I've been thinking about Bubby dog even more than usual over the past few days. And considering the fact that he crosses my mind at least a hundred times a day on a regular basis, this means I've been thinking about him pretty much incessantly. In a week and a half, it will be six months since we had to say goodbye to him. So maybe subconsciously knowing that this date is approaching is the reason for him flooding my thoughts. Or maybe it's because summertime is here, and there are just so many memories of the last 16 summers of my life that involve Leary (Bubby's real name, for those who don't know). I was very young when I rescued him, and every summer of my adult life included him: the long evening walks, the hang out sessions on the deck, the play time in the park, the exploration of oceans and lakes and mountains and cities on our endless cross-country journeys. Leary had a knack for reminding me how to really experience life, especially in the summertime. He adored new places and new people, and it seems that it was often in the summer that we went seeking new adventures. It feels really weird not having by my side right now.
People keep asking us when we're going to get another dog. The thing is, we're not. This isn't because we don't ever want to include a dog in our family again, because eventually, I'm confident that we will. We are dog people, and that never goes away. I've had many dogs throughout my life, including my sweet Alaskan Malamute Tabha, who I lost in 2008 to cancer at the age of 8. Bubby was 3 when I got her. They become brother and sister, and just like Bubby, Tabha was a major part of my adult life. She was my free-spirited wild wolf, and I loved her every bit as much as I loved Bubby. But Bubby was my heart. My soul mate. I'm just not in place where I could get another dog and know with even a tiny amount of certainty that I wouldn't be constantly comparing it to Bubby. He was truly the most incredible living creature that I ever met, and I have a strong feeling that until Robbie and I have children, I won't experience that profound level of connection again.
I'm not sad, and I don't want this to be a sad post. The truth is that Bubby continues to bring happiness to my life every single day. Robbie and I are constantly bursting into laughter over random recollections of something he once did or silly pictures of him that we come across. In fact, we have pictures of him all over house, and I never shed tears when I look at them - I always smile. That said, I won't sugar coat the fact that there is absolutely a void in my heart since Bubby passed away, and it hasn't lessened with time. It's hard to describe, and may even sound a little ridiculous to those who don't have intense attachments to their pets. It's a constant feeling that something is missing. It's an awareness that an underlying contentment that filled my daily life for so long it became a seemingly permanent fixture is no longer there. As I said, I've had - and lost - several beloved pets in my lifetime. I've also lost some very close friends and family members (including Jeff, my best friend, ex-partner, and "brother," who took his own life exactly two years ago tomorrow), so dealing with major loss isn't a new experience for me. But this isn't a feeling of loss as much as a feeling that an integral piece of my personal puzzle is missing. It's like something always feels a little off in the day-to-day, even 6 months later. I don't think this feeling will ever disappear, or even decrease. Instead, I will slowly learn to live with it and adjust accordingly. I will also continue to stay positive and grateful for all of the awesomeness that Leary brought to my life. It's impossible not to.
Perhaps the only truly unfortunate thing about having pets is that you are most likely going to have to say goodbye to them before they have to say goodbye to you. And that just plain sucks. But the more memories you create with them, the more quality time you spend with them, and the more you are mindful of the subtle bliss they bring to your life on a daily basis (which even includes the 2 AM emergency vet visits and cleaning up their poop), the greater the chance you'll get to continue to experience delight in the mark they left on you after they're gone. This is what keeps me going and prevents me from being enveloped with sadness. Even with the void I mentioned earlier, I'm somehow still able to feel the comfort, humor and magic that came along with being Bubby's mom while he was living. It's different, but it's still here.
I can honestly say that not one single aspect of my life with Bubby feels like it was a mistake. There is nothing about any of the choices I made for him that I regret. This doesn't happen often for me. Just like every human being, I've made a lots of mistakes in my life. And I sometimes get lost in the pointless abyss of perfectionism, where I catch myself looking back on situations and wondering how I could have done better. Not with Bubby. This doesn't mean that I didn't sometimes very awkwardly succumb to the immense learning processes that accompany things like cluelessly raising a puppy when you are still basically a child yourself or caring for a geriatric animal who eventually becomes ill enough to require hospice. It just means that I am 100% sure that I did my very best with him, that I gave him everything I could have possibly given him in his lifetime, and that I made sure he knew that I accepted and fully appreciated his unconditional love with every ounce of my being. It is knowing this that allows me the great gift of continuing to feel loved by someone who is no longer here, and the fortune of experiencing an enduring joy as a result of the connection we had while he was living.
If you have a dog, a cat, a bunny, a rat... go hug them. Right now, if you can. Take lots of pictures. Bring them with you when you do fun things. (I had a bunny once too. He traveled with Bubby and me all over the country.) Give them lots of treats. Promise them that when it's their time to go, you will be there with them, holding them and comforting them as they leave this world. Be extra patient and extra affectionate. Spoil them. Be grateful for how lucky you are that they chose you. And when you talk to them, watch their reaction. Pay attention. Look into their eyes and realize, over and over again, how much they look up to you. You are everything to them. And that will never change, even after you say goodbye.
P.S. Back in January, for my birthday, I posted about a couple of special organizations who specifically cater to senior dogs in need. If you're ever thinking of making a donation to an animal-related group, or even just want to learn more about how you can help old dogs, please keep them in mind. You can read more here. Oh - and if you haven't seen it yet, check out the tribute video I made for Bubby a few months ago. Now go smother your pet with love.