little gray-and-white hairy dog will have little impact on whether the sun rises or sets another day. The short lifespans of animals mean they have little time to mean much to most people. Yet those of us who love our animals, to the point where we call them “our children”, “our pets”–“our housemates”–come to be little suns that our worlds spin around. When that light goes out, it seems that our worlds stop spinning, and all things go cold.

So it is with my dog. He was Dogen. His last day on Earth was May 12, 2005–but every day, he continues to live on in my mind and my heart. Before he passed–because of a heart that had suddenly gone bad, and could never get better–he lived as a rescued dog, taken out of a “kill” shelter by someone who was just trying to do her part to keep a life from ending just because there was “no room” for it.

When I think of Dogen and the day we met, I also think of the other dogs, cats and rabbits there, and think that I could have done more for them. I’ve always lived with regret. Yet I also think that, since I had just one choice and one chance, God made sure to put me with the one animal that I most needed.

That was Dogen. When I picked him up, he had no name. His owner was an elderly woman who had to give him up: No reason why was given. As I sat with the administrative assistant to sign the adoption papers, and handed over my check for $96, Dogen expressed his gratitude by promptly peeing on the floor. When I took him home in the cardboard box the center gave me, Dogen promptly chewed through it, forcing me to endure funny looks as I tried to position the box in a way that he couldn’t rip it apart with his teeth. Our first days, then weeks, together, didn’t exemplify anything “peaceful” about the name I eventually gave him. Yet as we got more used to one another, I realized that
I’d really gotten a gem.

As I sit and try to come to terms with the silence that now possesses my home, I also come to terms with the reasons why, four weeks later, tears still flow freely down my face. Though I thought of myself as Dogen’s owner, the truth is, in the end, Dogen owned me.

I got a little guy with a big personality, whose friendliness and warmth earned him more friends in his seven years with me than I’d gained in 12 years living in NYC. I look at the pictures I’d taken of him throughout his life, and smile at just how often he’s sitting, looking peaceful, and completely self-satisfied with his world. In some of the photos, Dogen is actually laughing! And, in those same pictures, I also see how many people are holding him. How many people are petting him. How they let him get away with sitting on their sofas, in their beds, even riding in their cars, when he wasn’t sitting comfortably in their laps. No matter the photo, the humans are smiling; and Dogen looks as if he’s always belonged with them, content to be where he was.

I look at those photos because they’re now the only physical presence I have of him. The photos remind me more that Dogen was here and made my life a good one, no matter what situation I was going through at the time. The photos also remind me that, whenever I think I didn’t do enough–that I didn’t care enough about him–that I cared so much for him that he was able to enjoy the past seven years of his life. I remind myself that Dogen was loved not just by me, but by a whole lot of people who came in contact with him.

Dogen wasn’t the greatest pet that ever lived. I’ve had to take out a carpet in two rooms because he continued having accidents the past two years everywhere. He had behavioral problems with some men–probably related to the life he’d led before with his previous owner. And he was good at ripping up garbage, looking for scraps of food, and leaving me with a whole kitchen to clean up. But the little ways he learned to make me happy are things I remember.

He learned to knock on my landlady’s door when he wanted to go next door for a visit. He learned that, if he slipped off his collar while we went walking, that he was to stand patiently until I could put it back around his neck. He learned the usual commands–“sit”, “down”, then “Eat That!” “Go Play!” and “Go Away/Come Back”. But he taught me plenty. I learned to be patient, and to be consistent. I learned to take time to act completely silly. I learned to be a little more human.

And now, I have to learn how to live without him.

There won’t be any more racing around the coffee table, playing “Keep Away” with his favorite toy–a torn blue hippo he carried practically everywhere with him. There won’t be any more sharing of ice cream, especially the cherry vanilla kind. There won’t be any more walks at midnight, walks through the salt marsh, making truces with cats, a spectator to watch my solo tennis matches, nor “dog angels” made in a bank of snow. And those things will make me sad.

But I also think there won’t be any vet visits where I have to sit with tears in my eyes as my vet gives me more bad news. There won’t be any more shots for him to take, nor medications for him to endure. There won’t be any more wildly beating heart that terrifies him, that makes him shiver as if cold, that makes him feel the worry inside me, so that he has to pretend to be OK. He pretended, right up to my birthday, so that I would be okay. But then, he couldn’t pretend anymore.

Since Dogen’s passing, I think of those things I’ve regretted, and what I miss about him. Though I cry, I know it’s because of the good things–and there were so many–about him that I miss enjoying! It’s in these weeks that I’ve also learned just how much of an impact you’ve made in your short time. I didn’t realize how many friends you’d made among our neighbors, until they began to say: “You’re not out walking so much? And where’s your little dog?”

It hurts to tell them that you’ve gone on. But it surprises me, too, that so many people knew you, and notice that you aren’t around anymore. They tell me how you used to come up and greet them with your paw against their knee; they tell me how patient you’d been when their baby or toddler or child would want to pet you–even if it was roughly. But I shouldn’t be surprised. You had enough grace and poise for the both of us, and it was only natural that you showed others the same.

It’s now that I think more about his past. Dogen belonged to someone else–someone who probably missed him terribly when she had to let him go; someone who probably didn’t let him go willingly. She was probably looking for him, worried for Dogen and who would take care of him. I imagine that now–because that’s the way Dogen was–he has found her again, fluffy tail wagging furiously and galloping at full speed to greet her in their true “forever home”. I imagine that if she was not happy where she was before, she must now be finally at peace, content to enjoy eternity because Dogen is now there to keep her company. I like to think that Dogen is teaching me to share, and to think of others who need his love and presence.

But I also think that if I’m good enough–if I’ve been a good enough human–Dogen will come back for me. He will come back to lead me, when my time comes, into the joy and infinite peace that he knows. He will come back to share with me all that he had learned, and to teach me what I could not have known while here.

Dogen, you were my sun, sharing your light and warmth with everyone who needed it. And it is because of your sharing nature that I’ve become a pet sponsor–to a girl dog in terrible need of someone who will, even if she can’t take another worthy animal in her home,
take care of her financially.

Celia reminds me very much of you: In spite of a terrible time she’s been through, she still loves humans enough to put up with us and
try again to trust us.

Keep watch over her, Dogen–just as you watch over me. Give her your light of love to comfort her as she recovers. And if you can spare it, comfort me, too.


With great love and hope to see you again,